In Defense of Hypocrisy

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Ned Resnikoff

I am a freelance writer, researcher for Media Matters for America, and occasional inactive to Salon. Everything written here is my opinion alone, and not representative of the views of my employer.

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29 Responses

  1. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    I’d have no problem exposing the sexual hypocrisy of someone who built her whole career until now on campaigning for a certain code of sexual behavior, while violating that code in private. But by the looks of it, any transgression of hers was exceedingly minor, if transgression is even the right word for it.

    We’re not even close to George Rekers, Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, David Vitter, Mark Sanford… And with so many other cases to choose from, fabricating one seems rather unsporting, doesn’t it?Report

    • Avatar Ned Resnikoff in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      @Jason Kuznicki, You’re right about Christine O’Donnell. “Transgression” is the wrong word. As far as Vitter goes, I’d say the relevant fact isn’t hypocrisy but illegality. And as for someone like Haggard, I’m more interested in what this says about whether or not homosexuality is a “choice” than his personal hypocrisy.

      As for Sanford? Honestly? What he did was sleazy, but I don’t really see it as a public concern.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Ned Resnikoff
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        says:

        @Ned Resnikoff, Chief exec of a state unreachable & whereabouts unknown including by closest aids for 24+ hrs? Public concern. Not impeachable I wouldn’t imagine, but South Carolinians had a legitimate interest in that activity.Report

      • Avatar dexter45 in reply to Ned Resnikoff
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        says:

        @Ned Resnikoff, If you run on a family values ticket and are visiting prostutites, then hypocracy is an issue. I do wonder why Vitter wasn’t prosecuted. I think maybe it is because he is a republican and all they have to do is apologize to their preacher and vote to limit liability for offshore disasters to keep the campaign contributions coming in.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to dexter45
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          says:

          @dexter45, nah, nothing so conspiratorial.

          Denver had a thing a while back in a very exclusive squash club. There were, ahem, nice ladies around who made themselves available to the power players who frequented the gym. The mayor, captains of industry, etc. One of the news stories talked about one of the, ahem, nice ladies finding the mayor’s robe and wearing it.

          The nice ladies were prosecuted.

          There was not a single gentleman at this club who was prosecuted.

          As for why people kept sending him money… I dunno.

          But his not being prosecuted is similar to the reasons that Spitzer wasn’t.

          He’s male. Only females get prosecuted for such acts.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            @Jaybird,

            Denver had a thing a while back in a very exclusive squash club.

            ITYM a racket.Report

          • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            @Jaybird, I was discussing this with someone the other day. This custom is exactly backwards. If you want to ban a particular behavior, the most logical thing to do is to go after the person with the most to lose. You don’t even have to come at them as hard. A middle class American is going to be far more afraid of spending a weekend in prison than a streetwalker. Exposure alone is enough to scare the heck out of most men (particularly married ones). Come down hard enough on the men and I don’t even think you need to really worry about the women. Sweden has had some success with this model.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Trumwill
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              says:

              @Trumwill, yeah, but (at least in this case), that would involve busting the mayor and captains of industry.

              Hell, that was the problem with Heidi Fleiss. She was on trial and it was this *HUGE* scandal that she might name the names of her clients! Gasp!

              Hell, Spitzer bragged about how many nice lady rings he broke up while AG while, at the same time, enjoying time with nice ladies. (I don’t think it’s crazy to ask if he was offering some amount of protection to his chosen agencies while busting the competition.)

              Did he get arrested? Was there even a grand jury?

              There are a number of jurisdictions in the country where solicitors of nice ladies have their pictures put in the paper or on the web. This is for the lower (and perhaps middle) classes.

              Captains of industry? They have nothing to fear. They know that the chicks are the ones who are going to end up in court and that the scandal will be that, maybe, the madam will name names.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to dexter45
          Ignored
          says:

          @dexter45,

          I do wonder why Vitter wasn’t prosecuted.

          Wiki says statute of limitations.

          (I suppose I’m being old predictable me right now, but what Vitter apparently did shouldn’t be a crime, even if it is transparently hypocritical.)Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    At the risk of easily-mockable dualism, there are two kinds of hypocrisy that I see going on.

    The first kind is of the form “the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon” form. This kind doesn’t particularly bug me that much. At worst, it’s kinda funny… but there are principles that I know that I don’t live up to even though I should. There are things that I do in my private life that I don’t recommend for anyone else (Rock Star Low-Carb Energy Drink!). Hell, my life is full of things that I know I should not do but I go and do them anyway. Indeed, since I know that I shouldn’t do them, I have no problem saying that you shouldn’t do them either.

    And I do them anyway.

    Given that I have such an intimate relationship with this kind of hypocrisy, it doesn’t bug me overly.

    The second kind is the kind that really gets me.

    It’s similar enough to the first kind, I suppose. It says “don’t do this thing” while the speaker goes on to do that thing. The difference is that the speaker doesn’t care whether anyone does that thing but saying such a thing is a good way to accumulate power.

    The Ted Haggard thing strikes me as really funny… but, honestly, I have no doubt that the stuff he was doing was eating him alive at the same time that he was doing it. When he was fighting for protecting the family, he meant it. He knew, first hand, how precarious virtue can be.

    I feel more sorry for him than anything else.

    Now the other kind, the Newt Gingrich “it doesn’t matter if I do this so long as I say it” (or the Katha Politt waving away of Paula, Monica, Kathleen, Juanita) is the kind that absolutely infuriates me.

    The wacky thing is that the difference is the internal state of the alleged hypocrite which is, let’s face it, unmeasurable.

    But the first kind doesn’t really bug me (and is kind of funny) and the second kind makes me dream about tar and feathers.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      @Jaybird,

      The Ted Haggard thing strikes me as really funny… but, honestly, I have no doubt that the stuff he was doing was eating him alive at the same time that he was doing it. When he was fighting for protecting the family, he meant it. He knew, first hand, how precarious virtue can be.

      Sure. Haggard is no more a hypocrite than someone who preaches on the evils of drunkenness but occasionally falls of the wagon and goes on week-long benders, hating himself and his weakness for booze the whole time. The details only reinforce that: Vegas, meth, a professional “masseur”. He was making his lapses as evil as possible.

      Now if Haggard had been hiding a nice boyfriend that he truly cared for, he’d be a hypocrite and a half.Report

  3. Avatar Christopher Carr
    Ignored
    says:

    I agree with what you’re saying here, and I think that generally used to be the norm for reporters. Every reporter in the 60s knew what starlets Kennedy was sleeping with, who was doing drugs, etc., they just never reported it because they thought it was irrelevant. I think the idea of our leaders being saints in their personal lives is a fairly new one. I mean, look at Heracles.Report

  4. Avatar Matthew Schmitz
    Ignored
    says:

    Thanks, Ned. My thinking on this was helped along a few years ago by this piece by Robert Miller:

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2006/11/miller-haggard-and-hypocrisyReport

  5. Avatar Pat Cahalan
    Ignored
    says:

    > If a hardline anti-immigration reform senator is caught
    > employing an undocumented housekeeper, it may tell
    > us a great deal about his moral fortitude as an individual;
    > but it tells us next to nothing about the value of the
    > policies he is proposing, nor about his competence in
    > implementing those policies.

    I’ve been chewing on this for about a half-hour, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s lacking something.

    Granted, this is in many ways essentially poisoning the well, except the poisoner in this case is the well itself. That may, in fact, tell us something about the value of the policy. It may, in fact, tell us something very cogent about the value of the policy (it depends upon the policy); to suggest otherwise is almost special pleading.

    I’m working on this, so apologies if it seems rough, but there seems to be several different categories of policies that one could be discussing in the public sphere. You have pro-action policies (tax subsidies, GI bill, etc.) that are designed to encourage some sort of behavior, and punitive policies (most everything else) designed to discourage some sort of behavior.

    When a public figure is suggesting a punitive policy on top of a body of punitive policies for some sort of behavior that they actually do themselves, this is different from someone suggesting a pro-action policy for something that they *don’t* do themselves, but like Jaybird think they ought. They have at least a case study of one to suggest that their punitive policy proposal won’t work. The pro-19 posts on the League in the last week or so are examples of this.

    Telling someone, “the country would be better if only nobody did this (except maybe me)” is somewhat different from “the country would be better if we got people to do this (even if I don’t).”Report

    • Avatar Rufus in reply to Pat Cahalan
      Ignored
      says:

      @Pat Cahalan, Wow!- I was about to post something on this topic making exactly the same distinction- between punitive and advocative legislation- and why it’s easier to accept the second from people who have done what they’re legislating against. Maybe this is a case of great minds thinking alike (I wish anyway).Report

  6. “If a hardline anti-immigration reform senator is caught employing an undocumented housekeeper, it may tell us a great deal about his moral fortitude as an individual; but it tells us next to nothing about the value of the policies he is proposing…”

    I don’t know, if your policy is so onerous that even you can’t follow it, maybe it’s really not such a good idea.Report

  7. Avatar dexter45
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    says:

    Once again it is the hypocrocy of the thing. One of Clinton’s nominees for office was not confirmed because she had hired an illegal alien as a nanny. I know that the offender this time is trying for an office by a popular vote but it is still hypocrocy.Report

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