Critics of Pete Buttigieg’s Paternity Leave Reveal Their Ignorance


Pete Buttigieg shaking hands during 2020 campaign | Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg faced criticism recently for his decision to take paternity leave. The leave, which lasted six weeks, came after adopting twins with his husband, Chasten. Though the issue of paid paternity leave is an issue of economic and social policy, some have taken it in a completely different direction.

Right-wing commentator and contributor to PragerU Candace Owens tweeted her disapproval, saying, “Pete Buttigieg Taking two Months for Paternity Leave in the middle of a national transportation crisis is sickeningly pathetic. Privileged times have produced the weakest men that have ever lived in America. Remove this little boy from office.” Tucker Carlson echoed this sentiment on his show, mocking the Transportation Secretary and telling him to learn how “to breastfeed.” I doubt I need to illustrate the homophobia in that statement.

Owens and Carlson’s responses are at the core of a fundamental view that a man should be working and is not entitled to time off with his kid for bonding. And while Owens may argue that her critique was related to the transportation crisis, her statements about Buttiegieg being a “little boy” reveal her biases as well.

It goes without saying that Buttigieg’s leave did not undermine the strength of America’s supply lines or contribute to the shortage of truck drivers that America now faces. For years, that has been an issue, and COVID-19 has almost certainly contributed to it. Nor has Buttigieg left it unattended. In July, he sat down with industry leaders to address their concerns and discuss solutions to ease the burden on trucking companies.

But that was never the point of these comments by Carlson and his ilk. Instead, it is to denigrate the nature of paternity leave as weak, spoiled and effeminate. There are many layers to that perspective, including the disregard for men and women who stay home to raise their kids. But to add to that, there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the benefits most workers receive when raising kids. Among 41 OECD nations, the United States is the only one that does not guarantee paid leave for new parents. In most countries, paternity leave is guaranteed with variations in how long a leave period is. The fact that Buttigieg took any leave is a rarity in the United States, which is precisely why Buttiegieg hit back against the attacks.

In an interview with CNN, Buttigieg explained that “The work that we are doing is joyful, fulfilling, wonderful work. It’s important work. And it’s work that every American ought to be able to do when they welcome a new child into their family.” Indeed, Biden and Buttigieg both campaigned on paid family leave and sick leave. And there is legislation that would guarantee up to 12 weeks of family and sick leave that the Biden administration is working to pass right now.

If anything, Buttigieg’s actions are a reflection of what he wants all Americans to have, a chance to bond with their kids. And studies do show that paid leave has little negative impact on employment or negative economic consequences. And, according to those same studies, paid leave is correlated with lower infant mortality. In other words, paid leave is a win for the public and the family, and not allowing someone to get it is an exercise in poor judgment.

The idea that we must deny our citizens the basic benefit of caring for their children without work interfering with that process is absurd. And it is especially disgusting when men who attend to their kids are treated like they are somehow lesser than those who do not.