More importantly, I think, now I want to arrange for every Republican who signed onto the Paul Ryan budget to wake up with a poor son. Because then I know all of a sudden you won’t want to cut food stamps. You won’t want to cut school nutrition. If empathy only extends to your flesh and blood, we gotta start shoving people into those families.
—Rachel Maddow on Real Time with Bill Maher
Shortly after I saw Laura’s post earlier today, I saw someone tweet a line similar to Rachel’s above about there being no legislators with poor sons, with a link to an item by Matthew Yglesias that isn’t so long that you shouldn’t go read the whole thing but here’s the part that made me speak out loud to my computer monitor:
But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn’t to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It’s to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don’t have direct access to the corridors of power.
Senators basically never have poor kids. That’s something members of Congress should think about. Especially members of Congress who know personally that realizing an issue affects their own children changes their thinking.
And no sooner had I read that piece and mentioned it to Laura than I saw @mcbyrne, below pick up on the theme.
And of course Chris Hayes was eloquent on the matter while guest hosting tonight.
Empathy, especially in elected officials is a good thing! But there’s also something frustratingly blinkered and limited about this form of persuasion. If it’s going to take every anti-gay politician having a gay son for gay people to be treated like the other human beings in this country, then equal rights are going to take longer to achieve than they should.
And the evening’s tweeters got it too. And then while I’m putting this post together I hear Rachel make the remarks above to Bill Maher. When that many people have the same idea independently, I call meme.