”Buttigieg’s Untenable Vow of Silence
Pete Buttigieg worked nearly three years for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, and he has presented that experience as a kind of capitalist credential — distinguishing him from some rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, and inoculating him against Republican attacks.
“They’ll try the socialist thing,” Mr. Buttigieg told an Iowa audience in September, referring to a likely line of attack by President Trump and his allies against whichever Democrat emerges as his opponent in next year’s election, “but the thing is, I got started in the private sector.”
The thing is, Mr. Buttigieg has said precious little about his time at McKinsey. He has not named the clients for whom he worked, nor said much about what he did. He says his lips are sealed by a nondisclosure agreement he signed when he left the firm in 2010 and that he has asked the company to release him from the agreement. It has not yet agreed to do so.
This is not a tenable situation. Mr. Buttigieg owes voters a more complete account of his time at the company. Voters seeking an alternative to Mr. Trump should demand that candidates not only reject Mr. Trump’s positions, but also his behavior — including his refusal to share information about his health and his business dealings. This standard requires Mr. Buttigieg to talk about his time at McKinsey. It similarly requires Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders to stop dragging their feet and release their health records to the public.
In Mr. Buttigieg’s case, the most straightforward solution is for McKinsey to release him from his vows of silence — or at least to substitute a significantly more permissive agreement.
The obligation to provide more information, however, ultimately falls on Mr. Buttigieg. He must find a way to give voters a more complete accounting of his time at the company.
What he has provided, so far, is a kind of romanticized sketch of the life of a consultant.
“Back to the U.S. in 2007,” Mr. Buttigieg wrote in his 2019 memoir, Shortest Way Home, “I landed a job in Chicago at McKinsey & Company, and my classroom was everywhere — a conference room, a serene corporate office, the break room of a retail store, a safe house in Iraq, or an airplane seat — any place that could accommodate me and my laptop.”
In various interviews, he has said working at McKinsey taught him about the power of big data, that it taught him “street smarts,” and that it convinced him to enter public service.
He has not offered the kind of details necessary to take the measure of that account.
Instead, in some more recent interviews, Mr. Buttigieg has sought to play down his McKinsey years, telling one reporter, “It’s not something that I think is essential in my story.”
But that is inconsistent with the manner in which Mr. Buttigieg has chosen to present himself to voters, as a candidate with roots in the private sector. Those three years at McKinsey represent Mr. Buttigieg’s only substantial claim on such experience.
The McKinsey experience also looms large because Mr. Buttigieg is running on a short résumé. Those three years account for fully 20 percent of his post-college career.
And working at McKinsey is not quite the résumé booster it used to be.
The Times reported this week that the consulting firm has advised the Trump administration on the logistics of its cruel crackdown on immigration. McKinsey also has offered its services as a consultant to brutal and corrupt governments and state-owned enterprises in other countries, including China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Buttigieg has criticized the company, and cast the troubles as largely postdating his tenure. “As somebody who left the firm a decade ago, seeing what certain people in that firm have decided to do is extremely frustrating and extremely disappointing,” he told CNN.
But that’s an incomplete answer. Mr. Buttigieg needs to explain what he did at McKinsey.“