Saturday, March 16, 2013


Mistermix flags this Glenn Greenwald tweet:

The huge difference is that Obama talked about friends, while Portman is talking about a member of his immediate family. It's appropriate that Matt Yglesias is using the word "narcissism" in reference to Portman's change of position, while Jonathan Chait is using the word "selfishness" -- those two words refer to the self, and Portman is talking about his son's life rather than his own, but children are extensions of the self in a way that friends aren't.

The notion of the family is also a cudgel the right has traditionally used, not just in its culture wars, but also in its economic war. It's not for nothing that GOP predidential nominee Bob Dole said this in his 1996 Republic convention speech, alluding to the title of a book Hillary Clinton had published earlier that year:
The state is now more involved than it has ever been in the raising of children, and children are now more neglected, abused, and more mistreated than they have been in our time. This is not a coincidence. This is not a coincidence, and, with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.
Rick Santorum also wrote a book called It Takes a Family. To right-wingers, liberals believe in government and conservatives believe in the family. Liberal social policies are deemed anti-family; liberal budget policies are regarded as contrary to the way you run your family's budget; government debt, which is blamed exclusively on liberals, is portrayed as especially evil because it places a burden on children and grandchildren. Families get deprived by the "death tax." Families are where homeschooling takes place. And on and on.

Conservatives don't talk about friends because that risks getting into the dangerous area of potentially ascribing moral worth to people whose views are different from your own. To conservatives, political virtue derives from monocultures -- like-minded families; like-minded Christian, conservative, anti-tax, pro-gun communities; ideologically monochromatic red states.

That's why Portman is getting some pushback from fellow conservatives:
Religious conservatives reacted strongly to Mr. Portman on Friday, with some saying that he had turned his back on Christianity. "Senator Portman speaks like so many who call themselves Christians but actually don't spend much time dwelling on the Word of God," wrote Erick Erickson, the conservative commentator, on Twitter.

Others were harsher. The Traditional Values Coalition, a religious group that is often vocal on gay issues, issued a statement that equated homosexuality with drunken driving and mocked Mr. Portman, writing, "My child is a drunk driver and I love him."
He's defined his family as a community with diverse ideas. That's not acceptable on the right.

What Portman should have done was approach this subject the way Dan Quayle approached abortion. In 1988, Quayle shocked a lot of non-conservatives (but shored up his right-wing bona fides) when he told an eleven-year-old interviewer for a childen's TV show that he didn't believe she should have the right to an abortion even if she were impregnated by her father. Four years later, CNN's Larry King asked Quayle what he'd do if his then-thirteen-year-old daughter were pregnant and sought an abortion. Quayle said he "would counsel her and talk to her and support her on whatever decision she made" -- a position that sounded to a lot of people like a belief in choice. Quayle went on to say that he was still anti-abortion -- an assertion that sounded to a lot of people like "I'm pro-choice for my family, just not for yours." But that was fine with the right, which never stopped admiring Quayle.

Portman should have said he loves his son and will support him if he gets gay-married -- but he still opposes gay marriage. I think that the right would have found that perfectly acceptable.


Palli said...

Well, Mr. Portman, father of family: is it Nature or Nurture?

Unknown said...

Plus, it's not like Obama is lacking in compassion for others. The guy worked as a community organizer. He passed a massive heath care overhaul that gives health care to people who can't otherwise get it, even though he likely has the best health care on the planet. Even though he's gainfully employed, he's fought for repeated extensions of unemployment insurance in the face of a Republican Party that thinks the unemployed are drug addicted slackers and welfare queens. No, he's not perfect (his drug policy is such stunning hypocrisy that I don't know how he can possibly reconcile it), but he's a far sight better than your average Republican senator.

Victor said...

I kind of codified some of the thinking of Conservatives yesterday, on another site:

‘Generic Conservative Law:’ “Austerity, and cuts to programs that affect me and mine, are unacceptable and an outrage – and examples of government over-reach.
They are, however, mandatory for thee and thine!”

The new ‘Portman’s Law’ is an offshoot of that: “Something needs to change, because it now affects me and mine.”

Which is itself a corollary to ‘Nixon’s Law:’ “Something is ok, if I’m the one who’s doing it.”

And loosely related to ‘Gingrich’s Law:’ “My right to bang my intern should have no impact on my right to impeach you for getting a BJ from your intern.”

It’s all fine, until the poo-poo hits THEIR ventilator!

Roger said...

I call on Erick Erickson to dwell on Proverbs 23:2.

Ten Bears said...

I call on all "christians" to do as their precious lord and master tells them and put it in the closet. Look it up: Mathew 6:5-6

"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues amd on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have recieved their reward.

But when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father im secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."

You want bonus points? Mathew 6:1-3... do it because it's the right thing to do.

No fear...

aimai said...

I ended up in two different arguments about this on the internet yesterday and rather exhausted my ability to handle the rage. Specifically there was a 300 or so comment thread (two of them) about this at Balloon Juice.

My feelings about this are that Portman's sin, from a right wing political perspective, is actually quite clear. Commentary at Rick Moran's site focuses on this quite specifically. "The Family" for Christians is not a team composed of equals. The Family is the setting in which Old Testament virtues and patriarchal values are played out. Each member of the family has a role to play and some members are "leaders" while other members are "followers." Portman, as a father, is a leader. His wife and his children are followers. He has failed in his duty to them, as well as to god, because he chose to receive information and instruction *from his son* and he has changed his mind about something which was eternally true and biblical because of something that was experienced derived and merely told to him by his child.

This is the source of the discomfort Christianists feel at even hearing Portman discuss his change of heart. You can't talk about family generically: they mean something very specific when they talk about family and about love. Same words, different use.

So Portman's former supporters don't see the issue as "selfish/not selfish" at all. That's a liberal way of looking at morality anyway. Jews think that the highest form of charity is to do it anonymously and to give to someone you don't even know (so you can't gratify yourself by imagining that you've done something righteous for exactly the right person). That is not a modern american christianist perspective at all. Modern American Christianists prefer noisy, public, charity which demeans the receiver and reaffirms the distance between receiver and giver. They specifically reject anonymous government aid as "taking god" out of the equation and rendering the receiver arrogant and not morally instructed.

They see nothing wrong with a self interested, self aggrandizin act that protects in group/family interests. That's not what they think is wrong with Portman's choice. They think its wrong because it makes the rest of them look bad, it makes biblical injunctions look like they can be "read" through modern eyes, and because it reverses the order of things by submitting Portman's older male authority to that of his son who should be submitting to him

Tom Hilton said...

I'm shocked that a ratfucking shitbag like Greenwald would find some pretext for getting a dig in at the President, on an issue where the President has actually been very good.

Shocked, I say.

Sarah C. said...

I don't give Rob Portman much credit but I will say that he's meeting the minimum requirements for being a decent human being. Unlike, say, Paul Ryan, who freely admits that he and his mother could not have gotten by after his father died except for Social Security but has no problem with advocating the essential end of Social Security.

Also William Saletan on Slate made the same point about liberal "hypocrisy" in attacking Portman's limited empathy while praising Obama for coming out for gay marriage. Which, I guess, shows a certain amount of courage since he's saying this on a site that leans liberal...