By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – Moments after South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg ended his campaign to become Democratic National Committee chair, the Indiana Republican Party let loose with an email blast.
Under the headline “WANTED,” it read:
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
“The Indiana Republican Party is seeking a job focused, purposeful conservative from South Bend who will put his or her time into growing South Bend versus using public office to build their reputation or for their own personal gain. Must be a tireless worker and very people oriented. Being a Notre Dame fan is optional, but preferred. If you think we are talking about you, please call us today. November 2019 will be here before you know it!”
It’s easy to poke holes in the logic of the GOP response. If seeking another opportunity to render public service while in office represents a character flaw, then both U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, deserve to be chastised, too.
Both Brooks and Rokita sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination made available when Gov. Mike Pence became Donald Trump’s running mate – and then scrambled back to their House races when they were unsuccessful.
Sauce for the goose. Sauce for the gander.
But pointing out that hypocrisy flourishes in politics is a bit like noting weeds can grow with fertilizer.
My real focus is on the need to attack not Buttigieg’s actions but his motives. The email didn’t say the South Bend Democrat was misguided, mistaken or even just plain wrong in the policies he advocates.
No, the GOP said he was willing to sacrifice the public good to service his personal ambitions – even though, while still mayor, he served a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan in 2013.
Sadly, this need not just to disagree but to disparage and demean is a bipartisan phenomenon.
Not long ago, I wrote a column about President Trump, Vice President Pence and the dismissal of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. In the piece, I noted that my disagreements with Pence are both broad and deep, but I’ve always found that his convictions are genuine ones.
The response to the piece was almost vitriolic.
Pence was, is and always will be despicable, one person emailed me. Several contended that the vice president “sold his soul to the devil” when he agreed to join the Trump ticket. Yet another asserted, using nothing but capital letters and exclamation points, that “PENCE SHOULD ROT IN HELL!”
Perhaps the biggest point of disagreement I have with Mike Pence is that he often is intolerant of views that do not square with his.
It appears he doesn’t have a monopoly on that trait.
Again, as in the case of the GOP’s absurd shot at Buttigieg, Pence’s critics couldn’t just say that the vice president is misguided, mistaken or just plain wrong.
No, he was so ambitious he was willing to sell his soul.
There are other ways we could look at these situations – if we wanted to be fair-minded, that is.
In Pence’s situation, we could assume that, whatever reservations he might have about the character and qualifications of Donald Trump as president, his reservations about Democrat Hillary Clinton were even greater – and that he thought helping to keep her out of the presidency served, by his lights, the nation well.
In Buttigieg’s case, reasonable people – even those who belong to a different political party – could grant that, if personal gain was the man’s focus, there would be much easier ways for a Harvard honors grad and Rhodes Scholar to achieve that aim than serving as mayor of a struggling rust belt city and volunteering to be sent to Afghanistan.
I’m not saying Republicans and conservatives can’t disagree with Pete Buttigieg or Democrats and progressives can’t criticize Mike Pence.
Far from it.
Such disagreements are the essence of self-government, the center of the Jeffersonian arena in which truth and error must joust so that we, as a country, can arrive at wisdom and justice.
I’m just not sure what attributing the basest motives to those who disagree with us gets us – other than still more bitterness.
And still more fights no one ever wins.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.