It is a world where, unlike ours, men like each other,
where, looking deep into your eyes,
men are not afraid to take your hand
and say, Come stranger, break thy journey and linger awhile …
We’ve talked about David Brooks before. He’s an old-style Republican, a protégé of William F. Buckley, bright at debate when he sits down with Mark Shields on NPR. He’s not a name-caller, and recognizes that both sides have flaws. A tireless reader, he’s up to date, and his sensible arguments are marred only by their irrational conclusions.
Well, that’s what I think — I don’t imagine Brooks reads Creative Loafing, but he must think the same about Mark Shields.
Recently Brooks metaphorically crossed the line toward the Democrats, though this time he used cracked reasoning to reach the right conclusion. Discussing same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court, he concluded that, “if it wins, same-sex marriage will be a victory for the good life, which is about living in a society that induces you to narrow your choices and embrace your obligations.”
While this isn’t a very romantic endorsement — marriage as constriction rather than a blossoming — it may be what it takes for Republicans to embrace same-sex marriage. They want gays to grow up, kick off their dancing shoes, and settle down soberly like the rest of us. When gays start showing up in divorce court, Republicans are looking forward to saying, like know-it-all parents, “You happy now?” OK, that’s understandable. Poet Edward Field, whose lines bracket this Notebook, often includes in his love poems the duties that love demands (“And then, my leafy, my green one, / whom I water daily and put in the sun …”), though he emphasizes the “light-heartedness” that can come with restrictions.
But the way Brooks arrives at his sensible conclusion is disturbing. He sees same-sex marriage as finally putting the brakes on a long expansion of our personal freedoms, which he divides into two parts: 1) “social and life-style” freedoms, and 2) “economic” freedoms. In both parts, he writes, if people are allowed to pursue “their individual desires,” they’ll discover these desires “are unquenchable” and in the end ruinous for the country.
This is false equivalence, like comparing sunlight to piglets. Wanting to be treated fairly isn’t like wanting to make a lot more money. Our social expansions have been both the fulfillment of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms — of Speech, of Worship, from Want, from Fear — and the promise of democracy. The acts enabling women and blacks to vote, the bills giving poor Americans a safety net, and amendments preventing the oppression of minorities aren’t in the same category as deregulations that allow big companies to grow huge, or financial institutions to merge into bullying megabanks. Grover Norquist, holding the Republican party in his hands, wants a different Four Freedoms for the Rich: Freedom from taxes, Freedom from social security, Freedom from universal health care, and Freedom from unions. Republicans have been working on these for a long time, and in the last 40 years they’ve made some progress, so the gap dividing the rich from the poor now shimmers between us like Death Valley.
The Freudian thought occurs to me that I like David Brooks because he’s very much like my mother. A staunch Republican most of her life, in her old age she became an ardent feminist. She was proud to have the same birthday as Hillary Clinton — Oct. 26 — and once wrote a letter warning Hillary to be very careful of what she said, because the powers-that-be “would try to twist everything you say.” Perfectly right, of course.
Though Mom eventually could talk the talk, she once confessed that when she went into the voting booth, she simply couldn’t make herself pull the Democratic lever. Political affiliation, like religion, is hard to shake off. Bless us all.
I seal this testimony with a kiss
to my soul’s beloved, my sacred brother, as we embrace
with beating hearts in the long night.
—Both quotes from “Hear O Israel,” in Counting Myself Lucky, by Edward Field (Black Sparrow Press, 1992).
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