There is a saying that a liberal is a conservative who has not been mugged yet, or has not paid taxes yet. You can really adapt it to whatever policy position you want. And now we liberals can modify it once more: A conservative is a liberal who has not been affected by what he opposes yet.
Yes, I am talking about Senator Rob Portman and his announcement yesterday that 1) his son his gay, 2) and because his son is gay, he has changed his mind about gay marriage.
Allahpundit shares my feelings on the matter.
I’m loath to scold the guy for his reasoning given that I agree with him and that he’s taking on a bit of political risk in doing this, but why did he need his son to come out to get him to look at this issue from the perspective of someone who’s gay? He’s been a professional legislator for years; he’s supposed to consider all sides of an issue when deciding which policy to support. That’s a surprisingly parochial approach to a national debate that’s been rolling around for a solid decade now. Makes me wonder if his feelings on the subject really did change recently or if he’s always quietly been open to gay marriage but only felt politically safe to announce it once he discovered his son’s orientation. Conservative primary voters may be less likely to hold it against him if they think it’s a decision driven by fatherly love for his son.
Indeed. Whenever a conservative does come out (pun intended) in favor of marriage equality, it is because he or she is affected personally by it. Josh Barro explains why it is necessary for a conservative to make it personal in order to be right on the issue:
It’s almost a dare: “What are you going to do, attack my family?” And just as personalization is important for supporters of same-sex marriage, abstraction is important for opponents. It’s a lot easier to oppose same-sex marriage if you pretend the gay people hurt by the policy don’t actually exist. Portman’s gay son allows him to put same-sex marriage opponents on uncomfortably personal turf.
But whether conservatives need the excuse of a personal connection to issue to challenge conservative doctrine that they already reject (as per Allahpundit’s thoughts), or it truly is the reason why they change their minds in the first place, why must conservatives need the personal connection to an issue to feel empathy? Don’t they already have empathy? Aren’t they already human? Or does being a conservative mean you are one selfish narcissistic bastard/bitch who has no empathy for anyone else in the human race?
Kevin Drum counters me:
I do wish conservatives could demonstrate a little empathy even for people and causes that don’t directly affect their own lives, but it’s not as if this is an exclusively conservative thing. It’s a human thing. Personal experience always touches us more deeply than facts and figures, and in the case of gay marriage we all knew this was how progress would be made. People would see gay characters on TV and shed a little bit of their discomfort. They’d learn that old friends are gay and decide they wanted to stay friends anyway. They’d learn their children are gay, and decide that they still wanted the best for them, even if that means supporting same-sex marriage.
Alright. I will concede that being a conservative does not necessarily mean you are one selfish narcissistic bastard/bitch. But take me for instance. I am liberal who does not have close friends or family who are gay and I am not gay myself. Yes, I do have gay acquaintances and colleagues, but I have not been personally affected by someone I love coming out as gay. And yet somehow I am for marriage equality. How can that be? Can it be that liberals just possess more empathy and feeling than conservatives? Can it be that liberals just possess more empathy by nature, and in fact, it is that empathy for their fellow mankind that makes them liberals in the first place? I think so. And since empathy is a regarded as a better character trait than narcissism, that is why we are better than conservatives. Indeed, narcissism is generally considered a personality disorder.
As an aside, Senator Portman was generally considered to be the frontrunner for the Republican Vice Presidential Nomination. Indeed much of the speculation before Romney chose Paul Ryan as that Portman, due to being from Ohio and being a former Budget chief and fiscal conservative, was the likely choice. I wonder if Mitt Romney, upon learning that Portman’s son was or could be gay, chose Paul Ryan because of that. Who would though have thought that George W. Bush would be a better human being than Mitt Romney, for at least Bush could stand it to have a running mate that had a gay child.