- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
I imagine there are burn kits strategically placed throughout the Fox News studio. So often has Pete Buttigieg stopped by the conservative propaganda network to roast its anchors, it seems like a matter of workplace safety. The Transportation Secretary’s latest foray into that hostile work environment came yesterday, and he went scorched earth.
Calm but forthright, respectful but assertive, Buttigieg gave a masterclass in how to respond to Trumpian talking points. Long one of the best communicators in the Biden camp — and certainly one of the best at talking to the half of the country who didn’t vote for Biden and are most likely to turn on Fox News — Buttigieg has that je ne sais quoi that speaks to heartland voters.
That is, of course, because he is one of them. Pete Buttigieg grew up in Indiana. His husband is from Michigan. A married gay Episcopalian couple, they adopted two children — who Pete then took paternity leave to look after. Wholesome and cornfed, Pete and Chasten are as all-American as if Wally Cleaver had grown up to marry Opie Taylor.
Which is surely why the Biden administration keeps deploying him like Frank Capra to combat the Leni Riefenstahls hired by Rupert Murdoch. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Mayor-cum-Secretary Pete defended a tweet from his husband that referenced Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh being protested against outside a Morton’s Steakhouse in Washington, DC. “Sounds like he just wanted some privacy to make his own dining decisions,” Chasten Buttigieg tweeted late last week in response to the story. Kavanaugh left the restaurant through the back door so that he didn’t have to encounter the protesters face-to-face.
While noting that public officials “should always be free from violence, harassment, and intimidation,” Pete Buttigieg also acknowledged that public officials — by dint of the office they hold — cannot expect to be free from “criticism or peaceful protest — people exercising their First Amendment rights.” Pointing out that Kavanaugh, who recently ruled that there is no Constitutional right to abortion, didn’t even encounter the protesters, Buttigieg also acknowledged the anger of people who had had their rights taken away by the overturn of Roe v Wade.
Pete’s ability to remain even-tempered, articulate, and on message despite attempts by host Mike Emanuel to interrupt makes him among the best communicators and most valuable assets this administration has. Some of this is Pete’s natural ability. He has that gentle but authoritative aura of a suburban dad, something he possessed even before becoming a suburban dad. No doubt a lot of it also comes from experience; the mayor of a small city, Pete has had more first-hand dealings with public criticisms than most politicians and virtually all Supreme Court justices. In a conservative state like Indiana, he also had to learn how to make his case to right-leaning voters in a way that few blue state politicians ever have needed to learn.
Because of this, he understands the importance in communicating in a language they understand. There’s a reason he acknowledged the law-and-order concerns before pivoting to the Constitutional rights argument. He isn’t trying to dismiss conservative concerns — he’s trying to alleviate them.
What truly makes the Buttigiegs so effective at reaching the right, though, is who Pete and Chaste Buttigieg are — and what they represent. Simply put, they’re living the gay American dream, and that scares the crap out of Republicans. Far from the stereotypical villains the political right has taken to once again painting LGBT Americans as, Pete and Chasten represent the reality. And that reality is threatening to those who wish to use our very existence as a wedge issue, just as they have in the past.
Pete throws a wrench in the plan. Unlike in 2004, when Republicans were able to use gay marriage to turn out evangelical voters and help George W Bush sail to reelection, 2022 is a more accepting world (despite Fox News’ best efforts.) Pete and Chasten lived without a basic freedom — the right to marry whom they choose — for most of their lives and had to fight, privately if not publicly, to be themselves. Now, Clarence Thomas salivates over the prospect of taking equal marriage rights away, just like he, Kavanaugh and their compatriots did with abortion rights.
Pete reminds us all of what’s at stake. His calm, reasonable demeanor means he is unable to be dismissed out of hand. His “aww, shucks” personality is one suburban and rural Americans recognize and one to which they respond warmly, because he reminds them of their own sons and brothers and nephews and neighbors. Even the most strident red hat is likely to admit that Pete Buttigieg seems like a good man — a good father — who means well, and many of them even like to hear what he has to say.
They must, or it’s hard to imagine Fox News would keep having him back on. This is a network that doesn’t even pretend to feign objectivity. Getting repeatedly invited back on air means you’re doing something right — if not with the executives at Fox News, then with the viewers. That’s good news for us on the left, because Trumpism can only succeed if its adherents stop listening to what people like Pete have to say.
With the recent spate of anti-trans legislation, Don’t Say Gay bills, and attacks on drag queen story hours across the country, the right has once again taken to painting LGBT Americans as a threat to “American values”. Politically aware gay men who also look like they stepped out of a casting call for a Hallmark film should scare the GOP, because they help lay bare the lies that we’re all a bunch of deviants intent on destroying the American family.
It shouldn’t have to be this way, of course. You shouldn’t have to look like Pete and Chasten, to talk like them, or to be white and well-off like them in order to command the attention of half the country. But that’s the sad reality. And, much as it isn’t the exact kind of progress we want, it is progress if they help to make inroads with the voters who would otherwise take our rights away.
After all, you might credibly look at Pete and Chasten Buttigieg in their blue slacks and conservative button-ups and conclude they’re J-Crew models, but you can’t look at them and credibly suggest they are a threat to faith, flag, and freedom. They’re just the boys next door.