He’s right, and the attention to which he refers isn’t the unflattering kind. He explicitly says that Buttigieg’s trailblazing status as an openly gay presidential candidate has been an asset to him (at least so far) — which feels vaguely scandalous coming from Frank. Normally among the left it’s acceptable to acknowledge progress in growing public acceptance of minority groups but to admit that minority status might be an advantage supposedly risks breeding complacency. The bottom line of every social-justice argument is “there’s much more work to be done.” Listening to Barney chatter about how being gay is momentarily helping someone in the race to become leader of the free world, that argument is a harder sell.
“If he were straight, I don’t think he’d be getting the attention that he’s getting,” Frank told host Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Wednesday. But Frank added, that when Buttigieg “gets the attention, he is so talented and good at this and solid that he makes the most of it.”…
Frank called Buttigieg’s progress “both a sign that the prejudice is diminishing and it is an opportunity further to diminish the prejudice by giving him this platform.”…
“People don’t get heckled if nobody thinks they’re a threat,” Frank told Matthews about the protesters. “The fact that these bigoted lunatics start acting out in public, it’s a sign of their desperation.”
Democratic voters are still getting to know Buttigieg but his favorablility so far has been overwhelmingly positive, on the order of 50/5. If his orientation becomes a problem for him in the primary, it won’t be because voters sour on him or on the fact that he’s gay. It’ll come from their anxiety that an openly gay candidate just can’t prevail in a general election, especially against a candidate like Trump whose image relies so heavily on machismo. Remember this poll from deep-blue California last week?
Those numbers can change, of course. I’m sure there were polls in 2007 that showed Democrats highly skeptical that the country was ready for the first black president; a year later Obama won the most votes of any candidate in American history, a record that still stands. Buttigieg has something in common with Obama, namely, that his personal style contrasts sharply with the nastiest stereotypes thrown at people like him. Bigots will tell you that blacks are stupid, promiscuous, and aggressive; Obama was a Harvard-trained law professor, devoted family man, and so chill that people compared him to Mr. Spock. They’ll tell you that gays are effeminate, flamboyant, immoral, and extremely promiscuous; Buttigieg is a veteran, low-key in a classic midwestern way, a practicing Christian, and married to another man. Some progressives would claim that he’s not “gay enough” just as some of Obama’s “woker” critics on the left grumbled that his sense of black identity wasn’t as developed as it should be (he lost his first run for Congress in Chicago to former Black Panther Bobby Rush partly for that reason, in fact) but it’s their shared ability to turn stereotypes about the groups to which they belong on their heads that makes iffy voters more comfortable with them.
As for Frank’s point about gayness being an asset, I had the thought last night that we haven’t had a truly “traditional” presidential election in the United States in more than 20 years. The 1996 election, I’d say, was “traditional” notwithstanding Perot’s formidable third-party presence. We had a traditional campaign in 2000 but the results of the election itself were, er, untraditional. The 2004 election was untraditional because it was largely a referendum on Bush’s response to 9/11 and his decision to invade Iraq. 2008 and 2012 brought us the first black president and 2016 brought us the first woman nominee versus a celebrity real-estate developer turned game-show host. Whether there’s an actual “trend” in all that and/or whether it’s a byproduct of the country’s population becoming more diverse — of course we’ll have fewer white and male nominees over time — is a question left to smarter cultural critics than me. But it may be that some Democrats have effectively decided that their nominating process should itself be a vessel of social justice by elevating members of previously marginalized groups to fully mainstream status, in which case yeah, Buttigieg’s orientation would definitely be an asset next year. We’ve had a black nominee (and president), we’ve had a woman nominee, logically lefties would next want to signal that being gay also shouldn’t be seen as a political disability.
Here’s Frank. The clip is worth watching for two reasons, one Chris Matthews’s weird pronunciation of Buttigieg’s last name (he says Boo-DED-itch instead of BOOT-edge-edge) and the other Frank’s story of Joe Biden getting nuzzle-y in classic Biden fashion with … Frank’s husband.