December 03, 2004

Hypocrisy Hype

Not sure who linked me to this essay from TNR, (RCP?) but I find myself enjoying the writing there more all the time. Jeffrey Friedman takes apart the premise of a N.Y. Times piece charging "values voters" with hypocrisy because ratings say they also watch "Desperate Housewives" in numbers. After making mincemeat of the Times fallacy, he trashes the whole notion of using charges of hypocrisy as a political weapon at all. And persuasively so, IMHO. Here's a sample. You know what to do: (free registration req'd)'s an elementary point of logic that a claim's validity is independent of the character of those who advocate it. A truth is a truth, no more or less true because of who believes it. The whole issue of hypocrisy, then, for all the importance it routinely assumes in political discourse, is a red herring.

If a professed atheist secretly worships God "just in case," we're entitled to say that he lacks the courage of his convictions. But we aren't entitled to say that those convictions are false. God exists, or doesn't exist, regardless of what any atheist secretly believes. The same goes for the beliefs of values voters: They are valid, or they aren't, irrespective of whether a voter who believes in their validity succeeds in bringing them to bear when he turns on the TV set. And that voter has a right to impose those values on others, or he doesn't, regardless of whether he himself adheres to them. By the same token, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy's redistributive instincts are justified, or they aren't, irrespective of the wealth they enjoy, despite conservative charges that they're hypocrites; and Bill Clinton's professed feminism is right or wrong in principle, regardless of how he treated women in his personal life.

Goldberg often makes a related point. That there are worse things to be accused of than being a hypocrite. Take his example of the glutton who tries to persuade his son not to overeat. The man is surely a hypocrite. He's advocating a behavior in opposition to his own, trying to make rules for another that he is not willing to follow himself. Is he doing the right thing though, as a parent and a responsible citizen, quite possibly with entirely noble, even altruistic motives? If I'm a horse thief, but tell others not to do that, which of my character flaws should be on my tombstone; "Horse Thief" or "Hypocrite"? (Thanks JG, however badly I may have paraphrased).

Posted by dan at December 3, 2004 01:30 PM
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