“Hidden Law 1: The Legal Assault” by Jonathan Rauch is more than ten years old, but I followed an Andrew Sullivan link to it today, and I’m giving it a read. I have been thinking lately about how a certain kind of hypocrisy seems very widespread, and although I tend to fight against it, maybe it is not wise and futile to do so.
Posts Tagged ‘morality’
This has been on my mind for a while; it’s about time I made a post of it.
A standard feature of any commentary about any conservative politician who is exposed as an adulterer or some other kind of sexual miscreant is to denounce them for hypocrisy. Often it’s framed this way: this person’s private life doesn’t matter to me, but since they’ve supported family values agenda, they are hypocrites, so that’s what I condemn them for. The ultimate spin on this is that the support for family values is the wrong thing.
I don’t like this line of attack. If you’re an elected official, holding a position in support of some public policy is a promise to promote that policy by your official actions on behalf of the people who vote for you. If you privately go against the moral principles that motivate your policy positions, that doesn’t mean you cannot continue to stand for those policies. It just means that there’s a difference between what you do for your job and what you do for fun.
I even think the charge of hypocrisy ought to be turned around and leveled at the critics. Many of them proclaim time and again that personal sexual conduct between consenting adults is exempt from being judged by others. This is a high principle with many. What people do in their bedroom is no one else’s business! they’ll repeat. Yet they leap at any opportunity to judge any unfavored politician by his private actions. Oh, yes, because it’s hypocrisy: that family-value type wanted to limit others’ privacy, so he isn’t entitled to his own.
That might sound like unassailable reasoning, but it seems to me that those who don’t want to be judged for their private behavior should not impose any linkage between a politician’s public stands and his or her private life. If your principle is that what you do in your bedroom is no one else’s business, then here’s what you do: assume the politician’s bedroom activity has no bearing on their official duties. Do not demand consistency where no consistency should be expected—by your own principle.