2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said in an interview Tuesday morning that capitalism and democracy are not the same thing, and that if he had to choose one he would pick democracy.
Speaking on CNN's "New Day," Buttigieg said he was alarmed by a statement from Stephen Moore, the President's nominee for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, that he believed capitalism was more important than democracy.
"I would say the reverse ought to be true -- that at the end of the day, we prioritize democracy," Buttigieg said. "And having that framework of a rule of law, of fairness, is actually what it takes for markets to work."
"I think the reason we're having this argument over socialism and capitalism is that capitalism has let a lot of people down," he said.
"I think the more interesting issue is, should our policies be any different toward the biggest companies than they are toward the smallest ones?"
Asked if he would break up big corporations, Buttigieg said, "Sometimes, if there's anti-competitive behavior."
"It's not just about saying, 'If you're this big, we're going to break you.' It's also perhaps the bigger you are, the more responsibility you have," Buttigieg said.
JOHN AVLON, CNN: You seem to have inspired a grassroots mobilization moment. There is a generational change message that is resonating. Now, also, is the time where people press you on specifics. You've spoken about how values should inform philosophy, and that goes down to policy. When you say, for example, it'll be a radical change under a Buttigieg presidency, what does that mean? A lot of people, I think, have caught your message because it feels reassuringly moderate in some respects.
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: First of all, tone really matters, right? Even as we're contemplating serious and sometimes profound structural reforms, we can do it in a way that everyone doesn't feel like our hair is on fire. This moment should not be underestimated in terms of seriousness. I think in many ways, we're still underreacting, but we don't have to react in a way that alienates others, makes it feel like there is such screaming that you can't tell what's really happening around us.
CNN HOST: That makes you a clear contrast to the president. If you make it all the way, how would you run against the president? Would you ignore him, would you give him a nickname? He'll give you one. How do you use your temperament versus his?
BUTTIGIEG: It is an important question. The way we have to approach it is, on one hand, when he says something that isn't true, we have to say so. When he does something wrong, we have to call it out. Then we have to move on very quickly. A really robust message for my party can't be one that revolves around the personality of somebody from the other party. We have to have a message that will make as much sense in 2040 as it does in 2020. That means it is not so much about him as it is about you. It's about us.
CNN HOST: Did Hillary Clinton do that too much?
BUTTIGIEG: It was the media environment. Also, elements of our party's strategy in 2016. With the benefit of hindsight, we should adjust going to 2020. I think a lot of Democrats were so horrified by who the Republicans were nominating, we almost forget that don't vote for the other guy is not the same as having your own message.
CNN HOST: You're not using his name. Is that purposeful?
PETE BUTTIGIEG: I think his name will escape my lips every now and then. But it is not about him. Frankly, I think somebody like him should not have been able to get close. I think a lot of Republicans would say the same thing. The conditions that made this presidency possible are a lot bigger than one man. They are a sense of disruption in our economy, our society, our politics, and I think part of it is a symptom of the way in which our political system with no longer deliver results that Americans believe in. Even things we think of as divisive, like immigration, which is divisive, but most Americans actually agree on the outlines of a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform. There are so many issues like that, where there is a sense among the American people about what to do. The American political system can't deliver. That leads to crazy outcomes...
CNN HOST: You mentioned the Democratic strategy not working in 2016. I wonder from a macro standpoint, do you believe it was because Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were perceived as being too far left or not far left enough?
BUTTIGIEG: When you think of how many people narrowed down their choices to either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders in the end, what it tells me is that voters are less ideological than you'd think. I know this from the math in St. Joe county where I live. There must be a lot of people must have voted for Barack Obama and Donald Trump and Mike Pence and me.
Which tells you that a lot of voters -- some think ideologically, but some don't. The bigger issue was insider versus outsider. We looked like we were the defenders of the system. He looked like he was promising to blow up the system.
CNN HOST: We’ll talk more about that and get into your faith a bit in the next segment. Because we saw President Obama get 26 percent of the white evangelical vote in 2008. But on policy, you know, you have a history also working at McKinsey, arguably the best consulting firm out there. You said recently, it is important to pay attention to the potential that business has to propel prosperity. I’m interested in if you think your fellow Democrats and some of your Democratic contenders and competitors in this race for the White House have vilified big business in a way that is dangerous, and capitalism, when now we know more Democrats view socialism favorably than capitalism.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the reason we’re having this argument over socialism and capitalism is that capitalism has let a lot of people down. I guess what I’m out there to say is that it doesn’t have to be so. I believe in Democratic capitalism. But the Democratic part is extremely important.
I think during the Cold War, there was this assumption that capitalism and democracy were almost the same thing, that if you were for capitalism, you were also for democracy. Right now, we actually see democracy and capitalism coming into contention. It was very alarming to hear recently one of the president’s economic advisers said that between capitalism and democracy, he would choose capitalism. I would say the reverse ought to be true, that at the end of the day we prioritize democracy. And, you know, having that framework of a rule of law, fairness, is actually what takes markets to work.
CNN HOST: Can I follow up on that and ask what that would look like? I see it reported across the Midwest a lot, okay. I see the disparity and I see what happened in my home state of Minnesota or Ohio or Pennsylvania. They don't -- they know that this capitalism isn't working for them. I'm really interested in specifics on how you would propose fixing it. Do you support Elizabeth Warren, for example, who just proposed last week putting an additional tax on the most profitable businesses in this country? Is that the way to help most Americans? Is it a band-aid?
BUTTIGIEG: I'm open to that. I think the more interesting issue is, should our policies be any different toward the biggest companies than they are toward the smallest ones? A lot of the issues with big business right now aren't from the business part of big business. They're from the big part. Bigness can lead to concentrations of wealth turning into concentrations of power. I would say the problem with money in our politics today is that people are able to use wealth to buy power, then in turn, use that to change the rules.
CNN HOST: You'd break them up?
BUTTIGIEG: Sometimes, if there is anti-competitive behavior. We have the anti-monopoly laws. It's not saying, if you're this big, we'll break you. It is also saying, perhaps the bigger you are, the more responsibility you have. What if your responsibilities around anything from reporting on gender pay disparity in the organization, which most of us agree is more of a fair thing to do for a larger organization than a small one, to potentially even wage and labor standards. Progressively at a level where the bigger you are, the more we expect you to be among the very best in how you treat your workers and how you treat the communities you operate.