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Ezra Klein’s Bad Analogy

August 13, 2010

Ezra Klein joins the chorus of Douthat critics:

. . . America does not currently conceive of marriage in the way that Douthat and Tushnet would like it to conceive of marriage, and in the way it would need to conceive of marriage in order for there to be a good reason the institution can’t accommodate gays. So to oppose gay marriage, Douthat and Tushnet must first construct an alternative version of marriage, and then argue that if real marriage opens to gays, that’s another step away from the idealized marriage that would be closed to gays. It’s like partisans of VCRs opposing improvements to DVDs because they make the widespread resurrection of VHS unlikely.

A preference for an institution we don’t have and aren’t moving toward is not good enough to justify legal discrimination in the here and now. Particularly when the option exists to create a cultural or religious version of marriage that accords precisely to Douthat and Tushnet’s preferences.

Klein is a masterful policy wonk and generally a sharp writer. But his analogy between support for gay marriage and VCR partisanship is downright shoddy. Klein might just as well have likened liberals who prefer strong financial regulation to VCR partisans. Futures contracts and credit default swaps might along these lines be likened to the “improvements to DVDs” such partisans oppose. Klein’s analogy is, in other words, just as well suited for a Wall Street banker as it is for a proponent of same-sex marriage. For 30 years, Wall Street has embraced Klein’s false progressivism, and insisted (wrongly) that strong financial regulation is something “we don’t have and aren’t moving toward.”

Progress is only progress in relation to some ideal. Liberals like Ezra Klein understand this about half of the time — whenever the discussion turns to economics. The other half of the time they are talking nonsense.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2010 2:27 am

    I find that most of Klein’s articles are like that. He is smart but too smart by half.

    I agree progress is only in relation to some ideal. Of course that’s the big problem. Ideals vary greatly in the general population.

  2. innocentsmithjournal permalink*
    August 15, 2010 10:04 am

    Yep. My point is that we need to at least debate ideals as ideals, and not pretend they are something else. Invoking technological progress, as Klein does here, is little more than a rhetorical trick used to lend one’s ideals prestige.

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