The age of self-interested enlightenment: why Rob Portman is no hero

Remember when Dick Cheney declared he had no issues with gay rights – but only because his own daughter is a lesbian?

Remember when Sarah Palin angrily declared that using the word “retard” is wrong,  but only because her own child has Down’s Syndrome - even as she constantly and bitterly complained about all other “politically correct” language?

Rob Portman

Portman: represents his son really well

Now comes Republican Senator Rob Portman, who as a result of his son coming out, has reversed course and is now in favor of same-sex marriage.

Why do so many conservatives only choose to do the right thing when it’s their own immediate family on the line? Wouldn’t it be nice if our elected officials’ empathy extended to the people they claim to represent, instead of only coming to the more enlightened conclusion because of discrimination experienced by their immediate family?

I won’t begrudge anybody in the opposition who joins ranks with progressives in our causes. But at the same time, it’s not exactly “courage” because your own relatives are getting picked on – especially when it’s our elected representatives’ job to ensure that nobody they represent gets picked on.

But apparently discrimination is fine and dandy with some elected officials, until the people being discriminated against are the ones who live in their house.

You want to see political courage? You’ll have to wait for a conservative to take an inconvenient policy path when it’s based only on their commitment to his constituents, instead of on behalf of members of his own immediate family.

If you want to see your government do great things on behalf of people ill-equipped to do so for themselves, it requires government’s ability to empathize with others’ situations. Because, after all, if the people getting picked on were the ones in power, they wouldn’t need the assist. Government doing the right thing requires that those running it maintain an ability to imagine the lives of those whom government serves, whether it comports with officials’ personal experiences or not. Their failure to empathize is one key reason governments continually expect people to live their lives in ways those people cannot possibly imagine, or for which they are ill-equipped.

Welcome, Senator Portman, to the side that wants everybody to have the opportunities you want your own son to have. It would be nice if you could convince some of your colleagues to join us as well, if only for the seemingly-trivial purpose of granting the the same rights and opportunities to people they don’t know. You know – their constituents. The ones who hired them. The ones who need them. The ones whose fathers don’t happen to be members of the United State Senate.

Now, if only a Republican member of Congress’ offspring would come out poor. Or come out sick without health insurance. Or come out under-educated. Or come out the victim of violent crime. Or come out laid off. Or come out elderly. Or come out foreclosed on. Maybe Congress would really accomplish some stuff then. Meanwhile, if the only rights political leaders are willing to protect are the rights of their own immediate family members, they should go home where they belong.

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