Editor's note: This column was authored by Kristiana Bolzman.
Few words are better known in American political thought than the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg suggests removing author Thomas Jefferson’s name from the Jefferson-Jackson dinners, so as not to show Jefferson, a slave-owner, undue honor.
At best, Buttigieg’s comments evidence an agenda pushing more political correctness. At worst, they undermine the very laws America is built upon.
If Buttigieg truly believes naming a dinner after a slaveholder—even one whose thoughts shaped a nation—is too much of an honor, then adhering to the philosophy and writings of such a man would seem to be an even greater wrong.
The American Declaration of Independence, for example, is one of Jefferson’s most famous writings. Though not legally authoritative, it has contributed to legal decisions, legislative action, executive action, and political advocacy. Its position on the equality of all persons has served as the basis for promoting women’s suffrage and gender identity, and ironically, eliminating slavery—the very wrong Buttigieg uses to disqualify Jefferson. But by some standards, this devotion to our founding principles honors the Declaration’s author—more so than a dinner ever could. If Buttigieg is to be taken seriously, then surely this honor is unfounded, and the reforms that propagate Jefferson’s influence should be held in question.
Similarly, the American Constitution, the basis of over 220 years’ worth of legal precedent was developed by 55 delegates, about 25 of them owned slaves. By Buttigieg’s reasoning, the authority America gives this document would also seem to offer too much honor to the slaveholders who penned it.
Worse yet, if adhering to the law shows too much honor to its flawed authors, then Buttigieg’s reasoning suggests that few laws deserve adherence. Although no Americans today own slaves, most would likely agree that our founders, presidents, politicians, and even presidential candidates are far from perfect, and have perhaps not done nearly as much good as Jefferson. Therefore, if following the precedents Jefferson established offers him too much honor, surely following the laws these men and women establish also shows too much honor.
If Buttigieg were right, America could be left without reliable laws, leaders, or founding documents. It’s probably for the better therefore that the Indiana Mayor back peddled on the extremity of his remarks during Sunday’s Fox News town hall. There, Buttigieg noted that he had no intention of renaming the Jefferson boulevards of America or blowing up the Jefferson Memorial for the honor it does to a slaveholding president. Rather, he said he only meant to encourage thinking twice about the names of events in light of how “burning an issue” racial equity is today
But if this is Buttigieg’s position, then he is pushing a line Americans are both tired of hearing and to which we are strongly opposed: that we need to be more politically correct. According to a 2018 NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll of 1,075 American voters, 52 percent feel we do not need to grow more politically correct by being more sensitive about others. A 2018 poll by More in Common, an international initiative to build stronger, more united communities, interviewed 8,000 respondents and found that 80 percent believe political correctness has gone too far.
One respondent, a 28-year old voter told the researchers, “I have liberal views but I think political correctness has gone too far, absolutely. We have gotten to a point here everybody is offended by the smallest thing.”
While political correctness applies to more than just racial sensitivities, Merriam Webster, Cambridge Dictionary, and Encyclopedia Britannica include racial sensitivity as a primary example of politically correct behavior. Moreover, the More in Common study found that for racial sensitivity in particular, 69 percent of Americans across the political spectrum say people are too sensitive. Based on Sunday’s comments, Buttigieg seems to be one of them.
Take Buttigieg’s comments at face value or look to his revised sentiments—either way, American voters should be skeptical. With his first stance, Mayor Pete rejects the authors of American history and law. With the second, he shows that he is pushing an agenda Americans know and reject. Neither position sounds much like what Americans are looking for in our next president of the United States.