Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Giving Hypocrisy a Bad Name

John Tierney at the Times has a post on hypocrisy, taking off from McCain and Obama's reversals of positions to discuss psychologists' studies of hypocrisy. He describes an interesting tidbit--given a situation in which people are hypocrites (although acknowledging option B is fair and A is unfair, they take option A), if you keep their brain busy with another task like remembering numbers, the same people suddenly take the fair option. It's fascinating, but...

I like to think well of people, at least until I run into some road-hogging whippersnapper in a Hummer, so I'd quibble with Tierney's premise. He dings McCain for switching positions on Bush's tax cuts over a period of 7 years or so, and Obama for switching on public financing. But note both politicians are being hypocrites, if they are, over time. And we're all hypocrites over time. Is there a parent with soul so dead, who never to his kid has said, don't ever do X, when buried in his memory is all the X ever done? Forgive the poor try at poetry, but my serious point is that time changes our viewpoint. And our politicians, unlike the subjects of the psychologists studies, are making decisions in time.

  • McCain can reasonably say: I opposed the tax cut in the situation in 2001 based on the information I had, in 2008 the situation is different, the future looks different, and my judgment differs.
  • And Obama can reasonably say (perhaps with a tad more difficulty but remember I'm a Dem): no one, not even me or my wife, thought I'd be in the situation I'm in today; no one thought I'd have this fundraising base. I made my pledge as a means to an end, reforming our politics. My campaign has been a model for how our politics can change (no lobbyists, no 527's) and this decision is the right one to ensure my success in achieving office.
I think it's fair to accuse politicians of being windbags, of over-certitude, of selling a penny's worth of ointment as a dollar's worth of cure. And they're hypocrites, just as the rest of us are, even Mr. Tierney.

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