Friday, March 15, 2013

How a Nation Changes Its Mind

It's a cliche that old prejudices die when the prejudiced old do, but it's not quite right. Rob Portman today became the first GOP Senator to come out for gay marriage, an epiphany triggered, ableit belatedly, by his son's revelation that he was himself gay - some two years ago. Matt Yglesias doesn't let that make him happy though.

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.

Maybe Matt forgot to take Prof Nagy's course on the Greek Hero when he was at Harvard. If he had, he might have realized that the moment at which the hero stubborn self-righteousness is touched is precisely that moment when it affects his "nearest and dearest." That circumstance and public opinion are decisive when a country changes its mind. The changing of the country's mind on gay marriage has been particularly swift, but hardly unprecedented. There was a similar sea change in the case of Civil Rights in my youth, and about slavery long before that.