Mayor Pete can’t stay on track as he responds to crises
Tribune News Service March 6, 2023
Pete Buttigieg, something of a genius in academic matters, is despairingly short of that when it comes to practicality, failing miserably, for instance, as secretary of the Department of Transportation. It’s almost as if his job is to sit and do little, disappear from the office a lot, get mad, entertain himself with peculiar ideas and focus on becoming president someday.
For 10 days after it happened, he didn’t say anything about the wham-bang train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, even though the crash was accompanied by a raging, prolonged fire, a huge, bulging, satanic-looking, black plume cloud and something else: the release of killer chemicals from train cars to keep the cars from exploding.
In fact, all kinds of chemicals were soon here, there and everywhere and many of the town’s 4,700 residents were evacuated from danger although later told by the government that they were safe. Others said the threats could last for decades. A private charity promised long-term health care monitoring, hardly the concern Buttigieg showed when he earlier said there were 1,000 other such accidents a year nationally, as if none of this was a big deal.
He did then make a visit to East Palestine after Donald Trump got there first, badmouthing him. Buttigieg quickly sought revenge, blaming Trump for all the harm because his administration abandoned an Obama-era safety measure, special train brakes. Well, first off, that measure did not apply to this specific train. Second, it was experts, not Trump, who decided the brakes were faulty. Third, if Buttigieg thought the brakes did work, he had plenty of time to put the measure back into effect. For the moment, however, he might want to worry about overheated wheel bearings, the cause of this accident.
Buttigieg now wants the whole industry to begin using safer railroad cars within two years and for Congress to mandate tougher fines for regulation violations. He has meanwhile attacked train companies for putting profit over safety and sent a really nasty letter to the company in this accident, Norfolk Southern, which has pledged on its own to clean up the city, restore businesses and help individuals.
Understand that Buttigieg’s personal derailments in his job preceded this accident. For instance, he went on a two-month paternity leave during the hugely hurtful, COVID-induced, supply-side crisis. In 2022, members of his own party got on his case for doing too little to stop airline delays and cancellations and guarantee compensation to customers. When a possible railway strike threatened the nation, he went to Portugal for a vacation.
A favorite topic of chatting Republicans is how taxpayers footed the bill when this environmentalist himself allegedly disregarded federal regulations in taking expensive trips in gas-guzzling private jets. An investigation is underway.
Lately, Buttigieg has been concerned about “racist roads” in America that disadvantage Black people in one way or another in how and where they were built. He wants to spend billions to replace them with different roads. What this expenditure of billions of dollars would actually accomplish strikes some as a dodgy guess.
He is also bothered by whites outnumbering Blacks in public construction projects in Black neighborhoods. It might be mentioned that when he intervened in police force issues as mayor of South Bend, Ind., the number of Black police officers declined significantly.
Buttigieg is definitely a smart guy with academic awards from high school to Harvard to Oxford you wouldn’t believe. He is articulate and charming. His military service was admirable and he started out reasonably well in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries and then crashed, endorsing Joe Biden and serving on his presidential transition team. Biden, who obviously believes in him, just maybe has done America an unintended favor by putting his shortcomings on display.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.