We’ve heard a lot recently about how red-state residents favor smaller government while benefiting disproportionately from federal largesse; and how they value the sanctity of heterosexual marriage while divorcing more often than the residents of blue states. To be sure, these arguments also suffer from the fallacy of composition: Red-state divorcees may not be Bush voters; and those areas of the red states that consume the largest portions of federal tax money may in fact be liberal enclaves in otherwise conservative regions. But put aside those details and assume that red-state voters really are hypocrites. Even if true, it is still a lousy line of argument for liberals to indulge.
Rather than attacking the specific policies promoted by values voters”“policies that can, and should, be fought on their merits”“the charge of hypocrisy attacks the voters themselves. But it’s an elementary point of logic that a claim’s validity is independent of the character of those who advocate it. A truth is a truth, no more or less true because of who believes it. The whole issue of hypocrisy, then, for all the importance it routinely assumes in political discourse, is a red herring.
If a professed atheist secretly worships God “just in case,’? we’re entitled to say that he lacks the courage of his convictions. But we aren’t entitled to say that those convictions are false. God exists, or doesn’t exist, regardless of what any atheist secretly believes. The same goes for the beliefs of values voters…
As a general point of logic, Friedman is of course correct. But I think he’s missing the point of the discussion about the divorce statistics. Divorce statistics – and also teen pregnancy statistics – are interesting not only because they show that red-staters are hypocrites, but because they are solid evidence in an important policy question.
Conservatives claim, again and again, that if too many people recognize same-sex marriage, and also have liberal attitudes towards divorce, that will lead to higher divorce rates. They use this “fact” to support anti-woman, anti-queer policies, such as eliminating no-fault divorce (screw battered women who can’t prove battery in a court of law!) and opposing same-sex marriage and even civil unions. In the face of that claim, it’s logically relevant that Connecticut and Massachusetts – probably the queer-friendliest states in the union – are also the two states whose divorce rates are lowest.
Similarly, considering all the claims we hear about abstinence-only education, it’s relevant that abstinence-only is apparently a big, fat failure in Texas, whereas Berkeley – where sex ed teaches both abstinance and birth control – has seen teen pregnancies drop.
I admit, there is some joy in seeing red-state moralists – many (not all) of whom are the most condesending, arrogant people I’ve ever dealt with, the kind of people who only pause in patting their own backs to declare their superiority to immoral, queer-hugging godless blue-staters like me – proved wrong. And if I was a better person, I wouldn’t take any pleasure in seeing egg on their smug, “I’m-so-much-better-than-thou” faces.
So I’m not as good a person as I should be. That doesn’t change the fact that what’s being discussed here is a policy question. Which kind of culture should our policy encourage? What kind of culture leads to more divorce, and more teen pregnancy? And if we don’t forget about the policy question – as Mr. Friedman apparently did, in the above-quoted passage – then logically, it’s not at all a red herring to notice that Massachusetts and Connecticut have the lowest divorce rates and the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
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About that smugness: I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that red-state moralists see things just the opposite way. They think that they’re humble, nice people who aren’t at all judgmental prigs, and that the only smug moralists in this debate are blue-staters like me. Such is the human condition.
(By the way, I use the term “red-staters” and “blue-staters” to refer more to states of mind than to states of residence. There are plenty of red-staters living in blue states, and vice versa.)
Is there anything we can do about this? I doubt it. Obviously, when I say that there’s nothing wrong with same-sex relationships, and furthermore that bigotry against same-sexers is evil and should be opposed, I’m striking at the heart of the red-stater belief system. My experience is that no matter how hard I try to sugarcoat that, red-staters tend to take the message that their belief system is horribly wrong a bit personally (not exactly a surprising reaction). And the same is true in reverse, of course.