[Slight UPDATE in the text to clarify David R. Henderson’s position.]
Seeing Steve Landsburg doing everything in his power to get fired, I will take a shot at my own thought-provoking post that is sure to upset some readers for its apparent obtuseness:
==> A lot of people, including some libertarians but especially progressives,
went out of their way to criticize were less than enthusiastic about Senator Rob Portman for supporting gay marriage after his son came out. Here’s the reigning internet arbiter of decency and monetary policy, Matt Yglesias:
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.
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.
==> I heard on the radio today that the parents who lost children at the Newton massacre are working with Vice President Biden in a gun control initiative. (I can’t seem to find a news story about it now, so I have to be vague on the details.)
==> Is Matt Yglesias going to write a post criticizing these parents? After all, they weren’t lobbying for gun control legislation until it affected them personally. Isn’t that exactly what he criticized Palin and Portman for doing?
Let me be clear:
==> I am NOT criticizing the Newton parents. I can’t even imagine how awful that would be, and while I don’t support gun control by the government (I’m a pacifist in my personal life), I can totally understand trying to do something to make sense of what happened, namely by preventing similar tragedies from befalling others.
==> Yet precisely because I understand that obvious psychological fact about humans, it never occurred to me to get huffy about Rob Portman, or about Sarah Palin if I had known she favored spending money on disabled kids.
==> So in summary, I am NOT criticizing the Newton parents for all of a sudden thinking gun control is worth their times, since the issue has now touched their families. But I’m wondering what people who criticized Sarah Palin or Rob Portman would say: why is this case so different? It can’t simply be, “Because it’s not a tragedy if your son turns out to be gay,” because that defense won’t work for Palin. It’s obviously a hardship if your kid is disabled, so if we’re going to criticize her, why not the Newton parents?
I suspect in the case of Yglesias, one obvious reason is: he doesn’t like Palin’s political views, but he supports more gun control legislation.