This is an excerpt from Outtakes, a Globe Opinion newsletter from columnist Renée Graham. Sign up to get this in your inbox a day early.
With an antigay and misogynistic remark masquerading as humor, Mike Pence proved he’s even worse at comedy than he was at being a governor or a vice president.
During last weekend’s Gridiron dinner, Pence took aim at Pete Buttigieg, the Biden administration’s transportation secretary. “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, airplanes nearly collided in midair,” Pence said. “I mean, Pete Buttigieg is the only person in human history to have a child and all the rest of us get postpartum depression.”
What about this is funny? Is it using “maternity leave” because Buttigieg is gay and married to a man? Or has postpartum depression, which affects thousands of women and can sometimes lead to tragic outcomes, become a punch line?
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House’s press secretary, called Pence’s comment “offensive and inappropriate” and said he should apologize. Also not laughing — Chasten Buttigieg, Pete’s husband and coparent of their twins, who were born prematurely in August 2021 and suffered from a severe respiratory virus.
He tweeted to Pence, “If your grandchild was born prematurely and placed on a ventilator at two months old — their tiny fingers wrapped around yours as the monitors beep in the background — where would you be?”
Pence won’t apologize. He’s long been an ardent foe of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. His nasty quip also plays to the cheap seats of a Republican base that never met a homophobic remark it didn’t like. And don’t overlook this: Pence’s dig implies that there’s something inherently unmasculine about a man taking time off from work to be with his children. Men are so stigmatized for taking paternity leave that fewer than 5 percent of fathers take two or more weeks off, according to a 2021 study.
As a White House Cabinet member, it’s not as if Buttigieg was unreachable for weeks with his cellphone in airplane mode. But Pence, desperate to improve his dismal ratings within his own party before launching a probable presidential bid, isn’t above throwing the lowest of blows. Still, what’s really a joke is how much Pence has to say as long as he isn’t under oath and answering questions about what happened on Jan. 6, 2021.