Does it matter if people in politics, or who comment on politics, do not have children? J. D. Vance, the author and currently distant second-place challenger for the Republican nomination for next year’s Senate race in Ohio, has kicked up yet another kerfuffle with a Twitter potshot at Paul Krugman:
Paul Krugman is one of many weird cat ladies who have too much power in our country. We should change this. https://t.co/uylzHsm6WT
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) July 25, 2021
Vance then expanded this into a rant on Tucker Carlson Tonight:
We are run in this country, via the Democrats, via our corporate oligarchs by a bunch of childless cat ladies who are miserable at their own lives and the choices that they’ve made and so they want to make the rest of the country miserable too. It’s just a basic fact. You look at Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, AOC. The entire future of the Democrats are controlled by people without children.
A few days later, Ben Domenech chimed in, turning the subject away from childless leaders into the anti-child tendencies of progressives as a movement, in a segment on Fox News Primetime titled “Leftists Hate You and Your Baby,” citing not only mass abortion but anti-child environmentalism and feminism as well as the utilitarianism of people like Krugman.
It is worth thinking through when it is appropriate to talk about childlessness, and when it is not. On the one hand, we should reject and resist the effort to delegitimize the views of anyone without kids. We should abhor the idea that childless people have to sit out certain debates, or that they are in some way disqualified from having opinions or not allowed to talk. This is a popular trope on the identitarian Left — you can’t have an opinion about this or that if you’re male, or if you’re white, or if you never served in the military (the “chickenhawk” trope), or whatever.
This McSweeney’s article from last week offers an only semi-satirical reductio ad absurdum example: “Are You Allowed to Criticize Simone Biles? A Decision Tree.” It concluded, of course, that literally everyone who is not Simone Biles is disqualified from criticizing her in any way. This mindset, that certain people are not supposed to weigh in on certain debates based on who they are, is un-American. This is a free country. Everybody in America, no matter how humble, is allowed to have an opinion and be heard on every question. There are plenty of people who are childless, some of them because they are young (Ocasio-Cortez is 31; how sure are we that she does not want to marry and have children?), some because they cannot have children even though they very much want them. There are people in politics with big families — Nancy Pelosi has five children, and so does Mitt Romney — and while this may give them a bit more authority to speak on the subject, they do not get to delegitimize the views of anyone with a smaller family (Vance has two kids; Domenech is a new father just this past year).
On the other hand, it should not somehow ever be out of bounds to notice that people’s opinions are informed by their life experiences — or lack thereof — and that this includes whether or not you are a parent. It is entirely fair to point out when childless people have blind spots that parents can see, or when they are hostile to things that parents value. In the case of Krugman’s blithe dismissal of the value of parenthood — including the fact that his mental framework for fatherhood is dominated by Donald Trump, of all people — it is absolutely relevant to notice that Krugman himself has no children. I would offer as another example a debate I had with Josh Barro in 2014 over the value of homeownership, in which Barro simply overlooked a number of considerations that would be apparent to any parent. It is worrisome that the younger (under-70) cohort of the progressive movement seems to have a disproportionate number of childless people in prominent positions, alongside a lot of rhetorical and substantive hostility to families. They are entitled to their opinions, but they should have some humility about imposing things on other people without having walked a mile in their shoes.
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