Duncan and I used to talk about this phenomenon back when we made it a habit to meet with friends for drinks every Tuesday night. It’s the tendency of conservatives (including Darth Cheney) to drop their opposition to something (or learn to support something) the second it affects them personally.
So, for example, abortion is the equivalent of Auschwitz until your daughter hands you her acceptance letter to Harvard and announces that her deadbeat boyfriend got her pregnant so she can’t go and she’ll raise the baby herself. Funding for special education is a boondoggle until your kid turns out to have Asperger’s Syndrome. Global warming is a myth until a superstorm destroys your Jersey Shore vacation home. Unemployment insurance is a giveaway to people who lack initiative until you lose your job and can’t find another one. And homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice until your 19 year old son announces that he’s gay.
I applaud Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio’s announcement that he now supports gay marriage, but I don’t like that he feels it necessary to use his son as an excuse. I mean, okay, your experience with your son is what changed your mind, but you don’t have to share that with everyone. The key is that you have a principled position that has changed. All you have to do is explain your new position.
Let me give an example of why this matters. Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary is a lesbian. The former vice-president explicitly endorsed gay marriage four years ago, shortly after he left office, and he claims that he supported gay marriage even back in 2000 but didn’t say so because he thought it would sink Bush’s chance to get elected. Now, Dick Cheney is the most hard-core conservative figure of the last decade, and it should have been a very significant event when he endorsed gay marriage. But it wasn’t really seen as a big deal because it was understood that he was really just supporting his daughter.
Sometimes I feel like a Republican who wants to support gay marriage needs to get one of their kids to fake being gay so that they can have permission to buck the party line.