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Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg asks if talk about freedom has ‘gone off the rails’ with anti-abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia

Chicago Tribune

Democratic presidential aspirant Pete Buttigieg accused Republicans of co-opting the terms “freedom” and “security” in the national mindset, and questioned whether talk “about freedom in this country has gone off the rails” following recent laws in Alabama and Georgia that outlaw virtually all abortions.

Speaking to about 300 people at the City Club of Chicago, Buttigieg also said the election of Donald Trump represented a desire by some in the Midwest to “burn the house down” in Washington. Vowing a return to normal should not be part of a Democratic presidential candidate’s rhetorical repertoire, he said.

“Any suggestion that our party’s message ought to be to promise a return to normal overlooks the extent to which normal hasn’t been working for a lot of people. What we’ve got now isn’t working either. But that’s exactly why we have to create a new normal,” the eight-year mayor of South Bend, Ind., said.

Buttigieg, now part of a field of about two dozen contenders, cited abortion rights in discussing his view of freedom, saying, “I don’t think that you are free in this country if your reproductive health can be criminalized by government.”

He said if elected he would seek judicial nominees who “have the same sense of freedom” about abortion rights amid concerns that the Alabama and Georgia laws could lead to the Supreme Court overturning its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure.

“With those rights under assault, I think the full range of responses needs to be contemplated because we can’t just keep having this play out one Supreme Court appointment at a time,” Buttigieg told reporters when asked whether abortion rights should be codified in federal law or put into the Constitution.

Overturning Roe v. Wade was “one of the rationales” that Trump offered for people to elect him, Buttigieg said.

“Pretty much everything about this president is anathema to the values, for example, of the religious right and yet he was able to build a coalition largely around a promise — explicit or implicit — to overturn Roe,” he said.

“This is, of course, precisely the intent of the Alabama law and the Georgia law. They know that under current case law, if you believe in the idea of stare decisis, that those laws are unconstitutional,” Buttigieg said, referring to the legal principle of precedent. “They know it because they want to test the constitutionality with a new referee and see if they get a different answer.”

Buttigieg said abortion rights should fit in with those who believe freedom means less government.

“This is not an easy choice for anybody to face, and I would be loath to tell anybody facing that situation what the right thing to do is. But that’s exactly the point. I’m a government official,” he said.

“I don’t view myself as belonging in that conversation, and to see in Alabama that if someone is raped and she seeks an abortion, the doctor who treats her will be penalized with a longer prison term than her rapist, makes me question about whether the discussion about freedom in this country has gone off the rails,” he said.

Talking with your daughter amid new Alabama and Georgia abortion laws: 'You can’t just pretend it’s a nonissue' »

Buttigieg, 37, a gay military veteran and Oxford scholar whose earlier work as a consultant for worldwide management firm McKinsey & Co. included a stint in Chicago, has seen what he called his “admittedly improbable” candidacy gain traction in a crowded field.

Viewing himself as a representative of parts of the industrial Midwest that voted for Trump amid anger at the economy and employment fears over globalization and technology, Buttigieg chastised the Republican president’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

In South Bend, he said, “we had to accept the future was going to be different, and let’s be honest about it — be honest that certain things weren’t coming back but we were, and then talk about how.”

“That’s why I think there’s no such thing as an honest politics built around the word, ‘again,’” he said.

“But I do believe that there can be a very optimistic politics for the industrial Midwest, and that’s so important at a time when we’re being characterized by the White House and caricatured sometimes by the commentators as a place where the only way to our heart is through nostalgia and through resentment,” he said.

What's next after the Alabama abortion ban passed? »

Buttigieg said it was time to “stop talking about freedom and security like they belong on one side of the aisle, and let’s have an adult conversation about what it’s going to take to do something about that in our country.”

On the security front, he cited concerns over cybersecurity, particularly involving election security, but also warned against U.S. military involvement in foreign countries without express congressional authorization. He also said the nation should unite behind a national project aimed at dealing with climate change.

But Buttigieg said the election of Trump as president in 2016 was notable for what it said about the state of the nation and its politics and governance.

“You don’t even get a presidency like this unless something is wrong,” he said.

rap30@aol.com

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