The Corner

Broken Vows


I just caught up with Kathryn’s post on the New York Times wedding-announcement controversy. A couple of things surprised me here. 1) People care deeply what the New York Times does. For years, I’ve been hearing about that paper’s irrelevance, declining readership, hyperpartisanship to the point of straight-out unreliability, etc.; and yet it can somehow still provoke outrage, as if its choices still mattered. (FWIW, I hardly ever read it except for the weekly books section.) 2) Non-conservatives care as deeply about the integrity of marriage vows as conservatives do. The links in the article Kathryn wrote about are not to Human Events or the Focus on the Family newsletter; they are to Gawker and New York magazine. The people denouncing this celebratory treatment of the destruction of two marriages (to create a third) are not right-wing ideologues but just ordinary Americans who know the harm that has been done by our divorce culture. (Please, no angry e-mails on this particular point. I said divorce culture, not divorce laws. I favor extremely liberal divorce laws, because the only thing I can imagine that’s worse than a culture full of self-absorbed creeps who want to break their spouse’s hearts would be a culture full of self-absorbed creeps who want to break their spouse’s hearts – but we won’t let them, because social science proves that 7 percent more of kids in intact homes get a healthy lunch more than three times a week. Lucky wife! Lucky children! To have a dad we had to force to stay with them, because of a Brookings paper.)

So I am encouraged by this commitment to the sanctity of marriage — that people across the board are enraged that a couple of people they don’t know appear to be getting off the hook morally for breaking up marriages. I am curious as to how this outrage will manifest itself when, someday, a candidate for major elective office comes forward who has a past that includes breaking up marriages. (Reagan doesn’t count; it was universally known that his first wife had left him, and that he was left heartbroken.) How important a disqualification will this character issue be? I remember what Lincoln said about Grant, when advisers complained to Lincoln that his top general was a drunk. Lincoln famously said, “Find out . . . what brand of whiskey Grant drinks, because I want to send a barrel of it to each one of my generals.” Lincoln was not a celebrator of alcoholism; he was, rather, a prudent man, and tolerated the vice of his general — because he needed this specific man for a crucial, specific task in a major national crisis. That’s a rather high standard to meet.


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