One of my favorite things about South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as he considers a presidential campaign, is that he’s very willing to point out the blatant hypocrisy of the Religious Right. As a religious person himself, he’s not allowing conservative Christians to dominate the political discussion as they so often do.
On Meet the Press yesterday, host Chuck Todd asked Buttigieg how he reconciled the fact that (white) evangelicals still overwhelmingly support Donald Trump. Buttigieg used the question to point out the severe disconnect between Trump’s actions and Christians’ beliefs.
CHUCK TODD: You said something rather strong about the president, that you said, “It’s hard to look at his actions and believe that they are the actions of somebody who believes in God.” How do you square that assessment with the fact that the Evangelical Christian community is so devoted to his candidacy?
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, it’s something that really frustrates me because the hypocrisy is unbelievable. Here, you have somebody who not only acts in a way that is not consistent with anything that I hear in scripture or in church, where it’s about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants. And making sure that you’re focusing your effort on the poor. But also personally, how you’re supposed to conduct yourself. Not chest thumping look-at-me-ism, but humbling yourself before others. Foot washing is one of the central images in the New Testament. And we see the diametric opposite of that in this presidency. I think there was perhaps a cynical process where he decided to, for example, begin to pretend to be pro-life and govern accordingly. Which was good enough to bring many Evangelicals over to his side. But even on the version of Christianity that you hear from the religious right, which is about sexual ethics, I can’t believe that somebody who was caught writing hush money checks to adult film actresses is somebody they should be lifting up as the kind of person you want to be leading this nation.
As much as I would love to see a truly non-religious candidate in the Democratic mix (not just a Bernie Sanders type who still defines himself as religious), I know what Buttigieg is doing is strategically wise. He’s speaking to the countless number of Christians out there who never felt at home with Democrats but who are infuriated by the alliance between right-wing Christians and the GOP. If Buttigieg can win more of them over to his side, it’s better for Democrats across the board.
Even his next response, about how his pro-choice position didn’t hurt him in a conservative part of Indiana, was excellent:
… This is a moral question that’s not going to be settled by science. And so the best way for it to be settled in practice is by the person who actually faces the choice. And when a woman is facing this decision in her life, I think in terms of somebody besides her who can most be useful in that, the answer to that would be a doctor. Not a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.
If a Democrat wants to win back the midwest states we lost to Trump in 2016, this is the sort of rhetoric that will help make that happen. I’m typically not a fan of politicians who speak about religion on the campaign trail, but the way Buttigieg does it is powerful. He uses his faith as a starting point to talk about progressive policies while making sure his arguments are based in reason and evidence, not faith.
You can donate to his campaign here.