Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Three Cheers for Frank Bruni and Focus on the Family

Frank Bruni
Frank Bruni has been using his New York Times op-ed column to defend the institution of the family. Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic does not seem to like it one bit.  In fact, he has even compared Bruni's recent columns to rhetoric found at the "right wing religious group" Focus on the Family.  In order to be cute, Chotiner lists eight statements about the family and asks his readers which ones came from Bruni and which ones came from the Focus website.  (Did I mention that Chotiner calls Focus a "right wing religious group?").  Please notice that these statements have nothing to do with abortion, gay rights, the "traditional family," or anything else that might be construed as culture war rhetoric.

Here are the statements:

1. "A family can pass its painstakingly nurtured closeness down through the generations."
2. "Busyness can make it difficult for parents to savor life's ordinary moments. But it is precisely those moments that your children will treasure forever."
3. "Grandpa took Leslie to a Waffle House on the first day of their drive and then again on the second. They share, along with genes, an affinity for breakfast foods and carbohydrates.They don’t share musical tastes, so for most of their trip, they left the radio off and just talked, treating the highway as memory lane."
4. "Your daughter mentions her 10th birthday. You assume she will rave about the beautiful cake and Sparkles' funny balloon animals, but instead she recalls how much fun it was to ride in the van with you to pick up doughnuts for breakfast." 
5. "Carve out space for family no matter what...put relatives at the head of the line....find gestures large and small."
6. "Not all happy families are alike. But all happy families...have this in common: Their bond is forged not by accident but by intent."
7. "Most children find just as much, or even more, joy in the little things as they do in life's big events."
8. "Everyday interactions may be more meaningful than many parents realize."
Answers: Bruni is 1, 3, 5, and 6

At face value Chotiner's post can be read as little more than an interesting observation or comparison. But we all know that this was not what he had in mind.  For example, Chotiner compares Bruni's writing about the family to "Hallmark Cards."  He also uses the ellipsis for effect, as in: "Bruni wrote a piece entirely about the value of...yes, family."  This sentence reeks with sarcasm about Bruni's choice of topic.  And his use of the phrase "rightwing religious group founded by James Dobson" is sure to raise some hair on the necks of New Republic readers.

The most disturbing thing about this post is that Chotiner's world view is so narrow that he does not seem able to admit that an organization like Focus on the Family could have anything positive to say about the place of the family in American life.  Moreover, he is so embedded in a culture-war narrative that he just assumes his readers will scoff at Bruni in light of the mere mention of James Dobson. 

Now I do not agree with everything Focus on the Family teaches about the family.  I have also been critical of Dobson for his decision to refocus his ministry toward politics. But I think most liberals and conservatives would agree with the eight principles listed above, whether they were written by Focus on the Family or a New York Times columnist.  Some things that are just human.  And it is foolish to politicize them.