Thursday, October 24, 2013

Judging the Family Unit: Politics and the Collective Conscious

The New York Times has an interesting article examining the role of Heidi Nelson Cruz, wife of now-(in)famous Senator Ted Cruz.

The article lists the ways in which the team are somewhat oddly matched, including Cruz's volatile tendency toward non-negotiation stances and his wife's more collaborative style. Some Democrats have been using her position as managing director of Goldman Sach's to call out a hypocrisy, especially when it comes to her husband's health care coverage:
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, tried to push Mr. Cruz into admitting that he was on his wife’s blue-chip Goldman health plan — a sign of hypocrisy, he implied. And then Mrs. Cruz’s boss, Goldman’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, turned up at the White House to urge against a devastating debt default, one of the issues with which Mr. Cruz had become closely associated.
“I have to say, honestly, I’m not involved with any of those issues at our firm,” Mrs. Cruz said. And if her husband was evasive about where he got his health coverage, Mrs. Cruz was blunt.
“Ted is on my health care plan,” said Mrs. Cruz, who has worked in Goldman’s investment management division for eight years.
It made me think of a similar (though obviously more blatant) familial hypocrisy brought up in politics recently. An Idaho Republican running for State Representative, Greg Collett touts his "extreme" views when it comes to government involvement in personal lives. He is adamantly opposed to government-run healthcare. But it was recently revealed that many of his ten children are on Medicaid.

Sarah Palin faced immense backlash as her abstinence-only stance came head-to-head with her own teenage daughter's pregnancy.

How about the discussion of Meghan McCain's stance on gay rights as opposed to her father's?

And, of course, any time an Anthony Weiner or a Bill Clinton gets publicly caught up in an illicit affair, our critical lens turns immediately to their wives' reactions and character.

Still holding hands

How Closely Should Our Ties Bind?

Look. I have some family members who I wouldn't want you using as a measure of my competence or humanity (the ones who refused to eat in the same room with my black husband come to mind.)

But I have to admit that I am sympathetic to many of these cries of hypocrisy. There are clearly shades of grey in these examples. Mr. Collett's children did not enroll themselves in Medicaid, so that certainly does seem to be a hypocrisy of his own making, but should we judge Sarah Palin for her daughter's actions? Should Ted Cruz's wife's profession be up for scrutiny? Should Hilary Clinton's reaction to her cheating husband be a factor in the discussion of his public penance?

To some extent, I guess the answers to these questions don't really matter. These people are placed under that level of scrutiny whether they culturally deserve it or not. We are judged not only as individuals, but as a collective family unit, and there's some sense in that because our individual selves are shaped and intimately connected not just to our spouses and children, but also to our teachers and students, our neighbors and bosses, our cousins and friends.

We are social creatures. Our social connections matter.

It reminds me of watching Goodfellas and trying to figure out how I felt about the main character's wife. When they met, she was ignorant of his mob connections, but very quickly realized there was something off about his affluence and wealth. Later, she was a silent and passive co-conspirator who accepted the benefits of his criminal life but assumed none of the responsibility through criminal acts herself. Finally, as their lives began to unravel, she became an active participant in his illegal affairs, turning criminal in her own right. 

At what point did she become implicated, morally speaking, in the acts of her husband. We have some answers for this in the legal system, but they are largely based on what we can prove a conspirator knows. I'm more interested in what it means to tie yourself to someone whose decisions tacitly become a part of your life. At what point do their morals interfere with your own? At what point do their decisions become intricately tied up with yours? 

If my husband uses our jointly earned money to buy products I see as unethical (clothes manufactured at sweatshops, say or chicken from an abusive factory farm), am I implicated in that act even though I don't consume the product? If my daughter decides she wants to work as the photo editor of a magazine someday and uses software to manipulate people's bodies into unrealistic representations, does that mean I can no longer write about my moral views on that issue? 

It's clear to me that our associations matter. Who we choose to spend time around is an immensely important part of our own perspectives on reality. Decisions made (even tacitly) within a family unit are a reflection upon that family as a whole.

But that association only extends so far. At some point, our decisions do become autonomous, and our seemingly unified family unit might have factions and cracks that the public cannot see. 

Where does the collective conscious of a family/friend/work group end and the individual stance of the members begin? How can tell when there's hypocrisy afoot?

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