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    Pete Buttigieg, an unlikely hero

    Photo illustration by Globe Staff; Globe file photo
    Photo illustration by Globe Staff; Globe file photo

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the newest new thing in Democratic presidential politics, and though others have looked askance upon his prospective candidacy, I don’t.

    No indeed. After watching him at Northeastern University on Wednesday, I see him as a leader for our times. A transformational figure. A veritable Horatio Nelson resolutely battling the combined fleets of the trite and tedious at Trafalgar.

    It was, of course, the truly impressive $7 million he raised in the first quarter that initially caught my eye. In this money-primary stage of the campaign, Buttigieg’s take was an Adele-esque “Hello,” one that prodded me to Huntington Ave. to hear what this big-haul Hoosier from South Bend, Ind., had to say.


    It turns out I found myself much more impressed with the way he said it. The 37-year-old mayor possesses an ability I had long thought extinct in anyone under 50, let alone younger than 40: The ability to speak a sustained series of sentences without uttering even one of the odious “likes” that are the radio call sign of the younger generations.

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    Ask your composite millennial why he or she seeks the presidency, and the reply would run along these lines: “Well, I’m like, every other candidate is older than Jerry Seinfeld, and my friends are all, like, are we still in the 1990s?, so it’s like, why not?”

    But Mayor Pete’s remarks were thoughtful and well constructed, and with a range of descriptors that eschewed generational favorites like “kewl,” or “awesome,” or “perfect,” or the “amazing,” “tremendous,” and “terrific” that mark the far limits of our current president’s linguistic universe.

    Listening to him, I started daydreaming: Remember the way a generation of hippies shaved their beards and cut their hair to “get clean for Gene” McCarthy in 1968? Imagine if legions of young activists made a “spike-the-like pledge for Buttigieg” in 2020. In my mind’s eye — or ear — Generations X, Y, and Z could hold meet-ups to practice imitating his blissfully un-like-littered utterances.

    OK, OK, I can already hear you: Scot, even by your picayune standards, this is a truly trivial subject for a column. To which I can only reply in the style, if not the exact words, of war poet Wilfred Owen’s gripping account of a World War I gas attack: If last weekend you too had sat reading at an airport gate when nearby seats were invaded by a swarm of MIT students who promptly started like-ing away at an auctioneer’s pace; if you had fumbled in vain for earbuds as a litany of likes exploded like mortars against your eardrums; if in your desperate struggle for sonic surcease you too had staggered to distant seats, only to find them haunted by a horde of horrid children who howled like apprentice hyenas; well, my friends, you would not repeat the old lie that it is lovely to hear young people hold forth in their own distinctive language.


    Ahem. But let me not be obsessive about my pet peeves. This column, after all, is supposed to be about Mayor Pete. There are other reasons to hope that his big announcement next week will, as expected, be a formal declaration of his candidacy. For one, he’s an articulate spokesman for the generations we’re loading debt upon — and he’s speaking up about that and climate change and other matters of intergenerational justice.

    As he notes, his contemporaries will have to live with the long-term consequences of many of the decisions being made today. He’s also right when he says the political process will only begin responding to the policy preferences of young people when politicians start to fear that younger citizens will vote them out if they don’t.

    Those voters have a huge stake in more provident national policy, and their voices and their perspectives need to be heard in this campaign.

    And when it comes to Mayor Pete, listening is an unlikely pleasure.

    Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.