By now, this is an old story, so I’m not going to spend all that much time on this post. The long and short of it is, Rob Portman, a GOP Senator, recently changed his mind and came out in favor of gay marriage for the sole reason that his son is gay. Even those in favor of gay marriage were reluctant to see this as cause for celebration, because most people understand this to be pretty terrible reasoning.
Bob Murphy made the pretty excellent point that this is essentially the exact same method being employed by the parents of victims of the Newtown shooting, and those who would use them for political purposes. They are essentially saying “I favor gun control because gun violence happened to me.” The core logic is no different from Rob Portman favoring gay marriage because his son is gay, or Sarah Palin favoring lavish government spending on special needs children because she happens to have one. In all cases, the logic is quite poor. Unfortunately, Dr. Murphy (presumably because, unlike myself, he has some credibility to care about) was unwilling to criticize the Newtown parents.
Below was my response in the comments of his blog:
Allow me to be “that guy” and insist that we absolutely *should* criticize the Newtown parents. And Portman. And Palin. Their arguments are all based on emotion rather than an intellectual understanding of the issues. Surely we can all agree that emotion is not a valid basis for crafting public policy. The fact that the Newtown parents went through some ESPECIALLY bad emotional trauma is not a valid basis for granting them a free pass on this issue.
Now, while I believe we can criticize their methods of using emotion as a basis for public policy, that is not to say that we should judge them. I believe Jesus said something about that. I won’t say that they are bad people. Only that their reasoning is unsound, and therefore should be dismissed. As should Portman’s. As should Palin’s. “Because my son was shot” is not an intellectually reasonable argument for gun control, just as “because my son is gay” is not an intellectually reasonable argument for gay marriage.
To concede this ground on the topic of Newtown is essentially to concede that it’s a reasonable tactic to use emotion to dictate public policy. Because where do you draw the line? This would be an absolute game-changer for the progressives, who constantly rely on appeals to emotion to advance their policy recommendations. “Imagine how you might feel if your son was gay,” has been one of their chief arguments in favor of gay marriage for some time. Portman seems to be proving that contrary to all logic and reason, it’s actually a legitimate argument. Not legitimate in the sense that it is intellectually reasonable, but legitimate in the sense that apparently there *are* significant amounts of Americans, including those with high level positions, whose only reason for opposing gay marriage was that they didn’t know any gay people.
That said, we must still insist that this is a terrible argument. The fact that it seems to have worked on Portman doesn’t make it less terrible. The same goes for the Newtown parents. “Imagine if it was your kid who was shot” seems to be working as an argument, but it shouldn’t. That’s why those of us who think about these issues more thoroughly need to stand up and loudly declare that the issue is much more complicated than that. That gun control does not necessarily decrease violent crime, and may in fact increase it. That most of the proposed regulations absolutely would have done nothing to stop the Newtown massacre.
One last minor point on this. I know it has become something of a conservative talk radio cliché to complain about the left in general (and the Obama administration in particular) “exploiting a crisis” but ye gods, this Newtown/gun control thing is just off the charts. In your private life, people of every political persuasion will universally agree that making significant and important decisions should NOT be done in the heat of the moment when people are having highly emotional reactions, but rather should be held off until the intensity of the emotions subsides, and the issue can be approached more reasonably. Not so, in this instance! The left is demanding that all the decisions be made right now, while emotions are running high and logic and reason are the furthest thing from many people’s minds. Why do you suppose that might be?