Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Families First, Principles Second (Or Not At All)

It's a short post (by a deservedly famous leftist blogger) so herewith is Jane Hamsher's comment of June 3 in its entirety about the conservative impulse to be empathetic when convenient:

Shorter Newt: Now that Robert Gibbs and President Obama have accepted my central premise that Sotomayor's remarks were racist, let's all just agree that "empathy" disqualifies her from the bench.

I was on MSNBC yesterday talking with David Shuster and Matt Lewis about Dick Cheney's newly vocal reverence for gay marriage. I made the point (which I freely admit came from Glenn Greenwald) that conservative principles seem to crumble when they come up against empathy -- Cheney endorses full civil rights because of his experience as the father of a lesbian daughter, Nancy Reagan becomes the spokesperson for stem cell research because of her husband, and Erich "Mancow" Muller renounces his support for waterboarding after he tries it himself.

No wonder conservatives hate empathy.

Leaving aside the issue of what role, if any, "empathy" should play in consideration of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the United States Supreme Court, Hamsher makes an excellent point, although not exactly the one she intended.

Cheney's support for gay rights is not "newly vocal reverence." When asked at a campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa in 2004. Hinting (so strongly that he was promptly critized by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Center) that he opposed President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Cheney explained (video below)

Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it’s an issue our family is very familiar with. With the respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone. ... People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.

(And Cheney's recent position seems very similar to that he expressed almost five years ago.)

Although it is true that right-wing iconoclastic talk show host Erich "Mancow" Muller has renounced support for torture now that he has endured it, his case is vastly different. Muller has no familial, or any personal, stake in interrogation techniques. His (current) position on waterboarding- though Hamsher might not agree- is more credible and rationally conceived than that of the others. Muller did not come to his view for any personal or self-interested reason but because he learned about this "enhanced interrogation technique" firsthand. Speaking from knowledge and not self-interest: Muller is, if not unique, unusual among Republicans or conservatives.

A better, third example, would be former McCain campaign advisor Steve Schmidt, who on April 17 told the Log Cabin Republicans

it seems to me that denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union that is protected and respected by the state denies them two of the most basic natural rights affirmed in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Schmidt, unsurprisingly, has a sister who is a lesbian. Or as this blogger, citing Cheney, Reagan, and Rush Limbaugh, put it:

...Schmidt's position on same-sex marriage isn't all that groundbreaking when you consider that his family is directly affected by the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. It's just more proof, as if more were needed, that Republicans are quite capable of tolerance and open-mindedness and empathy—but only when they themselves or members of their own families are touched by an issue that requires a little tolerance, open-mindedness, or empathy.

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