Commentary

Pete Buttigieg called Mike Pence a ‘super-nice guy.’ Where’s the outrage?

Out presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg
Out presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg Photo: South Bend mayor's office

After Joe Biden caught flak last week for calling Mike Pence a “decent guy,” the Washington Blade dug up an instance of South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg – who is gay and running for president – calling Pence “super nice.”

Last week in Omaha, while talking about the Munich Security Conference, Biden called Pence “a guy who’s a decent guy, our vice president.”

On Friday, the Washington Blade found a quote from a 2017 interview with Buttigieg.

“The thing about Mike Pence is, he’s a super-nice guy, who just genuinely believes this stuff,” Buttigieg said.

“He operates from a different reality than the rest of us operate from. He’s written that cigarettes don’t kill, he thinks climate change is made up. He must assume that people get up in the morning one day and decide to be gay.”

Related: Gay mayor Pete Buttigieg just launched his 2020 presidential campaign

So, is it the same thing?

This might be a good time to point out that “nice” doesn’t necessarily mean “morally good.” Sometimes, “nice” means something like “polite,” describing how a person acts in the presence of others without saying much about that person’s moral compass.

The use of the term “nice” to refer superficial politeness as separate from substantive moral decency has been popularized in the expression “Nice Guy (TM),” which refers to a straight man who meets social expectations of politeness, but who shows his true colors when a woman refuses to have sex with him.

Which seems to be in the ballpark of what Buttigieg was saying. His comments to the Blade include explicit criticism of Pence’s beliefs on smoking, climate change, and LGBTQ people, which contradict his superficial niceness.

A representative for the Buttigieg campaign said pretty much that.

“He had a whole chapter in his book about this… and he’s addressed [it] on the campaign trail, as reporters and voters ask a fair amount about Pence,” the spokesperson said.

“I can’t speak to what other potential candidates say about the VP, but what Pete has always said is that Pence’s ‘nice’ demeanor masks a very fanatical ideology that is out of step with reality and one that is very anti-LGBTQ.”

Whether someone can be “super-nice” and hate LGBTQ people is a matter of semantic debate, but Buttigieg’s point is clear in the full context of his comments.

Biden’s comments, on the other hand, don’t really explain what he meant when he said that Pence was “decent” – a term that is more associated with moral behavior than the word “nice” is.

He apologized for his remarks on Twitter.

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