The growing popularity of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is evidently leading to new acts of desperation from some Trumpist “conservatives.” Reading from a long-discredited playbook from the '50s, the conservative Washington Examiner has decided the best approach is to resume some old-style “red-baiting” from the McCarthy era. On Tuesday, the online edition went to press with a column titled “Pete Buttigieg’s Father was a Marxist Professor who Lauded the Communist Manifesto.”
Evidently the father’s sins are to be passed down automatically to the offspring. His father, authors Emily Larsen and Joseph Simonson write, “spoke fondly of the Communist Manifesto and dedicated a significant portion of his academic career to the work of Italian Communist Party founder Antonio Gramsci, an associate of Vladimir Lenin.”
That his father had these views is hardly a hidden secret. The late Joseph Buttigieg, who passed away last January, taught, beginning in 1980, at the University of Notre Dame, where, as the authors note, he “supported an updated version of Marxism that jettisoned some of Marx and Engel's more doctrinaire theories, though he was undoubtedly Marxist.”
There are certainly scores of Marxist professors in the academy, and clearly, Notre Dame students were able to live through the horrors of some of them having to take a course in which the Professor Buttigieg taught literary theory from a Marxist perspective. No information exists to find how many of them came out of the experience dedicated socialist revolutionaries. Perhaps some of them even found some value in applying Gramsci’s theory of “cultural hegemony,” which means “political leadership based on the consent of the led, a consent which is secured by the diffusion and popularization of the world view of the ruling class.”
Prof. Buttigieg, we learn, even spoke at “many Rethinking Marxism conferences and other gatherings of prominent Marxists.” That, of course, was his First Amendment right as an American citizen, and those who disagreed with him clearly had ample opportunity to challenge his viewpoints. Indeed, there is much to criticize in Prof. Buttigieg and his co-authors’ ideological critique of human rights activists made in one of his articles, and it is certain that that is what those who disapproved and took them seriously did.
If anything, Prof. Buttigieg clearly thought much of Marxism outmoded. In an article appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1998, he argued that the Communist Manifesto “needed liberating from Marxism's narrow post-Cold War orthodoxies and exclusive cadre.” The man hardly sounded like a narrow dogmatist.
The problem, however, seems to be that in his own memoir, Mayor Pete “called his dad a ‘man of the left, no easy thing on a campus like Notre Dame’s in the 1980s,’” when he was a student there. He added that “the more I heard these aging professors talk, the more I wanted to learn how to decrypt their sentences, and to grasp the political backstory of the grave concerns that commanded their attention and aroused such fist-pounding dinner debate.” Moreover, he obviously cherished the support his father gave him when Mayor Pete came out as gay.
Mayor Pete has made it clear, as the authors acknowledge, that he considers himself a capitalist but believes “the biggest problem with capitalism right now is the way it’s become intertwined with power and is eroding our democracy.” He certainly is a progressive, but as David Brooks points out, Buttigieg disavows culture wars, class warfare, and identity politics, and “doesn’t want to fight fire and divisiveness with more fire and divisiveness.”
This doesn’t stop another far-right columnist at PJ Media from actually writing that “I was taken aback by how much Mayor Pete sounds like a damn communist,” which, he ascertains, obviously comes from “his commie college-prof dad.” Columnist Jim Treacher concludes that the Mayor “sounds like a chip off the ol’ Eastern Bloc to me. He’s basically a younger, more polished version of Bernie Sanders.”
This kind of red-baiting was first seen in an old episode of Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now on McCarthy in the '50s, particularly one about Milo Radulovich, who was discharged from the Air Force Reserve where he was a weather officer because his father and sister were said to have Communist sympathies. His father was a Serbian immigrant who could not read English; hence he subscribed to newspapers in his own language, one of which was deemed Communist by authorities.
After Murrow’s show, titled "The Case Against Lt. Milo Radulovich, A0589839,” aired on Oct. 20, 1953, CBS was flooded with calls of support, as Americans were incensed that a patriotic soldier was being punished because of his continued association with his father and sister—a classic case of McCarthyite “guilt by association.” As Murrow said, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, even though that iniquity be proved beyond all doubt, which in this case it was not."
Only in the time of Trumpist demagoguery, it seems, are self-proclaimed conservatives and Trump supporters ready and willing to go back in time to the most foolish and inane attacks from a sordid era in our nation’s past.