Listening to Pete Buttigieg express ideas in a way every single American can understand is a true miracle of politics happening before our eyes. That we could have such an eager, accomplished mind ready to fight not only for what he believes in, but in an individual’s right to stand behind those beliefs without equivocation shows an integrity that has been missing in American politics for so long, 2020 voters may find it hard to recognize.
But Pete Buttigieg’s integrity was on display for all to see on last night’s Fox News Town Hall with Chris Wallace. Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats For Life of America and a “proud, Pro-life Democrat” asked Pete a question mid-way through the hour. The subject was abortion.
“So, do you want the support of pro-life Democratic voters? There are about 21 million of us. And if so, would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic party to ensure that the party of diversity (and) inclusion really does include everybody?”
Pete’s answer was the answer every voter should wish a candidate would give, whether they agree with what they’re hearing or not: “I respect where you’re coming from, and I hope I earn your vote. But I’m not gonna try to earn your vote by tricking you. I am Pro-Choice, and I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision”
He was stopped there by the applause that erupted in the room. I had been jotting notes on the town hall up to that point. I didn’t bother after that, because I knew nothing would top what I’d just seen. I was proven wrong second moments later when the conversation continued.
Pete went on to say: “The best I can offer is that If we can’t agree where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw that line. And in my view, it’s the woman who’s faced with that decision in her own life.”
This did not satisfy Kristen, who reminded Pete he had failed to respond to the second half of her question about a wider perspective on abortion within the party’s platform. Pete stood by his beliefs: “I support the position of my party, that this kind of medical care needs to be available to everyone. And I support the Roe vs. Wade framework that holds that early in pregnancy there are very few restrictions, and late in pregnancy, there are very few exceptions. And again the best I can offer is that we may disagree on that very important issue and hopefully we’ll be able to partner on other issues.”
Essentially, Pete told this woman, a Democrat, “I don’t agree with you and I won’t say I do just because there’s a camera pointing at me.”
The exchange left me with several questions: Are there really 21 million pro-life Democrats? That number feels artificial to me. But if there are, is it safe to assume they are not single-issue voters, as this voter seemed to be?
It seems to me that Kristen Day didn’t want an answer to the question. She wanted her answer to the question.
The Democrat platform on abortion is clear: “We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured.”
I don’t know that I will ever understand voters like Kristen, who seem to be indicating they’ll withhold support for a candidate who doesn’t cave to their personal opinions on matters that affect all of us. Historically, when that happens, we end up teaching evolution and “intelligent design” side by side in the classroom, as if wishes and science hold equal weight in the natural world.
Considering the progressive stands Pete holds on climate change, gun laws, health care, infrastructure, the economy and fighting for fair representation, you’d think a self-proclaimed Dem like Kristen would find something else to admire in a candidate as qualified as Pete. I wonder who she thinks is more deserving of her vote, and where exactly she will find that candidate.
Pete made clear part of the reason for his position is that, “I’m never gonna have to make that decision.” And I stand with him on that. I realized years ago no matter what decision I reached on abortion it would be an imperfect one, but that the most responsible thing I could do would be to reach that decision for myself, and then stand by it. To do anything less would mean I am not willing to stand up and be counted. And to give up that right in a country based on the power of the individual voice would be a slap in the face to all the United States has given me.
What might another candidate have said in that moment? Say, a more “seasoned and experienced” candidate. Might they have buried their pro-choice defense at the bottom of a word salad containing neither the word “pro” nor “choice”? Would they have followed that up by pivoting to a rote “women matter” speech with a reminder that Donald Trump is a sexual predator as their coda?
Could anyone call me a cynic for thinking that’s exactly what they would have done?
Pete Buttigieg may have lost the vote of a single pro-life Democrat last night, but I’m willing to wager he picked up several thousand others on the basis of such a powerful and openly direct answer. He certainly has locked in my vote for the next fifty years. He stood by his party. He stood by his own convictions. And he showed himself to have the deeply-rooted political spine more national candidates should have on display in this race.