Tribute To Vice
The administration and the Democrats have decided that decrying GOP hypocrisy is a winning message. I agree that it should be. But I have my doubts. Conservatives, after all, believe "Hypocrisie est un hommage que la vice rend à la vertu" at least when it comes to themselves.
As conservative Jeremy Lott wrote in his book In Defense of Hypocrisy: Picking Sides in the War on Virtue:
Hypocrisy is so widespread that it might as well be part of our DNA. It is widespread because it is useful... While hypocrisy usually helps to prop up norms and preserve the existing order, that isn't always the case. It also provides a way for good men to pay lip service to heinous governments and warped social customs while working to thwart and ultimately undermine them.
You see, hypocrisy is not just a necessary evil. It's also an engine of moral progress.
To see this explained in more prosaic terms, here's Amy Holmes on Reliable Sources this week-end:
KURTZ: OK. But if you were a lawmaker -- you worked on the Hill -- as you did, John -- aren't you fair game for the press if you vote against a bill and denounce it and then take credit for or try to get money for your district?
HOLMES: Certainly. And I think opponents to Republicans, particularly in primaries up against conservatives, that they will hear this criticism.
But, Howie, I really think this is sort of dog bites man story. I mean, there aren't a lot of headlines out of this.
Republicans voted against it, but I think they fairly say to their constituents, look, the pie was baked, you're federal taxpayers, you deserve a slice of it. However, they wouldn't have voted for it in the first place...
Perhaps calling out Republicans on hypocrisy will work this. These Democratic strategists get the big bucks, after all. But I think that George Lakoff probably gets it right in this piece when he writes:
It was entirely predictable a year ago that the conservatives would hold firm against Obama’s attempts at “bipartisanship” — finding occasional conservatives who were biconceptual, that is, shared some views acceptable to Obama on some issues, while keeping an overall liberal agenda.
The conservatives are not fools. Because their highest value is protecting and extending the conservative moral system itself, giving Obama any victory at all would strengthen Obama and weaken the hold of their moral system. Of course they were going to vote against every proposal and delay and filibuster as often as possible. Protecting and extending their worldview demands it.
Obama has not understood this.
We saw this when Obama attended the Republican caucus. He kept pointing out that they voted against proposals that Republicans had made and that he had incorporated, acting as if this were a contradiction. But that was to be expected, since a particular proposal that strengthens Obama and hence weakens their moral view violates their highest moral principle.
Such conservative logic explains why conservatives in Congress first proposed a bipartisan committee to study the deficit, and then voted against it.
That is why I don’t expect much from the President’s summit with Republicans on February 25. Why should they do anything to strengthen Obama’s hand, when it would violate their highest moral principle, as well as weakening themselves electorally. If Obama thinks he can shame them in front of their voters, he is mistaken again. Conservative voters think the same way they do.
I would guess that the technocratic Democrats believe that the elusive swing voters of this cycle ("independents") are different. I doubt it. Swing voters care about "winners" --- people who appear to be on top at any given moment (or at least those who aren't perceived as losers) so I am unconvinced that hypocrisy means anything to anyone but liberals who pride themselves on rationality.
Maybe calling out the Republicans on hypocrisy will work to gin up some enthusiasm in the base, but passing good policies is probably a better way to do that. And it's a twofer; the country benefits as well. Why, some of those vaunted swing voters might even be impressed.