Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Study in Labels: The Self-Described Liberal Democrat

David Blankenhorn is the founder of allegedly "non-partisan" and "private" Institute for American Values and a self-described "liberal Democrat." Does anyone else find the phrase "American Values" to be always begging the question of whether there is, actually, a monolithic objective set of values that are American?

Anyway, Blankenhorn recently wrote a book against marriage equality (that I recently began reading) on this simple-minded premise, as a USA Today article sums it up:

"Kids need both a mother and a father, and because same-sex marriage can't provide that, it's bad for society and kids."

Now, I have to admit that Blankenhorn's opposition to marriage equality casts a dubious shadow over his claim to be a "liberal Democrat." Especially since he founded a think-tank that has the phrase "American Values" in it, and all the *oh so liberal Democrat* connotations that phrase brings.

Labels are important. And Blankenhorn rightly acknowledges that being labeled a "conservative" (among other things) diminishes his arguments in the eyes of some people. It is intellectually dishonest, however, to dismiss a person's entire argument by merely slapping a label on it.

But at the same time, one should not attempt to give credence to an argument by slapping a label on it that you think will give it more credibility. We should all let a person's arguments stand on their own two feet, and do less labeling and pre-judging.

This relatively uncritical USA Today article is a study in how he and others attempt to bring credibility to his opposition of marriage equality by insisting that it's a "liberal Democrat" position, resisting with all their might against the "conservative" or "fundie" label.

In fact, various irrelevant character labels are slapped on Blankenhorn in an attempt to lend credibility to his anti-equality position.

The quoting begins:

"'My impression of [Blankenhorn] is he's really devoted his life to family issues and would probably do that if no one paid him at all,' says Jonathan Rauch, a senior writer at National Journal magazine and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution who has been on opposite sides of the podium with Blankenhorn."

So, he's devoted to the issue. Neat. Aren't most advocates pretty devoted to the issue? Does his devotion to "his life" and to "family issues" make him more right about the issue than advocates on the other side of the debate? Are they less devoted to their lives and to family issues than he?

And, he'd do it for free? Well guess what- many people actually do advocate for free! And Blankehorn isn't one of them. Heck, I do this even though no pays me at all. Does that make me more right than Blankenhorn, who does it for money?

"My impression is on matters of civil rights and economics and social justice, he's the same warm-hearted Southern liberal he was when he started," Galston says. "It might be more accurate to say a strand of thinking about the family and the culture that in contemporary circumstances is regarded as conservative is something that's become a stronger part of his thinking."

So, he's liberal? Oh wait, he's conservative? Neat.

Frankly, I care less about the political label a person slaps on him or herself and more about a persons reasons for believing what he or she believes.

Oh, and he's warm-hearted? Neat. How is that relevant again? Does his alleged "war-heartedness" make his position on marriage equality more right than that of his opponents?

"Some academics, including [New York Univesrity sociology Professor Judith Stacey], suggest [Blanekenhorn's think-tank] lacks objectivity because its work is not subject to scholarly peer review.

Blankenhorn rebuffs such claims.

'Almost all our work is done in teams of people. We review each other's work constantly,' he says. 'So it is utter hogwash for somebody to say something like that.'"

Um, okay.

Do we have any real scientists or social scientists, or heck anyone who's taken Psych 101, in the crowd who want to explain what peer review means? And how it is different than working "in teams of people"?

And let's talk about working in "teams of people." I'm glad his think-tankers are able to play well with others, but are his "teams of people" comprised only of people at his think-tank who are all opposed to marriage equality?

But more importantly, isn't "peer review" a concept that the founder of a research institute should, um, be familiar with?

Professor Stacey says, of Blankenhorn:

"I'm one of his favorite targets. We have opposing views on the relationship between social science research about families and public policy about families. Not only do we disagree about the policies, but we disagree about what the research says."

If I may interject, Professor Stacey, perhaps the two of you disagree about what the research says because you are an actual scientist who, you know, is familiar with scientific procedure and concepts. Like peer review.

Blankenhorn's reasons for writing his book on marriage?:

"He says he couldn't skirt same-sex marriage any longer because allowing gays to marry and form families conflicts with children's right to know and be raised by their two biological parents."

Ah, the good ol' "married heterosexual biological parents are automatically fit for parenthood" argument.

I can't wait to finish this "liberal Democrat's" book!

And with "liberal" friends like these, as they say....

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