Monday, March 18, 2013

It Shouldn’t Be Personal

Following up on the point I made at the end of my piece about Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) having a change of heart about marriage equality:

I respect Mr. Portman for his forthrightness in saying that it took a personal revelation to get him to change his mind.  It’s easy to be against something in the abstract but difficult to turn into a bumper sticker when it touches you: abortion is murder until your 16 year old daughter breaks the news, and God hates gays until your son sits you down and tells you that his roommate isn’t really just a guy who helps with the rent.  That’s when reality trumps the talking points.

My only wish is that it didn’t take a personal family experience to learn that.

I am glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks like that, as my commenters pointed out.  Here’s Matthew Yglesias on the same subject:

But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn’t to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It’s to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don’t have direct access to the corridors of power.

Senators basically never have poor kids. That’s something members of Congress should think about. Especially members of Congress who know personally that realizing an issue affects their own children changes their thinking.

Let’s take this one step further and say that it shouldn’t require someone to be poor, or gay or disabled to get a measure of understanding from a lawmaker.  Or anyone, for that matter.  It goes to the basic rules you learn in kindergarten: share, be nice, think of someone else first.  If you want to attach a religious theme to it, fine.  Or just remember the thing my father used to plead to us kids when we were fighting: Love One Another.

9 barks and woofs on “It Shouldn’t Be Personal

      • Forgive me if I remind you that I’ve been woofing this back to you for a long time. The word is “empathy”. Volunteer at a food bank or Planned Parenthood for a few months and you’ll be surprised at how sensitive you become to the Other. Problem with most conservatives is that their philosophy of “to each his own . . . period” conflicts with the principles of human understanding.

        • THIS, FC, is one of the two flaws in the Reichwing insistence that private charity will fill the gap when the public sector stops providing the safety net (the other being that private charity has its own costs, either in focus or in adherence to a particular set of beliefs). The assumption that the citizenry will step up and donate their newfound “wealth” from lower taxes is absurdly naive, and the matching assumption that the 1%ers will gladly take up the burden when the 99% decide they can’t afford charity any more than they can afford taxes is equally ridiculous. Their entire platform rests on the conviction that wealth is a sign of Election and Blessedness, and that giving that away (gasp! horrors!) is negligent and counterproductive: leave the safety net to the private sector and the instances of every ill visited on the nation by poverty and neglect will multiply beyond measure. Add to that the nearly “Arbeit Macht Frei” attitude toward work, and those in the 99% will be too busy making ends meet to have time to substitute for donations, so the labor force required to provide services will correspondingly shrink as well.

          Empathy requires an awareness of others. The Teahad is the epitome of the Me Generation aesthetic: “let some other sucker pay for those lazy, uppity slackers’ livelihood, because I ain’t doing it” about sums it up.

  1. Saw a tweet the other day that declared that the good senator was now all for paying firemen more after his son’s house caught fire.



  2. I wonder if people like Portman lack imagination. Part (though not all) of the reason I’ve come to support marriage equality is I can imagine what if one of my kids came out. Or if you prefer, I can imagine being in another parent’s shoes who has gone through this. Maybe empathy is a better word, but I do think imagination is a major factor in empathy.

  3. Another flaw in the right wing’s plan, and possibly the basis for their inability to empathize, is their tendancy to set themselves apart from the 99% and then think that everyone lives like they do. I remember an artcile describing how rich folks less than 100 years ago used to to to baseball games and how they would pay several times the price of a regular ticket to sit closer to the game but were still among the riff-raff. No sky boxes. The managers and the big boss used to live in the same neighborhood as many of their workers and their kids went to the same school and played on the same little league team or were in the same scout troop. There was opportunity to get to know the other and empathize.

    Then again, I currently live in Rural Oklahoma and there is only one public school. The MD’s kids, and the college professor’s kids and the poor folk’s kids all go to the same school (unless they send them to the conservative religious school). Yet they still consistently vote aginst their own interest and elect Republicans at the state and federal level who are dismantling the social safety net and demonize people just like them…


    • Sounds like the 1% of your community is ripe for some job-creatin’ gated community construction goodness…


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