I have always thought that adjusting one’s position on a subject is not only acceptable but is a positive sign of critical thinking. After all, is it not reasonable to think that positions on subjects should evolve over time as we process new facts as they are discovered? Altering one’s view of a situation when presented with new information is not flip flopping as long as that information was not previously available and ignored. The reason a core belief can legitimately change is due to a deliberation of all the facts – historic and new as well as pro and con.
But this reason for changing a position is qualitatively different than experiencing an epiphany that fundamentally changes a previously held core belief based solely on a single personal experience. Such an event may have a powerful emotional impact but it is nonetheless anecdotal. The most recent example is that of Senator Rob Portman who, upon learning his son was gay, abruptly reversed his long held opposition to gay marriage. To me, this only indicates that his opposition had not been based in any defensible logic. It was purely emotional which is exactly how positions should not be defined.
I applaud the Senator for accepting gay marriage as a civil right; however, it is not necessary to have a gay child to arrive at that same conclusion. In fact, one need not have any children to consider all the facts and arrive at a logical, defensible position that gay marriage should be a constitutionally protected right. I will listen to well reasoned arguments to the contrary but what carries no influence with me is when someone says they are for gay marriage simply because their child is gay. Emotionally supporting a gay child is fundamentally the only thing a parent should do but it is not a reason to extend that support to the entire population of the country. There are far better arguments for that!
Lawmakers that must have personal experience with an issue before they can empathize and act appropriately are shallow thinkers responding to special interest groups and primary voters. As long as a personal experience is required to make the right call then we will never have a deliberative body that will make just and reasonable laws.
The horrible tragedy of Newtown catalyzed a gun control debate that has galvanized the country. Unfortunately, as the special interest groups, lead by the NRA, worked their craft, the focus was taken off of creating reasonable controls that would save lives and placed on simply implementing reasonable background checks. It is an etiolated end point. And now it seems that some Republicans in the Senate, including minority leader Mitch McConnell, are actually considering filibustering even that minimal action.
The hypothetical that is almost too perverse and disturbing to write is what if the Newtown gunman had unleashed his arsenal at a congressional event and killed only the children of senators and representatives. I think we all know that the tone for reform would be quite different because if it is your child that is destroyed your perspective instantaneously changes, suddenly the NRA and the polarized primary voters become peripheral to doing what is right. Just as Senator Portman shouldn’t have had to had a gay son to recognize gay marriage was a civil right, neither should he or the other Senators debating gun control need to have one of their loved ones brutally and senselessly murdered.
I expect more from my representative than being effective at raising money and getting elected. I expect empathy and critical thinking to guide their decisions –not personal, anecdotal experiences and the influence of the NRA. Where are these legislators? Where? They are probably out there but we just can’t seem to elect them – shame on us. Shame on us.