Insensitive Identity Politics

Rob-Portman-with-Son-CNNThis past week, Ohio Senator Rob Portman made a surprising reversal of his stance on gay marriage after revealing that his 21-year-old son recently came out to him and his wife. While it warms the cockles of my heart to see a powerful man say “I was wrong” and acknowledge that it was not a choice for his son and he loves him no matter his son’s sexual orientation, I’m also a little frustrated that Portman could only realize this point when it became deeply personal to him. Congressmembers are not supposed to just legislate on behalf of their own interests and identities, but those of all of us Americans.

Jonathan Chait writes in New York Magazine, “Portman ought to be able to recognize that, even if he changed his mind on gay marriage owing to personal experience, the logic stands irrespective of it: Support for gay marriage would be right even if he didn’t have a gay son. There’s little sign that any such reasoning has crossed his mind.” And Mark Kleiman in the Washington Monthly extends this argument, reminding us that while it is heartening to see one Republican change his mind about one issue, this doesn’t actually mean Portman or his congressional colleagues are actually becoming more  concerned with equitable social and economic policy. Kleiman writes, “since no Republican officeholder expects to become poor, let alone black or undocumented, they will continue in good conscience to back policies are horrible for poor, black, and undocumented people, unless they think it will cost them votes.” And let’s be real, the probably is also true for many Democrats.

So let’s check out the numbers. According to OpenSecrets.org, the freshman of the 113th congress brought up the median net worth of congressmen to over $1 million. That’s median, not average. So it’s not that a few real rich guys at the top are bringing up the average, but rather the average congressman, the one in the middle, has over a million dollars to his net worth. These are the same guys who let the sequester happen, cutting crucial services for many less well-off Americans, but of course almost all Americans are less well-off that these guys. And it’s not as though only Republicans, with their laissez faire economic policy regarding poorer Americans, but it’s also Democrats, supposed champions of the poor, who are also real rich. Check out the ten richest members of congress here and note that 7 out of 10 are Dems.
congressladiesAnd while I could not be happier about the record number of ladies serving in congress, they are still nowhere near the proportion of women in American society. Women are still less than 20% of all members of congress even though they are slightly more than half the population in the U.S. Furthermore, African Americans are only 8% of all congressmembers (12.6% percent of the population), Latinos are only 7% of congressmembers (16.4% of the population), and Asians are only 2% of all congressmembers (4.8% of the population). And openly LGBT people are currently only 1.3% of congressmembers.

Maybe we should start contacting our representatives and coming out to them? “Dear Senator Schumer, It’s really hard for me to be open with this about you because I’m not sure how you’ll react. I’ve known this about myself for as long as I can remember. I’m a woman.”

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Categories: Law, Policy, and Government, Legislation

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