Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, the first ever millennial candidate, zeroed in on political issues that particularly impact young people as he spoke to nearly one thousand students and faculty members at Northeastern University's Blackman Auditorium on Wednesday.
The South Bend, Ind., mayor spoke to the crowd about living in a post-2008 recession economy, facing college debt and a national budget deficit, and confronting the looming threat of climate change. Buttigieg, who is 37, said millennials are the first generation in American history to be worse off then their parents.
“Nobody has more at stake than young people in the decisions being made right now,” said Buttigieg, who joined the crowded presidential field in January. “I don't think it's an accident that many of the most talked about members in the Congress today are millennial members who just got there.”
The biggest cheers of the night came when Buttigieg spoke about the importance of climate change and his support for the goals of the Green New Deal.
“In the same way that President Kennedy hadn't mastered all of the rocket trajectories in 1960 when he wanted us to get to the moon by 1970,” he said. “I still think we commit to it precisely because we're not sure how to get there, but we've got to tie ourselves to that goal and then do everything we can as a country to get there, because I simply don't believe we can afford to wait.”
Buttigieg also spoke at length about the cost of college education. He said he believes in making college “dramatically more affordable” through lowering the cost of public colleges and expanding loan forgiveness programs for students who commit post-graduate years to public service. Buttigieg said he does not support free college for all, a cause popular with some progressives.
“Americans who have a college degree earn more on average than Americans who don't,” he said. “I have a hard time getting my head around the idea that a majority who earn less because they didn't go to college would subsidize a minority who earn more because they did.”
Buttigieg said he and his husband each have six-figure debt from their college educations.
Eighteen-year-old Northeastern freshman Alex Jarecki said he was a fan of Buttigieg before the event, and now he likes him more. Jarecki said he thinks Buttigieg shares his passion for addressing climate change, and he likes Buttigieg’s thoughts on of college education.
Jarecki is also inspired to see an openly gay politician run for president.
“I’m a gay kid from the Midwest, so I feel like I share that with him,” said Jarecki, “The idea that someone like him — someone like me — could have a national platform and be celebrated by so many people is really important to me.”
On stage, Buttigieg shared his personal story about coming out as gay in his thirties while seeking re-election as mayor of South Bend while Vice President Mike Pence was governor.
When asked about the importance of LGBTQ representation in politics, Buttigieg said he hopes his campaign can help normalize candidates of diverse orientations.
“If nothing else, I hope I can make it that much easier in that way for the next person that comes along,” he said.