I seem to have gotten past my schaudenfreude over politicians who torture themselves responding to simple questions about whether they support same-sex marriage. Watching Jeb Bush squirm at Charlie Roses’s straightforward inquiry (at about the 50 minute mark of this video), I found myself feeling some real sympathy for him.
I think it’s because Jeb appears to want to give the simple, right answer. He’s smart, very well respected in his state, and knows how to answer even the hardest questions. Watch him field Rose’s very first one about whether Jeb will be Mitt Romney’s running mate. That is a tough question, but watch how easy it is to give a clear answer, if you have one.
Contrast that ease to what happens to Jeb when Rose gets around to same-sex marriage. Jeb’s detours, platitudes, bromides and banality not only don’t answer the question, they don’t even seem to convince Jeb himself.
That, I think (and hope) is the tragedy of politicians of good faith. They know they are giving the wrong answer and hate themselves for it. Can Jeb Bush really believe that when he says same-sex marriage is a “diversion,” he is not insulting every lesbian and gay man, to whom marriage is not some triviality or stratagem, but a central fact of their daily life?
That is how a politician can view the issue — in tactical terms. More important, it is a luxury that only heterosexuals have, to view same-sex marriage as not that important. How nice that must be, to see an issue that is so important to the lives of others, and not have to worry about it because it doesn’t much affect you.
But that is the problem all minorities potentially face in a democracy. Empathy is not feeling sorry for someone (that’s sympathy), it is the ability to actually see the world through someone else’s eyes. The equal protection clause doesn’t guarantee majorities will have empathy but it does assure that the laws cannot allow this luxury of the majority to prevail.
I don’t know why I think Jeb is smart enough to understand that he is only feigning this kind of ignorance and entitlement. It’s very possible I’m wrong and he really is that ignorant and entitled. But in this interview, he really did strike me as troubled by the words coming out of his own mouth.
Worse for him, after watching how much easier it is now for the President to answer this simple question with a simple answer, I think (and again, hope) Jeb knows that his own political life would be so much easier if he, too, could give the easy and right response.