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The hypocrisy of Pence dissing Buttigieg taking 'maternity leave'

A real champion of "family values" would support exactly the kind of policies that Pence mocked.

Former Vice President Mike Pence is not what you would call a “funny” man. As proof, look no further than the “joke” he made about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at the annual Gridiron Club dinner on Saturday, according to The Washington Post.

“When Pete’s two children were born, he took two months’ maternity leave whereupon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, and airplanes nearly collided on our runways.” The punchline: “Pete is the only person in human history to have a child and everyone else gets postpartum depression.”

While you recover from the fits of laughter Pence inspired, here’s how Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, responded on Twitter:

The White House has called on Pence to apologize. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the “homophobic joke about Secretary Buttigieg was offensive and inappropriate, all the more so because he treated women suffering from postpartum depression as a punchline.”

Both Buttigieg and Jean-Pierre are right to call out Pence, whose remarks are par for the course for him as far as the homophobia goes. But it’s Pence’s posture as a champion of the family that is even more galling in light of this gag-worthy gag.

Pence is what’s often still referred to as a “family values” Republican — a euphemistic description of the view that sees anything but a patriarchal nuclear family as a sin. In the name of said “family values,” Republicans like Pence demonize anyone who falls outside so-called “traditional” family bounds. Hence the reference to Buttigieg taking “maternity” leave, despite both him and his husband being men.

Pence’s bid for the White House, like most of his Republican opponents, includes the promotion of “parental rights.” That’s a bloodless way of saying the state should be able to blanket over racism in American history, ostracize trans children and their parents, and threaten anyone who disagrees with the power of the state. In a visit to Minnesota last month, Pence told a crowd of conservatives that “across the country, parents’ rights are being trampled by a politically correct nanny state” — ironic when you consider the rights of the parents of minority and LGBTQ children that are being trod upon in Florida, Texas and other GOP-led states.

Despite presenting his position as merely support for families, and not systematic oppression, Pence has been solidly opposed to policies that would actually support families. In Pence’s view of a functioning society, the man provides for the family while the woman stays home to rear the children rather than work outside the home. He’s touted the importance of two-parent households and marriage before having children as crucial to economic prosperity. You’d think then he’d be a loud and proud supporter of dads staying home in those early months, as research has indicated that “paternity leave is associated with greater relationship stability.”

Buttigieg is in the extreme minority for taking paternal leave at all, given that only 5% of fathers actually take at least two weeks off when their kids are first born or adopted. That number may shift as some dads have gotten used to spending more time at home with their kids during the pandemic, a view that could in time help shift the cultural stigma that Pence is perpetuating.

By contrast, Pence isn’t just against paternity leave, he’s never been a fan of parental leave broadly. While a member of the House, he voted against four weeks of parental leave for federal employees. When former President Donald Trump was touting a plan for six weeks of mandatory paid maternity leave for all Americans in 2016, his running mate kept mum on the proposal.

If Pence truly believed that protecting the traditional family is of utmost importance, he would support policies that help keep those families together. If he truly agreed that “parental rights” were paramount, he’d be spending more time guaranteeing both parents have the right to provide a stable upbringing for their children than running anti-trans ads in Iowa. Instead, as part of his quixotic White House bid, Pence chooses to attack a man who is doing a better job of embodying “family values” that so many members of his own party.