Democrat and 2020 hopeful ‘Mayor’ Pete Buttigieg spoke with Hugh Hewitt on Friday, and said that renaming something named after Thomas Jefferson is the “right thing to do.”
In Buttigieg’s home state of Indiana, the traditional, annual Democrat fundraiser had the name changed from Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner (so named for the party’s founders) to the Hoosier Hospitality Dinner, for the sake of “inclusiveness.” Changing the name is also under consideration in other states.
Hewitt asked Buttigieg about that directly. “A very blunt question, because you talk about going to every Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Indiana when you were running statewide,” he said. “Should Jefferson-Jackson dinners be renamed everywhere because both were holders of slaves?”
Buttigieg began by talking about Andrew Jackson. Jackson and his supporters formed the Democratic Party as it still exists today.
“Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Mayor Pete. “You know, over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor. And I think we know enough, especially Jackson, you know, you just look at what basically amounts to genocide that happened here.”
He moved on to Jefferson, Founding Father, memorialized in Washington, D.C. and primary author of the Declaration of Independence.
“Jefferson’s more problematic. You know, there’s a lot to, of course, admire in his thinking and his philosophy. Then again, as you plunge into his writings, especially the Notes on the State of Virginia, you know that he knew that slavery was wrong,” he continued.
“Yes,” said Hewitt. A rather short exchange on an extremely complex topic, particularly referencing Notes, one of Jefferson’s most important writings, in a rather passing fashion. Although, such is the nature of a podcast and time constraints.
“Yet, he did it,” Buttigieg continued, referring to Jefferson having owned many hundreds of slaves despite writing against slavery. “Now we’re all morally conflicted human beings. And it’s not like we’re blotting him out of the history books, or deleting him from being the Founding Fathers. But you know, naming something after somebody confers a certain amount of honor.”
“And at a time, I mean, the real reason I think there’s a lot of pressure on this is the relationship between the past and the present, that we’re finding in a million different ways that racism isn’t some curiosity out of the past that we’re embarrassed about but moved on from. It’s alive, it’s well, it’s hurting people,” he said. “And it’s one of the main reasons to be in politics today is to try to change or reverse the harms that went along with that. Then, we’d better look for ways to live out and honor that principle, even in a symbolic thing.”
Buttigieg’s comment that “it’s not like we’re blotting him out of the history books, or deleting him from being the Founding Fathers” is the one that ought to provoke the most commentary, and it touches on the issues that some on the right have been discussing for a while now in cases such as the removal of Civil War statues and memorials and other instances of honoring people from the past. Although the debate over such issues is usually flatly declarative and lacking nuance or subtle differentiation, it nevertheless requires those things and will remain unresolved until we have them.
But regrardless of necessity, what likely will garner more attention, aside from the simple fact of his stating his support, is that he related the moral necessity of the action to the particular current political climate. “At a time” he began to say, before revising and saying that there is a lot of pressure now because of how bad things are. It was sort of high-minded way of saying that the Trump era is a parallel racism to slavery, and that he and other Democrats are running for office to “try to change or reverse” it.