Sunday, May 20, 2012

Empathy or Right?

I can’t believe I’m nodding in agreement with  Charles Krauthammer.  Didn’t think I’d ever see the day.  Not only nodding, but impressed at his insight.  There are two ways to support same-sex marriage, he says, the first through empathy toward gay people on a human level, the second through recognition of their civil rights.

He’s recognizing the observable evidence that the more straight people get to know gay people, the more they come to recognize the desire to love and live in dignity with a life partner has nothing to do with sexual orientation, and that “who you love”, as the old line goes, is less important than “that you love.”  Getting between a fellow human being and a person they want to devote themselves to for life makes you a cad.  Nobody gains.  Everybody loses.

The civil rights argument is also plain.  The reason there is wide-spread opposition to homosexuality in general is that the cherry-pickers of the texts of the Abrahamic religions have decided the animus against same-sex relations they find in them should justify treating gay people as pariahs, not as fellow-citizens with equal rights.  Once you establish that the views of folk who read their Koran or Torah or Old Testament literally are at odds with the views of folk who read them differently - or not at all - then you wonder how it came to pass organized religion got to be making laws in the first place.

Krauthammer sets up the empathy argument in two parts.  One can empathize with gay people, or one can empathize with people who are not comfortable with gay people.  The latter have had their way historically, and that means we are faced with a radical re-thinking of how to see the fundamental institution of family.  The gay-friendly see an evolution of thought, a healthy progression.  Homophobes see a net loss in morality, approval of something God wants us to disapprove of.

If you’ve read Krauthammer’s piece at this morning, you’ll see that while I’m not exactly misquoting him, I’m reading my own views into what he actually says.  Same story.   Different slant.  Looks like I’m not in agreement with Krauthammer after all, and the world has fallen back into making sense.

What he’s about, in this article, is not so much shedding light on the political dilemma we face as a society over gay rights (which he actually does quite well), as finding a way to beat up on Obama.

Talking heads go on about whether Obama was brought kicking and screaming to the “evolution” of thought on same-sex marriage, and decided in favor only after his vice-president shamed him into doing so (if you listen to his opponents on both the left and right), or whether he was simply taking the next logical step toward gay rights, which rights he had basically been fostering throughout his presidency.  The delay is only that he first had to test the waters.  Either way, he’s here now, and many people recognize it’s a dramatic lurch forward, a very big deal indeed.  Check out the cover of this week’s New Yorker, if you doubt this.

Krauthammer faults Obama for wanting it both ways.  He hasn’t “thought it through,” somehow, because first he comes out in favor of gay rights and then he turns and argues gay rights ought to “evolve” state-by-state.  Where Krauthammer and I part ways is he wants to make Obama look dumb and cowardly.  I think he's merely crafty.

I imagine most gay people are annoyed as hell - I am, anyway -  that Obama looks like he has backtracked and forgotten how justice was delayed and denied when the states were allowed to “evolve” in their own good time over the rights of the descendants of former slaves.  They’re calling Obama a flip-flopper, knowing that term has legs, because he’s changed his mind.  They’re missing the absolute consistency in the way Obama goes about doing his job, endlessly seeking the middle ground when forming policy, giving a little bit to both sides.  Whether you agree with him or not, he’s making a political decision on the basis of a (to him) higher principle.  I don’t like it.  Don’t agree with it.  But saying he hasn’t thought it through strikes me as an assessment that is way off.

Lefties like me will get a kick out of watching Krauthammer be Krauthammer, never missing an opportunity to take a swipe at Obama.  But they should also get a kick out of the fact that in order to do so he has apparently had to write a column giving two good reasons for supporting gay rights.

Thank you, Charles Krauthammer.  Nicely put.

source for New Yorker cover, May 21, 2012:

1 comment:

Luis said...

I think that the Krauthammer's analysis is good, but this being an issue of judgement (by the ones that always judged...) the only thing that should count is intention: Obama is crafty because he times his evolution according to politics, then I suspect, Krauthammer is doing this seemingly evenhanded analysis to hit Obama.