Calhoun's Cannons for March 18, 2013
I think Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow may have just solved our gridlocked Congress. On a recent "Real Time," Bill asked the panel why it was that conservative Republicans seem incapable of recognizing the existence of anyone unless they are part of their own family. The case in point was Republican Senator Rob Portman. Portman was a sponsor of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and for years was a staunchly anti-gay marriage.
Then his 21 year-old son came to him and said, "Uh, Dad, I have something to tell you," and suddenly Portman is declaring that his strongly held "family values" now requires him to support gay marriage so that gay people (like his son) can "have the joy and stability of marriage that [he] had for over 26 years, that I want all of my children to have, including our son."
At that, Rachel Maddow wryly noted that it was too bad Portman (and other conservatives) didn't have a poor son or one who just lost his job and had no medical insurance. The audience laughed, but there it was; the solution to our gridlocked Congress.
Oh, yes, I know you're probably thinking that Portman's conversion was nothing more than typical hypocrisy or political expediency now that he senses that's he's on the wrong side of history on this issue. But I suspect it's much more troubling than that. I suspect Maher's question is closer to the mark: something is lacking in Portman's world view and/or psyche.
For some reason, certain types of people truly are incapable of extrapolating past their own noses or the noses of their immediate family and extending an issue out to include other people. For example, Portman, in discussing this issue, noted that he had gay friends, even while sponsoring DOMA and supporting the anti-gay-marriage Republican platform that called for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage in all states.
So clearly he had to have known that his bill would exclude them from ever experiencing the "joy and stability of marriage," but that gave him no pause. He was incapable of understanding how granting the "joy and stability" of legal marriage to himself while denying it to his gay friends was a flawed and intellectually dishonest proposition. And so he never asked one of the basic questions: As an American citizen, granted equal protection and rights under law, in what way am I sufficiently different and more deserving than my gay friends so that I can honestly justify my denying them what I reserve for myself?
The answer, of course, is, he couldn't. And having a gay son only made his political/moral stance even more untenable. But Maher's question remains: Why was Portman unable to ask that broader question while he was writing DOMA?
That basic inability to move beyond the Kingdom of Me and Mine, would certainly account for Congressman Paul Ryan's appallingly draconian New, Unimproved Budget, for example. Now that's a dream budget if you're a rich white guy living in the realm of ME, but a disaster if you're poor, brown and female, for example.
And so Rachel Maddow rhetorically said, Wouldn't it be wonderful if Republicans also suddenly had a poor son or a jobless son. Maybe then those problems would be addressed as well.
Indeed. Think of what would happen to lawmakers incapable of operating outside the borders of "immediate family" if every conservative legislator suddenly had a daughter who's just lost her job and her health insurance and has just been diagnosed with breast cancer; a son whose disability checks have been cut short, a son-in-law illegally brought to this country as a child who's about to be deported, leaving his pregnant wife and their two kids alone and jobless; a mother whose pension was decimated by the Wall Street banksters who's living on Social Security and Medicare and now her benefits are being Paul Ryanized and she's about to be turned out into the street.
Now imagine a Congress filled with Congressfolk smugly secure in their insular, ideologically pure Kingdoms of Me and Mine, that is breached by family members coming to them to say, "Uh, Dads, Moms, we need to talk." And suddenly, problems that were originally "out there" are now all in the family. And being all in the family, they would now be worthy of attention and a "change of heart."
Just what America needs now -- A Portman-ized Congress filled with changes of hearts, gridlock over, problems solved, and the country moving forward once again as a family -- a bigger family, a more varied family, yes, but still . . . a family.