When confronted with the issue today, many so-called "conservatives" begin to twitch nervously. Beads of sweat begin to form on their brow and they begin to ramble incoherently. Basic conservative principles are suddenly forgotten and tradition, which once meant something to the conservative mind, is discarded. Rational thought is cast to the wind.
Either that, or they just run for the political hills in order to avoid having to talk about it.
You can say this about Mandy Connell, host of the Mandy Connell Show on WHAS in Louisville: She's not one to run. But after having listened to two or three shows from last week, you begin to wonder about the state of conservative thought generally and whether this is what we are to expect in the coming debate over same-sex marriage, a debate, that is, of course, already upon us.
Now don't get me wrong, Mandy is smart and articulate. She's a one-woman wrecking crew when it comes to most liberal idiocies. And that's what makes it all the more remarkable that she's bought into this particular one. She's also got a pretty thick skin, and so I doubt she'll get too bent out of shape by my criticisms.
She's a big girl. She can handle it.
On several shows devoted to the issue last week, the number and severity of the errors and fallacies began to approach Bidenesque proportions. In the course of several short hours, Connell argued that:
- It is stupid to spend "time and energy" on an issue like this.
- People won't become Republicans if they take this position.
- Same-sex marriage "doesn't affect me and my family"
- The opposition to same-sex marriage is primarily religious in nature.
Seriously? These are the arguments people who call themselves "conservative" are reduced to making in order to justify their abandonment of the traditional view of marriage?
If conservatives oppose same-sex marriage for no other reason, they should do it because, when they do the opposite, they suddenly abandon all intellectual standards, making liberals seem positively rational in comparison.
I will deal with some of these arguments in succeeding posts, but for now, let me just address the issue of civil unions.
On Wednesday's show, Mandy brought on CBS reporter Jim Krasula to explain why the amendment in North Carolina included a ban on civil unions. Krasula was obviously clueless about this particular feature of the law, one that Krasula seemed to think somehow unusual, saying that, in banning civil unions, the North Carolina law "went beyond what many gay marriage amendments have done."
In fact, at least 18 states have either a law or a constitutional amendment restricting or banning civil unions. It is hardly exceptional.
"I really don't understand the logic behind this," said Connell, and asked Krasula to explain, which he clearly was not competent to do.
Of course, the logic behind it is simple, since one of the reasons conservatives don't like same-sex marriage laws is because they constitute a government endorsement of a behavior they think is immoral or harmful to society. So do laws approving same sex unions. They realize that what gays mostly want out of these laws is not practical benefits, but the legitimacy it lends their movement. Now you can disagree with the view that the behavior is abnormal or harmful to society, but the logic isn't mysterious at all.
Kresula went on to argue that the amendment could cost North Carolina economically. Really? Like the 41 other states that either have a constitutional amendment or a law banning same-sex marriage? In fact, outside of New England, only two states don't have either an amendment or a law.
So far, we have not seen a flood of companies packing up their belongings and moving to Iowa and New Mexico, the only two states west of Pennsylvania that haven't passed same-sex marriage laws. And if there has been some economic influx into business-friendly states like New York and Massachusetts, I'd like to know how that's going.
I realize I have absolutely no influence on who Mandy gets on her show to discuss issues, but couldn't we have somebody who at least has a clue about what they're talking about?
"But man," said Connell, "this thing about banning civil unions, doesn't that just seem mean? It's like, not only can you not get married, ... now you can't even set up a standardized legal arrangement with someone you may have lived with for 25 years."
Okay. Stop. Yes they can. There are all kinds of standardized legal arrangements you can have without being married. You can leave your fortune to your pet parakeet, for crying out loud.
Are there some benefits the government gives to two heterosexual people who get married? Sure there are. But, for one thing, you don't need a law instituting civil unions to change that. Just pass laws that extend some of the benefits now enjoyed by married people to people who aren't.
This is like the argument that we need laws allowing same-sex marriage because there are gays whose partners are not allowed to visit them in the hospital. There are? Where? Which hospital? And if it were a problem, do you need to redefine marriage to take care of it? Of course not. In fact, Kentucky has already passed a law to deal with this that didn't involve changing the marriage laws.
But let's ask another, more fundamental question: Is there some legitimate justification for the government to grant incentives for the formation of families in which there are two biological parents that does not exist for same sex couples or same sex couples in civil unions?
Let's see. Hmmm.
How about that the one sociological fact we know better than just about any other is that families in which there are two parents living with their biological children do more to produce a stable society than any other social arrangement? We know this better than just about any other sociological fact. Not only is it not disputable, I don't know of anyone even remotely well-informed who even bothers to dispute it.
Okay, so where is the similar evidence of the benefits to society and social stability of same-sex relationships?
Now you could make the argument that government has some role in making everybody happy, but I'd like to see Mandy make that argument. And then she could explain how that fits into her libertarian philosophy.
And what's this about opposing civil unions--or same-sex marriage for that matter--being mean? On Thursday's show, Mandy cried foul about some of her listeners who interpreted her disagreement with religious beliefs about homosexuality as being "disrespectful" toward religion. So if her listeners are not justified in interpreting her disagreement with religious believers as being disrespectul of religion, then how is it justified to interpret someone's disagreement with civil unions as being mean-spirited?
Maybe we could investigate the logic of that.
But part of the issue here is that Mandy is a libertarian, not a conservative. That's not a criticism; it's just a matter of truth in labeling. Conservatism is at least partly about ... how should I phrase this ... conserving things. And, as I've said before, when it comes to social issues, if you can't bring yourself to conserve traditional marriage, then you can't be counted on to stand up for much else when the political hard times come.
Many people who call themselves conservatives these days are Rush babies. Their cultural awareness extends no further back than about the early 90s. If you asked most prominent conservatives about Edmund Burke, T. S. Eliot, F. A. Hayek, Michael Oakeshott, or Russell Kirk they'd get a blank look on their face and wonder who you were talking about.
William F. Buckley, Jr.? Who's that?
The traditional conservatism that was preserved and transmitted in the old National Review magazine for so many years and which nurtured people like Ronald Reagan is being fast forgotten in favor of Fox News.
I have no idea who is on Mandy's reading list, but I'm willing to bet it's heavy on libertarians and neocons and largely devoid of traditional conservatives. You know, the ones whose conservatism involved the belief that the judgment of the generations was better than the narrow prejudices of the present, and which extended beyond a sort of Hobbesian self-interest?
You remember Thomas Hobbes. The great conservative thinker?
Prominent conservatives used to feel like they needed to choose between Madison and Jefferson. Now many of them couldn't tell you who Madison and Jefferson were, much less have read them. Instead of championing the conservatism of the American founders, today's average consumer of conservative rhetoric is fed a kind of Readers Digest condensed version of French Revolutionary political rationalism--or, what's worse, Randian objectivism.
One thing the great libertarians of the past could say was that they had read the traditional conservatives and found them wanting. They were libertarians by choice, and knew the difference between traditional Burkean conservatism and their own classical liberalism. But modern "libertarian conservatives" are not libertarians by choice; they're libertarians because they don't know anything different. They caught their libertarianism by contagion and were told it was bad case of conservatism.
I'm being too hard on Mandy here, and not all of these criticisms necessarily apply to her. But the kind of things you hear on her show on issues like this are symptomatic of larger trends in conservatism that will ultimately destroy the movement from within if people who conservatives rely on tell them the way things ought to be don't get back in touch with real conservatism.