Steve Benen revisits an issue that he and I have both discussed a lot. Back in March, I wrote about Rob Portman. He is the anti-gay rights Republican who suddenly became pro-gay rights when he learned that his son was gay. The point is not that there’s anything wrong with this. It is natural. But most of us don’t have to experience something personally to empathize. To take it to extremes, I don’t have difficulty feeling sorry for pedophiles; it must be awful to be sexually attracted to children—especially in a society that sexualizes children. (This does not mean that sexual predation shouldn’t be criminalized.) Why is it that so many Republicans seem unable to understand the difficulties of anyone not exactly like themselves or their families?
The most recent example of this comes from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor is (theoretically) in favor of more money for medical research. Very insightful conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru asked Cantor, “What do you tell your Republican colleagues who are inclined to say, ‘Look, we spent too much money as it is?'” And Cantor replied: because his dad’s sick. That’s it. Before his father got a rare disease, Cantor had no reason to think that maybe the whole country should work together to find cures. But now it’s personal.
I think that conservatives believe that making these claims humanizes them. And it may well be the case that people perceive it that way. But to me this just screams, “I’m a selfish asshole! I only give a shit about anything if it directly affects me!” This is what I think when I look at the Cheneys. As you probably know, they are extremely conservative—except when it comes to gay rights. And they are only liberal on that one issue because their daughter is gay. As I wrote before, “How can these kinds of conservatives look at their entire ideology with this one exception carved out and still maintain their faith (because it is nothing if not pure faith) in the rest of their belief system?”
What explains it is that conservatism as a philosophical system is nothing but a polite rendering of “childish selfishness.” If you are a conservative, you don’t think that taxes should be low because that’s fair. You think that your taxes should be low because otherwise it harms you. You don’t want to pay for artificial limbs unless you need one. You don’t want environmental regulations on what you do, but you will freak out if someone else’s pollution affects you.
Now look: I understand that the “serious” conservative thinkers aren’t like that. But this is how the national Republican Party behaves. Sometime back, I entered a bumper sticker design contest run by the local Republican Party. I offered up this:
But that isn’t quite right. It is more accurate to say that Republicans are the “Fuck You Party.” Their guiding philosophy is, “I’ve got mine; fuck you; and the only way you will change my mind is if somehow I lose mine.”
So Eric Cantor is for more medical research because daddy’s ill. I’m sure he’ll find the money by taking it from something he doesn’t care about—like nutritional aid. I’m sure he doesn’t know anyone on SNAP. So fuck them.