Saturday, February 02, 2008


There is a very interesting piece in the Boston Globe about political leaders and hypocrisy.  Perhaps there's nothing terribly earth-shattering, but it puts all the pieces together in a nice way.  I'm no fan of hypocrisy, but what if the alternative is really too much consistency (and therefore an inability to learn and change course as necessary) or too much simplicity?

For Romney, the illegal immigrants working for the landscaping company he hired seems completely irrelevant and reminiscent of AGs who were disqualified because they didn't pay social security tax on their housekeeper's pay.  And we all know what happens if you disqualify AGs on these grounds - you end up having to look at pictures of Janet Reno for years.

For Obama voting to provide funds for the Iraq war, this doesn't seem to be hypocrisy at all.  Being against the war shouldn't compel someone to cut off funding.  He was right on Iraq in the beginning, but he's not a moron.  Whether he wanted it this way or not, we are at war and we need to wage it effectively.

The hypocrisy accusations against Clinton seem more valid.  Initially for a bad war, but then against it when it's unpopular and we really need to keep fighting.  It seems like hypocrisy here, but it could just be consistently bad judgment, which would be even more troubling.

I don't know too much about McCain's positions on Bush's tax cuts.  Maybe he is a weasel and a hypocrite like the rest, but it seems like in the primaries you're going to get some inconsistency from everyone as they pander to the extremes of their respective parties.

Anyway, it's an interesting read.

1 comment:

Phutatorius said...

. . . and more inconsistency if they tack back toward the center in the general election.

It seems to me that inconsistency can mean a lot of things.

*First, there's hypocrisy, which is a very specific kind of inconsistency whereby you promote standards of conduct for others, but you yourself can't abide by them. This reflects poorly on one's character and should raise doubts about the genuineness of the person's belief in his promoted norms. EAH, I'm less willing than you are to give Romney a pass on the illegal immigrant-hiring, because he has tried to capitalize on the immigration issue by taking a hard-line stance. The Clintonites who hired illegal domestics weren't necessarily lock-'em-up/send-'em-home advocates. They may have violated a malum prohibitum law, but they don't appear to be as unprincipled as Romney is. See also, e.g. Larry Craig, who scored political points by impugning the homosexual lifestyle even as he was soliciting other men in public restrooms.

*Second, there's mind-changing. It gets tricky here. A person can change his mind for all sort of reasons. There's "I was foolish then, but I have since grown as a person," which is how Romney explains away his inconsistent positions on social wedge issues. That seems reasonable, and it can even have rhetorical appeal. We all identify with misspent youth and the slow arrival of wisdom. There's also "the circumstances have changed." One subcategory of changed circumstances is "I didn't have the information I have now," which describes Hillary's position on the war. She faults the Bush Administration for not revealing the full picture on the state of intelligence regarded WMD. This seems reasonable, too (in fact, she ought to come off better than Romney: he claims to have been stupid and wrong, whereas Hillary claims only to have been deliberately misinformed), but not as rhetorically appealing, because it's too complicated to reduce to a sound bite.

*Third, I guess, is inconsistency for the sake of expediency. In politics, this translates to the unspoken "I'll say anything to get votes, and I'll say the opposite to get votes later on." This is the catch-all explanation -- it's where you land if you don't believe the more appealing explanations that candidates give for their reversals.

*Fourth, there's the possibility that two positions might not be inconsistent. For example, you can be against the war as a terrible idea, but committed to the notion that we need to stick it out and do what we can to fix it. Not an inconsistency in the least, and to my mind the most defensible set of positions on the war. Which is naturally why we're not hearing it from anybody.

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