The two Indiana politicians couldn’t be more polar opposites — one, a grey-haired extreme right-wing evangelical former governor who wears his intolerant beliefs like a suit of armor protecting himself from the evils of people who don’t think exactly as he does — the other, a young moderate Episcopalian Democrat mayor of a smallish city whose open homosexuality represents the very antithesis of the other’s religious bigotry.
It’s inevitable, therefore, that Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg would use Vice-President Mike Pence as a political foil as he sets out to define his message to the American people.
Buttigieg has been positioning himself as a candidate who could win back for Democrats the heartland voters in the rust belt who defected to Donald Trump in the last presidential election.
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With his small town values, impressive resume as a Rhodes scholar and Afghan war veteran, and rational demeanor, the candidate’s sexuality is practically an afterthought until moments like that at the end of his campaign launch when Buttigieg did something that wouldn’t elicit a second thought if done by another candidate — kiss his spouse at the end of his speech.
While Buttigieg revels in demonstrating his sexuality as incredibly normal and ordinary in this modern era, Vice-President Pence has used his rigid religious convictions as a political cudgel to enable the violation of the rights of those who don’t hold those beliefs.
When he was Indiana governor, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allowed merchants to refuse to serve customers if doing so would violate their deeply held religious beliefs, ignoring the constitutional separation of church and state and anti-discrimination statutes.
Buttigieg has already clashed with Pence’s Taliban-like efforts to impose his religious values on others when he told campaign crowds that if the vice-president had a problem with his sexuality, Pence would need to take it up with the creator who made him that way.
Today, Buttigieg reinforced the clear contrast between himself and the fire and brimstone vice-president during an interview on CNN‘s New Day.
“The vice president is entitled to his religious beliefs,” the Democratic candidate said. “My problem is when those religious beliefs are used as an excuse to harm other people.”
“That was a huge issue for us in Indiana when he advanced a discriminatory bill in 2015 under the guise of religious freedom, that said it was lawful to discriminate, provided you invoked religion as your excuse,” he explained.
“I just believe that’s wrong,” Buttigieg said. “This isn’t about him as a human being. This is about policies that hurt people, policies that hurt children.”
Buttigieg attacked Pence for continuing to refuse to acknowledge that it “shouldn’t be legal to discriminate against people in this country because they’re LGBT.”
“I would love to see him evolve on that issue,” he wistfully dreamed.
Pence, for his part, defended his position, seemingly confusing First Amendment free speech rights with clearly discriminatory actions.
“I don’t believe in discrimination against anybody. I treat everybody the way I want to be treated,” Pence said.
If that were indeed true, one must believe that, as a notoriously anti-gay marriage proponent, Pence wants to have been prevented from marrying the person he loves. One wonders whether Pence has informed “Mother” of his hidden desire to have prevented their own marriage.
Buttigieg’s stubborn presentation as an utterly normal midwesterner must infuriate right-wing evangelicals who see homosexuality as the realm of outrageously dressed drag queens and leather-clad Village People clones rather than a wide range of people with individual personalities befitting the approximately five percent of the population that they comprise.
HIs success thus far as a candidate, unlikely until the present day, demonstrates exactly the victories that progressives have achieved in the culture wars to date and why the right-wing feels so compelled to rebel against a world rapidly changing around them.
You can watch a clip of Pete Buttigieg slamming Mike Pence on CNN in the video below.
Pete Buttigieg responds to Vice President Mike Pence: “The Vice President is entitled to his religious beliefs. My problem is when those religious beliefs are used as an excuse to harm other people.” https://t.co/hLOIWoJwdu pic.twitter.com/Js3iFmf7nd
— New Day (@NewDay) April 16, 2019
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by Justin Wise at The Hill.