Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg doesn’t downplay or up play that he’s openly gay. There’s no need to. He’s already shown that he can mount a coherent, sustained, and compelling presidential campaign and candidacy. So compelling that he’s now the front runner in some polls in the often make or break first out the box Iowa Democratic primary.
But Mayor Pete had to get the pesky issue of being an openly gay presidential candidate off the table. He did that by announcing it and then surging to near the top of the Democratic presidential heap. Along the way he’ s grabbed tens of millions in Democratic donor cash. He also got the polls on his side. Most show an epiphany of sorts on the part of most Americans on whether they can see themselves voting for an openly gay candidate for president. The majority say they’re “not uncomfortable” with that.
This doesn’t mean though that the issue is now a total non-issue. Politics and polls if anything has amply shown that what people tell pollsters about their supposed “don’t care attitude toward a presidential candidate’s race, gender, or sexual preference is one thing. What they sometimes do in the privacy of the voting booth is another.
The other problem is the political nuance of where the enlightenment on sexual preference is for voting purposes has occurred. Put bluntly, will voters in the five states that will decide the White House disregard an openly gay candidate when they step behind the curtain in the voting booth? There’s little doubt that the new enlightenment on gays stops dead in its tracks with conservative evangelicals and the many in the GOP within and without those states.
There’s also much evidence that while more older voters have shed their worst horror of an openly gay presidential candidate, there are still plenty of them that haven’t. The brutal political reality is that they vote in far greater proportions than the group that’s the most enlightened and accepting of one’s sexual preference. That’s the millennials.
Mayor Pete is not naïve on this count and realizes that being gay has some potential downside in those crucial presidential vote states, and among older, conservative and religious bent voters. But it’s likely no longer the deal breaker for him it would have been in times past.
What he’s done is to try and ensure that it isn’t by hedging his political bets. He’s carved out a position as a younger, more pointed, and forceful alternative to Joe Biden with centrists. This nifty political footwork meant imaging himself as the counterpose to the leftist positions of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on the big-ticket issues, most importantly health care. This is the potential minefield as repeatedly pointed out for Warren and Sanders. They’ve gone to the wall on Medicare for when polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans are terrified at the thought that they’ll be taxed through the gourd to pay for it and along the way their private health insurance choice will be snatched away.
Trump and the GOP will have a field day with this hit line during the general election campaign, scaring the bejesus out of moderate and centrist voters with the drumbeat screech “ Do you want the government running your health care like Canada or Sweden?” This bogus line will almost certainly ring loud with many voters in the key battleground states.
Buttigieg has said as much and has made sure one and all know that he like Biden is the pragmatist on this issue by simply advocating a tweak with a public option of the current Affordable Care Act. Buttigieg has bought some more insurance against any voter ambush on his sexual preference by tackling frontally the issue of police and racial violence against Blacks. He’s proposed a plan that make racial justice in policing and criminal justice system the watchword for ending the racial abuses.
This plopped him on the radar of many Black voters who know little to nothing about him. He’ll have to peel off a percentage of their vote to be a top rank candidate in the South and other states where the Black vote is crucial to any Democratic presidential candidate’s fortune. Buttigieg will have to hope that his outfront stance on police abuse will be a counter to the lingering anti-gay bias among some segments of the Black religious evangelicals. Past polls have shown that they have been among the loudest in professing anti-gay attitudes. How much that has changed will be tested by Mayor Pete as the Democratic presidential nominee.
For now, Buttigieg is not viewed publicly a least as a gay candidate for president but as a Democratic presidential candidate. That’s a giant step forward. It’s a good sign that if he is the Democratic nominee and wins or loses the presidential election it won’t be because he’s gay.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of The Impeachment of President Trump? (Amazon Kindle).https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075XSXJM8 Free Amazon
He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.