Friday, June 26, 2009

Hypocrisy and Double Standards

We all know that our professional judgments can be clouded by personal or emotional considerations. It's also true that our opinions about personal or moral issues can be clouded by our political leanings. Since one party gains when a leader of the opposing party falls from grace, that gives us an incentive to join in the condemnation of those whose downfalls may benefit our side politically. Thus, Republicans rationalize calling for the resignation or punishment of Democratic politicians embroiled in sex scandals, on the grounds that those politicians have failed to live up to the traditional family values that the Republicans say they stand for. Or that they are not really concerned about sex, only about lying about sex. Democrats likewise find a way to call for punishment of Republicans embroiled in personal scandals on the ground that it serves those hypocrites right. I have a modest proposal. Maybe people on both sides should be be a little less quick to judge such matters. Maybe we need to respect people's privacy more. Maybe we shouldn't be so anxious to read other people's personal correspondence.

When I hear Democrats say that their objection to Governor Sanford's behavior has nothing to do with what he does in his personal life, but is instead about hypocrisy or dereliction of duty or something like that, it reminds me of the Republicans in Congress saying that they were not impeaching Bill Clinton because of his sexual behavior, but rather because of his flagrant perjury. Or something like that. The fact is that people lie about their sex lives. The fact is that hypocrisy is fairly universal. The fact is that people sometimes do reckless things when their minds are clouded by personal considerations. People sometimes even neglect their official duties because of personal issues. I think it would be better if we all just stood back a little from condemning the crazy things people do in their personal lives, even when their behavior seems to be a little dangerous. We would do well to follow the teachings of Jesus on issues of sexual immorality: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."


  1. Joe,

    Remember that the controversy over Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky involved more than a judgment about his personal conduct, whether it was the sex or the lying about sex. Clinton’s conduct was the subject of an aggressive criminal investigation and then an impeachment. Many of us believed that Clinton conduct merited neither his criminal prosecution nor removal his from elective office.

    That is not the same as approving of his conduct. I for one did not, and I believe that many other defenders of Clinton shared that view. He betrayed his wife and his family and acted immaturely. Perhaps we can say that these effects are none of our business, but that is hardly an expression of approval. It was our business that Clinton’s recklessness in engaging in this conduct impaired his effectiveness as president. If he had avoided this scandal, which required only that he act as a mature, responsible adult, he could have achieved much more in the second term of his presidency, and there would have been much less Clinton-fatigue to burden Al Gore in the 2000 election.

    Turning to Mark Sanford, his Democratic critics would be hypocrites if they were calling for his prosecution or his removal from office, but I am not aware of any Democrats who are doing so. The calls for Sanford’s resignation seem to be coming primarily from South Carolina Republicans, which if nothing else is consistent with the stands that they or their fellow Republicans took in Clinton’s case. To the extent that Democrat’s are merely expressing disapproval of Sanford’s conduct, they are not being hypocritical.

    Moreover, very little of the moral condemnation of Sanford’s conduct appears to be coming from Democrats. Those views appear to be coming, once again, primarily from South Carolina Republicans, who remain consistent in their views.

    Many Democrats, on the other hand, are expressing ridicule, laughing at the absurdity of Sanford’s behavior. If he had asked a political consultant to arrange for the revelation of his affair in a big public spectacle, he could not have done better than what actually occurred. And did he really think that those emails would never see the light of day? We can debate whether this ridicule is appropriate, but I do not see how it is hypocritical.

    A bigger theme for the Democrats, however, is to point out the hypocrisy of their Republican opponents. The inconsistency that they are highlighting is not so much with the Republicans’ stand during the Clinton impeachment as with the broader theme, consistently expressed for a long time by many leading Republicans, that they are the party of “family values” and that their Democratic opponents fail to respect these “family values.” They engage in high-minded moralizing against any Democrat caught with his pants down in an effort to reinforce that theme. Democrats are now answering that rhetoric by pointing out the inconsistent behavior of leading Republican politicians.

    The point of the Democrats, as I hear it, is not be that the Republicans are a depraved group or are more depraved than Democrats. It is that the personal failings of individual politicians say nothing about their parties or the causes that they promote, and this rhetoric that we hear so often from Republicans has no place in the wider public discourse. In my opinion, that is an important point to make.

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  3. Joe -
    I know you're trying you're mightiest to be a fair judge of the morality of politicians personal lives, but this debate is simply not about is strictly about the hypocrisy of the Right's political platform. And, I'm already reading that more sane Republicans are doing the unthinkable...actually rethinking the emphasis on family values as a loss leader. As I posted on my blog:
    I don't believe most people really care about who's doing who, but nobody likes a hypocrite.

  4. Why do we disapprove of hypocrites so much? Maybe because we are all so guilty of hypocrisy ourselves. Hypocrisy just seems to be rampant in our society, and probably every society in history. My kids accuse me of hypocrisy practically every day. At this very moment, I am telling my son to stop wasting time on the computer while I waste time on the computer myself.

    But thanks for the thoughtful responses. You should know, however, that the main purpose of my post was to put the word "sex" on my website as much as possible. I understand that drives a lot of traffic to the site and will improve search engine rankings.

  5. This isn't the first time, and it sure will not be the last time a politician has gotten caught cheating on his wife.

    It wouldn't even surprise me if more than half of the politicians that made a big deal out of Bill Clinton went and visited their Mistress a few times during the entire trial. Here is something a few of you may have seen a few years back:

    Candidate A

    Associates with crooked politicians and consults with astrologists. He's had two Mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

    Candidate B

    He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening.

    Candidate C

    He is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian. He doesn't smoke, drinks an occasional beer and never cheated on his wife.

    Which of these candidates would be your choice?