Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Different Perspective

Back in 1990, after President George Herbert Walker Bush had raised income taxes, I gleefully pounced on his famous campaign pledge of "Read my lips. No new taxes" to approach a couple of acquaintances. How, they were asked, do they justify having voted for candidate Bush when he now has been exposed as a hypocrite? Their answer: at least Bush denounced the idea of an increase in taxes, proving that he did not want to raise them, unless completely unavoidable.

This came to mind as I was reading the remarks by Paul Krugman and by Slate's Joe Conason about Republican sex scandals. Although helpfully avoiding the "h" word, Conason notes the apparent disconnect between Republican denunciation of private immorality and the wayward ways of some in their party:

The proof is in the penance, or lack thereof, inflicted on the likes of Mark Sanford, John Ensign and David Vitter, to cite a few names from the top of a long, long list. For ideologues who value biblical morality and believe in the efficacy of punishment, modern conservatives are as tolerant of their famous sinners as the jaded libertines of the left. Even after confessing to the most flagrant and colorful fornication, the worst that a conservative must anticipate is a stern scolding, followed by warm assurances of God's forgiveness and a swift return to business as usual.

Conason notes that David Vitter and John Ensign remain United States Senators while Mark Sanford (as of this writing) remains a state Governor and Newt Gingrich a party leader. He cites John Edwards (not the best example, given the dim prospects he otherwise faced) and then-New York Governor Elliot Spitzer as Democrats who fell on their sword, and could have added then- New Jersey Governor James McGreevey.

Conason concludes "If they looked honestly at themselves, religious conservatives might notice that they are morally lax, socially permissive and casually tolerant of moral deviancy -- just like the liberals they despise." But Krugman demurs, arguing that the religious right is not "socially permissive and casually tolerant" in the way that liberals are," and observes

Because where liberals see gross hypocrisy, conservatives see men doing the Lord’s work — which partially excuses their own failings. Liberals think that a man who has an affair is worse if he preaches moral values; conservatives think he’s better. You might say that as they see it, if he interferes with what enough other people do in bed, it doesn’t matter what he does himself.

If Paul Krugman weren't a Nobel Prize-winning economist, he might have been a Nobel Prize-winning cultural anthropologist, if there were such an award. To some individuals on the cultural right, hypocrisy is simply not an issue, not a consideration. At least, the thinking goes, politician A believes the right things, holds the morally correct values, and simply fell short. (He/she might even be "doing the Lord's work," helping move the political argument to the right). And that's better, according to this view, than not believing in those values at all.

Finally, Krugman concludes

So left is left and right is right, and never the twain shall meet.

William Saletan, be advised.

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