Oh, so NOWWWWwww You suddenly get it?

mirror-on-the-wall snow whiteSome times people are so transparent that you wonder why you can’t literally see through them. Rob Portman’s conversion to a born gain PFLAG member just strikes me as a bit shallow. I’m not the only one who finds his sudden change of heart about marriage equality to be more about him than about actually recognizing that civil rights under the law should apply to every one. This bit is from Matt Ygleisas at Slate.

I’m glad that Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio has reconsidered his view on gay marriage upon realization that his son is gay, but I also find this particular window into moderation—memorably dubbed Miss America conservatism by Mark Schmitt—to be the most annoying form

Remember when Sarah Palin was running for vice president on a platform of tax cuts and reduced spending? But there was one form of domestic social spending she liked to champion? Spending on disabled children? Because she had a disabled child personally? Yet somehow her personal experience with disability didn’t lead her to any conclusions about the millions of mothers simply struggling to raise children in conditions of general poorness. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son with a pre-existing medical condition who’s locked out of the health insurance market. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son engaged in peasant agriculture whose livelihood is likely to be wiped out by climate change. Rob Portman doesn’t have a son who’ll be malnourished if SNAP benefits are cut. So Rob Portman doesn’t care.

It’s a great strength of the movement for gay political equality that lots of important and influential people happen to have gay children. That obviously does change people’s thinking. And good for them.

Why is it that some people only seem to do the seemingly right thing only when it impacts them?

Krugman has similar thoughts on the topic.  Why is it these folks can’t empathize with  situations involving other people’s children?  Is it really that far of stretch to say his conversion is nice but hardly praiseworthy given the circumstance that he was a rigid homophobe until it impacted him?

But while enlightenment is good, wouldn’t it have been a lot more praiseworthy if he had shown some flexibility on the issue before he knew that his own family would benefit?

I’ve noticed this thing quite a lot in American life lately — this sort of cramped vision of altruism in which it’s considered perfectly acceptable to support only those causes that are directly good for you and yours. We even have a tendency to view it as “inauthentic” when people support policies that aren’t in their self-interest — when a rich man supports higher taxes on the rich, he’s somehow seen as strange, and probably a hypocrite.

Needless to say, this is all wrong. Political virtue consists in standing for what’s right, even — or indeed especially — when it doesn’t redound to your own benefit. Someone should ask Portman why he didn’t take a stand for, you know, other people’s children.

So, here’s another weird thing.  All the folks talking about this particular angle seem to be in the economics business.  Is it because we’re intrigued by what motivates people to choose one thing over any other thing?

I think we should have compassion for all peaceful people. Yglesias and I would express our compassion in pretty different ways: he would have a powerful government use force to grab people’s wealth and give it to others and I wouldn’t. But where we agree is that you shouldn’t have to wait until the state interferes with your peaceful son before you start advocating that the state not interfere with other people. So, for example, maybe Portman’s son doesn’t smoke marijuana or snort cocaine. But if he did, it would be admirable for Portman to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana and cocaine. It would be even more admirable if he came out in favor of legalizing them absent any evidence that his son uses them.

I guess we have to leave it to the psychologists to tell us why some people just don’t come around to the compassionate, wise, and just thing to do until it gores their ox. I wish I could be a bit more bottom-lined about this and just be glad there’s another vote out there for marriage equality.  Still, the entire circumstance and now the media adoration pouring all over Portman just doesn’t have that fresh sanctified smell to me.  It does seem that  I may be suffering a symptom of my career choice which again, studies how people make choices.


5 Comments on “Oh, so NOWWWWwww You suddenly get it?”

  1. RalphB says:

    I am in agreement with every word of this post, yet it’s still good to have another vote in Congress. Human rights are either for all of us or, ultimately, for none of us.

    • NW Luna says:

      Agree; great post. It’s a pity Portman cannot extrapolate from his own situation to other similar situations.

  2. ecocatwoman says:

    When I first heard about Portman’s enlightenment, I thought it was terrific. I thought maybe the tide is turning & his “conversion” could influence others in his party of “we’ve got ours.” After reading this post, I think you & those you’ve linked to are correct.

    I’ve often wondered why so many people only care once they’ve experienced a particular “cause.” It’s been my experience that others seem to have been empathetic from the time they were children. They seem to be able to see the world through others’ eyes – not just humans, but all living things. It makes me sad that so many don’t seem to have the compassionate gene.

    Thanks for the commentary, kat. Maybe it’s simpler for a small percentage of people to have a broader and more caring perspective.

    There’s going to be a film on HBO on March 18th called American Winter. The filmmakers made a documentary about 8 families struggling to take care of their families after the Great Recession in Portland, OR. Here’s a link to an interview with the filmmakers: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/wealth-poverty/families-face-tough-choices-shadow-great-recession. Here’s the trailer:

  3. Sweet Sue says:

    That’s it, isn’t it?
    Conservatives understand when it affects them, personally-well, some do.
    Liberals are blessed with empathy and understand that we’re all in this together.
    Thanks, mother, for teaching me the phrase, “there but for the grace of God, go I.”
    My update is “there by the grace of God, go I.”

    • bostonboomer says:

      It’s like those women who protest outside abortion clinic, harassing desperate women and then take their own pregnant daughters for abortions because “that’s different.”