Daily Affirmations 5/28

by Jonathan Chait | May 28, 2009

1. Gail Collins has a fun, readable take on student loan reform, an issue near and dear to my heart:

The White House estimates that it could save about $94 billion over 10 years if it cut out all the middlemen. And it has the basis of a system in place, since the Department of Education already makes a lot of direct loans to students.

How many people out there think that there’s going to be some reason that this turns out to be extremely controversial? Can I see a show of hands?

“Senator Nelson is for the system as it is now,” said a spokesman for Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska. If you are a big fan of Senate stalemates, you will remember Nelson, the star of such past triumphs as The Stimulus Is Too Big.

A great part of Nelson’s resistance has to do with the fact that Nelnet, a big student loan provider, has its headquarters in his state. Last year, after an investigation by the New York attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, Nelnet was one of several student lenders that agreed to a settlement in which it paid a fine and promised to abandon alleged deceptive marketing practices and inducements such as offering free iPods to students who signed on the dotted line.

Good point, Gail Collins!

2.  Paul Campos invokes the perfect cultural reference to explain Mark Krikorian's bizarre aversion to correctly pronouncing Sonia Sotomayor's name:

There's a great little exchange at the beginning of the Godfather II, when the corrupt senator is trying to shake down Michael Corleone. The senator makes a point of pronouncing Corleone's name with exaggerated correctness. This is a double insult, both because of the exaggeration, but more so because an hour earlier the senator had (now obviously intentionally) mangled the pronounciation of the family name when acknowledging the acceptance of a large charitable contribution from them, during his speech to the audience at Michael's son's first communion.

That seemingly trivial matters of etiquette can be fraught with all sorts of social and political significance is evident in things like Mark Krikorian's continuing insistence that there's something un-American about trying to pronounce "foreign" names as the bearers of those names pronounce them.

While Krikorian's first post on this was silly, his followup is grotesque. I happen to remember the press conference at which Ronald Reagan introduced Antonin Scalia as his SCOTUS nominee. The very first question was how to pronounce the nominee's name correctly. Has Krikorian ever anglicized the pronounciation of Scalia's or Alito's names? How about Sen. John Breaux? Etc. I bet you this principle of mispronouncing (Hispanic) names in order to hold back the dreaded tide of multi-culturalism occured to him about fifteen minutes ago, after someone whose name sounds a lot like his maid's* got nominated to the Court.

Good point, Paul Campos!

3. Commenting on my gay marriage TRB, Ed Kilgore astutely notes that my arguments only address the rational/liberal arguments against gay marriage, which leaves a great many of them unadressed;

[T]he growing shabbiness of the "rational" case against same-sex marriage helps expose the extent to which gay marriage opponents actually depend on non-rational but still powerful arguments from Tradition and Revelation.

The case from Tradition, which you hear over and over from gay marriage opponents, is that marriage has always been defined as the "union of a man and a woman." Sometimes in their exasperation they stamp their feet and enumerate how very long always is. The idea is that same-sex marriage is a dangerous act of (to use the term employed by the Catholic Bishops of Iowa in the statement linked to above) "social engineering" that challenges the settled wisdom of the ages. From this quintessentially conservative point of view, of course, the liberal presumption in favor of the rights of "consenting adults" has always been rejected, on this and every subject, in favor of what Chesterton called, approvingly, the "democracy of the dead." Traditionalists typically try to deploy the rational arguments that Chait demolishes to buttress their case, but their case is essentially unrebuttable because it treats precedent as the only authority.

The main weakness of the Argument from Tradition, of course, is that much of what we have come to recognize as the Western Tradition in recent decades has reflected an Enlightenment-based revolt against much older traditions--in other words, that the liberal habit of mind that Chait cites has become, even though unevenly applied, the real Tradition that demands respect. Even the most rabidly inflammatory exaggerator of the impact of same-sex marriage would have to acknowledge that the emancipation of women has been a vastly greater change in the "traditional" way of life of the human species, and even anti-feminists are loath to suggest we were better off when women couldn't vote or own property. In the long, long sweep of history, slavery has about as strong a pedigree as "traditional" marriage. So the "democracy of the dead" can and must be overturned now and then in the interests of the living.

Opposition to same-sex marriage based on religious "revelation" (either infallible scripture or infallible Church teaching) isn't rational, either, and will probably be a tougher nut to crack. Prior forms of discrimination, of course, have appealed to the same "divine" sanction. Perhaps tomorrow's conservative evangelical Christians will view the attention paid to the Bible's scattered condemnations of homosexuality much as today's scoff at their forebearers' use of Scripture to sanction racial discrimination (e.g., via the Curse of Ham). And perhaps the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic and Latter Day Saints Churches will revise their teachings on same-sex marriage some day, much as the former revised the doctrine of the Jews' collective responsibility for the Crucifixion and the latter revised the "precious doctrine" of plural marriage.

Good point, Ed Kilgore!

--Jonathan Chait

 

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