the national interest

Republicans Keep Lying About Pete Buttigieg and Thomas Jefferson

Pete Buttigieg Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Six days ago, Pete Buttigieg gave an interview to right-wing talk show host Hugh Hewitt. The subject of the Democratic Party’s tradition of naming annual dinners after Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson came up, and Buttigieg thoughtfully distinguished between the two men:

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. 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.


HH: Yes.


PB: And yet, he did it. 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 founder 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. 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.

Hewitt defended his guest, explaining he hadn’t called for taking down monuments to Jefferson. For a short time, Hewitt’s intervention tamped down the spread of the false account of Buttigieg’s comment.

But the lie is too useful to expire. Today Karl Rove uses it, in a column devoted to the hilarious premise that “escalating rhetorical nuttiness could cause some independents to view the Democratic Party — including its presidential candidates — as out of sync with mainstream America.” Here is Rove characterizing Buttigieg’s comments:

“Naming something after somebody confers a certain amount of honor,” the mayor opined. “One of the main reasons to be in politics today is to try to change or reverse the harms” of racism, so “we’d better look for ways to live out and honor that principle, even in a symbolic thing.” If that’s what he thinks, then why stop at renaming dinners? It seems Mr. Buttigieg would also want the U.S. to rename cities, counties, streets and colleges named for slaveholders — including Washington and Madison as well as Jefferson.

Note that Rove does not have anything even close to a quote from Buttigieg saying what Rove claims it said. Instead, in the next sentence, he hops to a “why stop at” slippery-slope argument, when Buttigieg has plenty of reasons to stop. In the following sentence he arrives at an “it seems” conclusion to support a complete fabrication of the original comments.

By this method, you could argue that if Rove thinks owning slaves was fine, why stop at merely preserving all monuments to slaveowners? It seems Rove wants to build a new monument to Jefferson Davis next to the Lincoln memorial!

Rove’s conclusion that people would vote for Trump over Buttigieg because of Buttigieg’s “rhetorical nuttiness” seems rather, uh, farfetched. But it becomes partially plausible when you realize the Republican base gets information from liars like Rove.

Republicans Keep Lying About Buttigieg and Thomas Jefferson