Two Cheers For The Hypocrites

A few weeks back, Washington DC buzzed with the news that Louisiana Senator David Vitter, a conservative Republican, admitted (a step ahead of public disclosure, possibly by hard-core porn magnate Larry Flynt) that he had frequented a prostitute. The response on the left was numbingly predictable, attacking Vitter not for his immorality but on grounds of hypocrisy because of his socially conservative campaign themes and voting record, such as his opposition to same-sex marriage. A common theme was the idea that Vitter should not be able to argue again for such positions, because his private sins compromised his public positions. Even Glenn Reynolds got into the act, suggesting “How about moving to make prostitution legal in the District instead [of apologizing]? It would be an appropriate penance, and D.C. would be a . . . fitting . . . place to start.”
This is wrong, and dangerous. Our politicians and civic leaders have never been saints, but the punishment for their sins should not fall on the rest of us. I would much prefer to see a wicked man be a hypocrite and vote for what is right and good, rather than choose consistency and advocate for wrongdoing.
The left’s argument on this front – usually implicit, sometimes made explicitly – is that immoral behavior, especially in matters sexual, proves that moral standards are impossible to satisfy, and thus that the whole project of promoting virtue is a fool’s errand. Go and do what feels good, you can’t be expected to know better.* But nobody ever said that moral standards are easy, or the history of human behavior and philosophical and religious thought wouldn’t be littered with battles over what is right and wrong and how to get people to choose the former.
Moreover, the critics set an impossibly high standard when they claim that a moral failing in one area should cause a man to abandon the advocacy of virtue in others. Thus, we hear that Bill Bennett, because he has had a gambling problem, should not be heard to speak on other issues of public and private morals, ranging from sexual mores to drugs to obstruction of justice. But with rare exceptions, the same logic isn’t applied to the champions of vice. The left never argues that figures like Madonna or Hugh Hefner, just to pick two examples of people who have built decades-long careers on championing sexual immorality, are hypocrites because they don’t also have gambling problems. Pursuing this asymmetrical line of reasoning can only have the result of unilaterally disarming one side. If only saints can defend right and good and virtue, they will be undefended, while the ranks of the defenders of wrong and sin swell to bursting.
In any event, the left’s champions are no less frequently guilty of advocating standards they don’t follow or impose on themselves. They call for limits on the use of energy, while galavanting around in private jets and high-powered SUV motorcades. They argue that society benefits from keeping poor kids in public schools without a choice to leave, while sending their own kids to expensive private academies. They hire picketers and leafleters to protest low wages and benefits, and pay them a pittance and no benefits. They press for strict gun controls, then hire armed private bodyguards of their own. The greatest moral controversy in recent memory, the Clinton impeachment, came about when a variety of rules created by moralizing liberals – the independent counsel statute, sexual harrassment litigation, liberal rules of discovery in civil litigation – were turned against one of their own, with predictable howls of outrage.
None of this is to suggest that a man’s private immoral or illegal behavior is irrelevant to his fitness for public office. Voters certainly have to judge the totality of a candidate’s character – moreso in the case of candidates for executive or judicial positions, who exercise broader individual discretion, but it’s not irrelevant for legislators either – and the private and public behavior are all a part of this. The fundamental question Louisiana voters will need to ask about Sen. Vitter is whether this changes their view about his ability to do his job, keep his promises and avoid misusing his office. You don’t take the public man in isolation, but neither do you take the private man in isolation; the whole must be examined and judged as one.
But in asking that question, Sen. Vitter’s continued willingness to fight for the things he campaigned on should be a plus. If you are a Louisiana voter who thinks prostitution is bad for your community, why should you have to live with it because of a Senator’s private sins? If you are a Mississippian who thinks racial preferences are bad policy, why should you have to live with them because of Trent Lott’s mouth? In fact, the courage to stand up for the right thing to do even when it exposes you to the hypocrisy charge is one of the most important attributes of a leader, the facet that makes it possible to pursue justice and virtue without constantly checking to trim your positions to fit your own failings. Consider the “chickenhawk” charge, the assertion that Presidents Clinton and Bush should have been hesitant to use military force, not having served in combat themselves. It was apparent, watching Clinton at work, that while he sent the military hither and yon on ‘humanitarian’ interventions, he was nonetheless hypersensitive to the argument that he should avoid using the military, precisely because of his own personal history; it is equally obvious that Bush does not put stock in such arguments, and makes his calls as he sees them. I much prefer to see Republicans who will stand up against abortion, for example, regardless of the state of their private lives, than those who feel that they have to take a squishily pro-choice position because they fear the scrutiny of the anti-moral scolds.
It takes a truly twisted perspective to see a man who commits private sins while arguing in public for virtue, and choose to take issue with the latter.
So, two cheers for the hypocrites. Even if they don’t do right by themselves or their families – even if, at times, they deserve to be punished by the law or defeated at the polls – they should still be proud to have done the right thing in their time in public service.

* – This is another day’s argument, but this attitude is a major reason why so many people drift politically leftward in their teens, when the search for a justification for rejecting prevailing moral standards on sex, drugs, etc. is literally seductive.

26 thoughts on “Two Cheers For The Hypocrites”

  1. Prostitution is illegal. So Vitter broke the law. Would you want a senator who is “tough on crime” to also believe he is above the law? Sure, he votes that criminals should be harshly prosecuted – but he gets to do what he wants?
    Vitter said that someone of the moral caliber to be an adulterer should not be allowed to hold public office. He must either resign, or he is simply untrustworthy as a public official – he operates on different rules than the rest of us.
    If you want a moral conservative in office – that’s fine. Shouldn’t he also believe what he votes for, and practice it? Or would you just prefer to bribe someone to vote a certain way, no matter what he does in his spare time?

  2. Oh, but I seem to remember a post in here ripping Al Gore for his personal energy usage vis a vis his global warming stance. I guess the right to be hypocritical is reserved only for those whose positions you like.
    This is an utterly pathetic spin job that is laughable at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.
    A large part of the problem we have with our political process is exactly this style of hypocrisy. Excusing those who take the extreme moral high ground (your Limbaughs, Haggards, Vitters, etc.) then proceed to do the exact opposite of it and expect to face no reprecussions is tantamount to letting the inmates run the asylum. If you put your alleged morality out on public display, crank it up with legislation and/or government funding to back it up and you are caught, literally, with your pants down you have got some SERIOUS explaining to do AND you should face the reprecussions of your actions. Applies to both sides of the aisle (although the GOP Inc. is far more crowded with fake Bible thumpers and morality clowns than is the Dem party).

  3. Jim, you gotta fight on the battlefields that exist. Like I said if you read the whole post, the Dems are loaded with hypocrites of their own, just on different issues (we could spend hours just on Gore and Edwards).

  4. No doubt, I pointed out the Dems are loaded up with hypocrites as well but I don’t see any posts where you champion their hypocrisy. This is a hard road to go down because no one is without personal issues, demons and skeletons. No person can be completely untainted and pure. And when you get into political office the line between purity and hypocrisy nearly disappears. However, to simpy state that you like that morality trash talkers are hypocritical bastards because they represent your views even if they can neither live up to them nor be accountable to them is strange.

  5. Impeccably argued, Crank. But let me offer a small twist on ancient wisdom:
    Hypocrisy is the compliment naivete pays to cynicism.

  6. A pastor I know once included within his message the following observation, “Some people tell me that they don’t want to go to church because it is filled with hypocrites. My answer is that we hypocrites have to have some place to go.”
    The distinction as I see it is, does Vitter, Edwards, Gore or whomever, when confronted with his hypocrisy, acknowledge it, and actually try to do better in the future? In Vitter’s case, his constituents will have to figure that out if he runs again. Have either John Edwards or Al Gore acknowledged that the size of their respective houses renders their sincerity on energy use into question?
    In the end, I see the validity of the message to be more important than the validity of the messenger. Do we think we will have stronger families if husbands cheat on their wives with prostitutes? If the answer is no, then Vitter’s behavior is irrelevant. His constituents have to judge if he is sincere in his contrition, and if he is an effective voice for whatever it is that they want out of their Senator regardless of his moral failings.
    If we say we are without sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

  7. The thing about Vitter and others of his ilk is this to me: Granted I barely know the man, don’t live in his state and have never seen one piece of publicity from him. However, if he has run his political campaigns and conducted his political/public life the way the overwhelming preponderance of those in his genre have I would be willing to bet he sold his family, family life, family values, religious beliefs, etc. to the public in his campaign to be elected. I feel that if you make that move then everything you do that goes contrary to that pitch-job comes into question. I think people have a harder time stomaching the fallen Holy Roller than any other public persona because the image comes as public and personal life as inseparable. I don’t know if Vitter went that direction but countless others before him have and been burned by their own faults much as he has. When you SELL morality as your authority to be a political figure when it goes south due to your own actions I think you get what you deserve. And that tends to be ridicule, scorn and the apt title of major Hypocrite.

  8. And yet again, we are back to the “look at you, don’t look at me!” Please, just write bbbut Clinton, it’s much easier.
    The problem with Bennet is that he spoke of the evils of gambling, and lobbied and spoke about how it should be prohibited and limited in states, while gambling himself. And – he has NEVER stated he had a problem with gambling, or even accused of it – at which point more leniency should be given. Mocked yes, but he always said that it never threatened his family’s security.
    Since you put this in bold “I would much prefer to see a wicked man be a hypocrite and vote for what is right and good, rather than choose consistency and advocate for wrongdoing”.
    You could easily translate that to: I’ll support a liar and a criminal, as long as he votes for what I want.
    The message for the GOP for the next 20 years? Could be!

  9. “The left never argues that figures like Madonna or Hugh Hefner, just to pick two examples of people who have built decades-long careers on championing sexual immorality, are hypocrites because they don’t also have gambling problems.”
    What? This makes no sense. If Madonna or Hugh came out a said “people should stay chaste until marriage” or “gambling is not Godly and you should not do it”, it would be one thing.
    “Since you have one thing I consider a vice, you must have and advocate all the things considered a vice”. Is that where you’re trying to go(or put a made up position on the Left)? Which is quite silly given the “moral ambiguity” you state above.

  10. The more I read this whole post the less sense it makes. It’s like the Alanis Morrissette song “Ironic” in which she sings about things that are supposedly ironic except that they are not.

  11. I want legislature that vote for what is right. I also want ones with mental, legal, and moral faculties to determine what is right.
    On Instapundit: he is consistently pro-legal prostitution. So I don’t think you read him quite right.

  12. Wow, this commentary is amazing in its ability to distort logic and reasoning. Whether Gore is a hypocrit for living his life carbon neutral or not, well, is in the eye of the beholder and certainly debatable…but when a guys says another guy should resign for “lack of moral character” for an affair, only to find out he’s lived in that glass house and continues to throw stones? C’mon…tap it in, it’s a gimmie. The fact that someone is actually trying to defend the guy just tells me what kind of alternative universe you cons live in.

  13. This one has really touched a nerve with some out there.
    To be sure, the truthfulness, consistency, etc. of a leader are important traits. Crank admits this, saying that his character will (and should) be an issue for Louisiana voters. The larger point that Crank makes is that the left constantly (and erroneously) asserts that the hypocrasy of some messengers invalidates the message. Nothing can be further from the truth.
    The only time where the validity of the message is dependent on the veracity of the messager is when the messenger is a main verifier of the message. For example, I do not believe in the superiority of sexual virtue because Sen. Vitter says so– I believe it through other means.
    This makes the hypocrasy of people like Vice President Gore more serious. A major reason that global climate change has so much traction is because of the big names who argue for its existence. Gore says, “the Earth is getting warmer; we must all do our part or else we’re all dead.” But his actions seem to suggest that the problem isn’t as serious as he suggests. Thus, his hypocrasy calls into question the veracity of his claims.

  14. And now, in Florida, yet another moralizing GOP caught with his pants down offering oral sex for cash in a public bathroom. Add him to the list of great guys who should be politicians because who cares if they are slimeballs in person as long as they vote for the Bush agenda they are T-Riffic!

  15. Perhaps a little late to the discussion and a little calmer but I am in complete agreement with the post. The conduct of the politician does not change the will of the people. People vote for positions really, thus consequently vote for candidates that they believe will vote in a manner that promotes their goals and hinders their fears.
    It is the liberal talking point to say that evidence of sexual or other legal sin by someone who espouses positions counter to their behavior proves that morality in the Christian worldview (which many Americans hold to be true and vote to support) lacks efficacy. But really, does one person’s failure to always live up to the morals he agrees with discount millions of others who can and do? I should think not. Even if 99% of people who espouse Christian morals fail at some time or another, this does not discredit those beliefs in any way.
    Quoting Voddie Baucham Jr.’s book titled “Family Driven Faith”
    “Unless your child is wiser than Solomon, stronger than Samson, and more godly than David (all
    of whom sinned sexually), they are susceptible to sexual sin”
    Does this make them hypocrites (and all of us really) at points in their lives, sure, but it does nothing to change the importance of those morals, of those values. Especially when you consider it was the violation of these morals that created the darkest chapters in these men’s lives. Even moreso, this vindicates those values as supreme to the success and efficacy of life.

  16. No, actually he got the point precisely. You may or may not hold a politician’s personal behavior against him, but it doesn’t undermine the validity of his positions. That’s the point.

  17. The point of the post is “If a person is a right wing tool we don’t care if he is a child molester, murderer, etc. as long as he votes the way we like we don’t give a damn (but if they’re a Democrat, screw ’em.” The point of the saner responses in this is that is an absurd point of view. If you have people in office who are perverts (this is largely in the GOP as far as I can tell), swindlers (again, largely in the GOP), con-men (both), Bible thumping loons (please) preaching their particular brand of snake oil, enacting legislation that they neither can nor apparently intend to hold up or be accountable for they need to a) go b) be held up as hypocritical bastards deserving of scorn and ridicule. People with flawed senses of morality that cannot make the most basic of choices in life (don’t steal, don’t offer sex to undercover cops in public bathrooms, don’t have sex with male prositutes and use crack, etc.) don’t deserve to be making OTHER public policy decisions.
    Again, this goes back to the ACTUAL content of the post which is “As long as you are in the GOP we don’t give a damn.”

  18. Jim, you’re gonna tell the writer of the post what his post means…?
    If I may release a measure of the partisan venom you’ve been spewing for over a week now: This is the typical liberal response to almost everything you don’t like. Distort the facts, frame the argument in a manner most favorable to your position (even if irrelevant to the situation), and resort to plenty of name-calling.
    I am just so sick of this

  19. Jim, you’re gonna tell the writer of the post what his post means…?
    If I may release a measure of the partisan venom you’ve been spewing for over a week now: This is the typical liberal response to almost everything you don’t like. Distort the facts, frame the argument in a manner most favorable to your position (even if irrelevant to the situation), and resort to plenty of name-calling.
    I am just so sick of this

  20. No venom and please descirbe facts I have distorted, oh and describe the name calling that you are so riled up about (I would say pervert is an apt word for people who offer sex and cash in public restroom or who sodomize (allegedly) people in their sleep. I would also say Bible thumping loon is an apt description of a pastor involved in a drug fueled (allegedly) sexual relationship with a male prostitute).

  21. Crank-
    Personal behavior does undermine the validity of a position, at least subjectively. Personal behavior contrary to publicly held positions erodes confidence in the politician not because he’s a hypocrite, but b/c it calls into question his dedication to the position. What more evidence is needed than personal behavior that he would shift positions if the opportunity presented itself? As I stated above, the trouble isn’t hypocrisy, it’s cynicism. The guy can’t be trusted.

  22. “GOP Inc… fake Bible thumpers… morality clowns… that morality trash talkers are hypocritical bastards… fallen Holy Roller… perverts… swindlers… con-men… Bible thumping loons… bastards…” If you can’t see this as name-calling, then we cannot have an intelligent conversation.
    You admit about Congressman Vittle that you , “barely know the man, don’t live in his state and have never seen one piece of publicity from him,” but are all-too ready to tell us about how much of a hypocrite he is.
    What really set me off, though is your unapologetic distortion of Crank’s post. You summarize his argument as, “who cares if they are slimeballs in person as long as they vote for the Bush agenda they are T-Riffic,” when he has directly said that that is not his point. You latch onto an aside that Crank made that, to paraphrase, if presented with the two evils of the heart of gold that makes terrible policy and the scoundrel who makes good, we’d rather have the scoundrel as the lesser of two evils. But that wasn’t the central point.

  23. Cannon, do you actually read the posts or just thumb through them for certain words and come up with your post based on that? Seems that way.
    If you can’t live in a world where people are tagged as they should be then you have a serious thickness of skin problem. People who publically flout their religion, their family values, their morality, etc. and then go against everything they publically stand for with their own actions are morality clowns. Sorry, for the reality check. I suppose you listen to Limbaugh and have no problem with his incessent stream of name-calling or much of what has gone in this and another similar thread. BTW 2 posts down Crank calls MN Dems jerks. Would you like to take him to task there or are you OK with that?
    Crank, can say what he wants about what his point is. Suffice it to say that what I say here gets called into question whether I am right or not (and I have been on both sides on this site) so I am sure he is more than up for a bit of examination of his work. He wouldn’t post it if he wasn’t.
    The topic of this is that he is OK with public versus private virtue. Since everyone is flawed 100% private virtue is unattainable and should not be expected. I am fine with that. What I find annoying is that he and others on this site are more than willing to kill those on the left for hypocritical actions (see the Gore post from, what, a couple months back). However, those on the right are, according to this post, championed.
    Perhaps I am more a libertarian in this sense. I find it painful and disgusting on both sides when hugely hypocritical deeds and actions come into play. When the deeds are so damning and so basic (is it that hard to not go to a public restroom and offer oral sex and cash to another man?) I don’t find that person to be someone to uphold simply because they voted the way you like on an abortion bill. Or whatever. That person has a weakness/flaw of character that makes their judgment questionable across the board and they are not fit for office.
    I don’t think that is a partisan point of view at all. I would sooner have them all out/discredited, no matter the party/point of view should whomever it is choose to go down that road. Perhaps Crank would like to refute this but it would appear that as long as the person, in his eyes, upholds policies and positions he is for he does not take their personal actions and character into question. I assume their is a line at some point that that would end and thus the child molesters and murderers comment was meant to be apocraphyl (I figured that was obvious). However, where is that line? Misdemeanor? Felony? Felony, but a non-violent one? If you are for those who go 180 degrees against their public stances when does the line in the sand get crossed? And, if this is truly an “everyone gets it wrong sometimes” kind of statement why is that only those on the right are given any slack? If my analysis of this being a “100% for the GOP no matter (to some extent) the deeds” is somehow incorrect let me know in what way.

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