All across the internet over the last few hours, liberal commenters and bloggers have fallen back on one of their most trusted logical arguments in situations like this in which a Democrat is caught in a sex scandal: “At least he’s not a hypocrite.

This sampling of (unedited) comments taken from today’s New York Times‘ and San Francisco Chronicle‘s articles about Anthony Weiner’s public confession are typical:

“Much to do about nothing. Please wake me up if you find out that he mishandled/stole taxpayer money, or had previously participated in some sort of moral clensing crusade.”

…and…

Unless an elected official is a hypocrite (i.e., an anti-gay politician who espouses “family values” but solicits men for sex in public restrooms), I don’t care about his private life, including whether he sends naked pictures of himself to women who aren’t his wife.”

…and…

“I certainly find it reprehensible, particularly the lying. But he didn’t run on a Family Values moral superiority platform, like Ensign; there is less hypocracy and more simple stupidity here.”

A quick search of the liberal blogosphere and in the comments sections of MSM articles will turn up countless similar examples. If you spend any time on the Internet, you’ve undoubtedly encountered it yourself over and over, as others have noted. And it hasn’t just emerged in regards to Weinergate: It’s actually one of the bedrocks of the liberal worldview: Conservatives are hypocrites concerning moral issues, whereas liberals are not.

Which got me to thinking:

This has to be the weakest philosophical argument I’ve ever encountered.

Not just weak: self-extirpating.

If there ever was a moment to really dig down into the fundamental structure of this argument, this is it. So let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

Sleight-of-mind

What liberals really really love about this stance is its climactic declaration: Our opponents are hypocrites!

Here is how the liberals present their case:

But what they don’t want you to think about — and what they themselves don’t even want to acknowledge — is that this “hypocrites” howl is the second half of a two-part argument. And in that second half, they are the victors. But in the first half….

Well, for the “at least we’re not hypocrites” sentiment to make sense, there must be an agreed-upon starting point — one which the liberals themselves are confirming each time they make this argument. And what must that starting point necessarily be? For conservatives to be hypocrites when they do something immoral, then that means they must profess a moral ideology in the first place. And — here’s the key — for the liberals to be let off the hook when they do something immoral, then that means they must profess an ideology with no moral claims whatsoever.

Thus, the diagram above only showed you the climactic second half of the liberals’ sleight-of-mind trick. The full statement — including the first half which you’re not supposed to think about — would be diagrammed like this:

Not quite so effective an argument when seen this way, is it?

Now, I’m not here to defend hypocrisy — I hate it as much as the next person. I’m only here to point out that in order to lay claim to their “but at least we’re not hypocrites” defense, liberals must necessarily paint themselves into an impossible corner, defining themselves as the ideology of amorality.

Remember, that’s not my characterization of liberalism — that’s liberals’ own characterization of themselves when they use this argument.

Does that mean that the “fallen conservative” is inherently more appealing or “superior” in some way to the “honestly amoral liberal”? No. It actually comes down to each voter’s preference.

Consider these two statements from two different potential husbands:

“I know I promised to stop drinking forever, honey, but I fell off the wagon again; please forgive me, and I’ll really really try to stay sober from now on, but no guarantees.”

vs.

“I’m a tertiary alcoholic, a stone-cold drunk; always have been, always will be. You’re not likely to ever see me sober. Take it or leave it.”

If you had to choose, which would you marry?

Obviously, neither is very appealing, but the liberal stance is that the second potential husband is preferable, because at least he’s honest. The conservative stance is: The first potential husband is preferable, because at least he’s trying.

Within the parameters of this “Hypocrisy Defense”…Which do you think the general public prefers: An ideology that at least tries to champion a moral code, but whose adherents sometimes fail to live up to it; or an ideology that by its own definition is inherently immoral and whose adherents don’t even have a moral code to violate?

The liberals are taking a HUGE gamble that a majority of Americans will throw in their lot with the party of immorality. But I have the feeling they’ve lost that bet — not just in Weinergate, but at a deep structural level in society for a long time to come.

123 Responses to “Why the Hypocrisy Defense is political suicide for liberalism”

  1. 1Kurt on Jun 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm:

    The one “moral” cause that liberals seem to have no problem advocating is the morality of being an AGW believer. Even Al Gore cast it as a moral issue.

    And your average environmentalist/AGW believer is a HUGE hypocrite.

    So I add my own postscript to your excellent essay by suggesting that the ONE self-described moral issue that liberals will happily queue up to claim as their own…they’re even worse hypocrites than your average Bible-thumping philanderer.

      

  2. 2zombie on Jun 6, 2011 at 5:38 pm:

    Kurt — true, true, so true.

    They keep trying to bootstrap themselves out of the moral muck into which they’ve flung themselves, but they can’t escape: By their own stated measuring posts, they’re either amoral (on some issues) or hypocrites (on other issues).Whenever they try to lift one leg out of the philosophical swamp, they must prop themselves up with the other and sink deeper in to the mud. No way out.

      

  3. 3Steve on Jun 7, 2011 at 10:20 am:

    Like the militant anarchist who pleaded with her listeners to CALL THE POLICE after someone threw a shoe at her while she spoke.

      

  4. 4Doragoon on Jun 7, 2011 at 11:29 am:

    Liberals are ignoring logic? *gasp* Not considering the second or third iteration consequences of their actions?
    What has politics come to? /sarc

    Good intentions are all that matters to them. They believe in equality of results, therefore, any action taken will lead to the same results. Even if Democrats are horrible people, republicans are no better.

    They will always vote for the people who profess the better intentions.

      

  5. 5mike on Jun 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm:

    I don’t think you have to go so far as to say that liberalism is a completely amoral ideology.

    You’re correct that it’s easy for libs to say that Weiner isn’t a hypocrite because they don’t actually have to specify what he supposedly isn’t against – in this case, marital infidelity. Is Weiner really not opposed to marital infidelity? Really, libs? Because if he thinks marital infidelity is A-OK, he should come out and say it. Otherwise, he’s a hypocrite.

      

  6. 6Diogenes on Jun 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm:

    “An ideology that at least tries to champion a moral code, but whose adherents sometimes fail to live up to it; or an ideology that by its own definition is inherently immoral and whose adherents don’t even have a moral code to violate?”

    This position depends on the premise that those of the former position in fact ‘try to champion a moral code’. But that’s not what hypocrites do. They are really magicians. They divert peoples attention with fear, posturing, and grandstanding about principles they really DON’T believe in while they are subtly fixing federal contracts, cruising mens restrooms, or shepherding suspect legislation into law in the dead of night.

    Your position is a dishonest one, as it does not really depict the real choices. While Weiner’s actions were certainly questionable and ill-conceived, they were not illegal nor in opposition to his stated political positions (that I am aware of). His is a personal failure and really isn’t any of our business (if infidelity were a crime, most of Congress would be in jail). Compare that to say ex-Senator Larry Craig, who championed anti-gay positions – then got arrested for lewd behavior, Mark Sanford, who used state funds in the pursuit of his affair, or Newt Gingrich, who actively sought to impeach Clinton for lying to Congress over his affair with Monica Lewinsky when he was already an adulterer. These were NOT the actions of men trying to champion moral causes that just happen to make a mistake or two. They were the actions of men who hold themselves to different standard than the rest of us, who believe they are above the law. If my choice is between someone who thinks sexting is acceptable behavior and had the poor judgement to cheat on his new bride, and someone who legislates one way, but then behaves the opposite, I’ll chose the former.

    All of you are just one big circle-jerk. Have fun with that.

      

  7. 7windbag on Jun 8, 2011 at 9:38 pm:

    He is a hypocrite.

    Taking liberties with a little bit of presumption, I’d guess that their marriage vows/statements/assertions/hippie poetry stated something along the lines of marital fidelity, respect, or promotion of the communal good for the harmony of the home. By living the lie of a faithful family man while cheating on his wife makes him a liar and a hypocrite. He was pretending to be one thing, while acting just the opposite (essentially, the definition of hypocrite).

    If, at the onset, he had said, “Our marriage is an open marriage, with no expectation of monogamy and no judgement of extra-marital relations, so butt out of our private business,” then fine, do as you please. He didn’t. He’s embarrassed because he (apparently) broke whatever vows he took.

    Cad.

      

  8. 8windbag on Jun 8, 2011 at 9:47 pm:

    Diogenes:His is a personal failure and really isn’t any of our business (if infidelity were a crime, most of Congress would be in jail).

    It is not a personal failure which is none of our business. If it were personal, that would have been his position all along. Instead, he lied publicly and tried to hide his actions. By holding a press conference to confess (and lie further), Weiner clearly demonstrated that this is belongs in the public arena.

    Let’s take another example, completely hypothetical. Let’s say that someone made the statement “Weiner and his wife are into water sports.” That would be a completely personal issue, and clearly none of our business. If asked to comment on the statement, Weiner would rightfully say, “That is none of your business,” if he even bothered to comment at all. He certainly wouldn’t hold a press conference to elaborate on whether or not he and the missus are into water sports. By entertaining any questions and by going so far as to hold a press conference demonstrates that Weiner knows this is more than a personal issue.

      

  9. 9CherDash on Jun 10, 2011 at 1:03 am:

    Diogenes: “An ideology that at least tries to champion a moral code, but whose adherents sometimes fail to live up to it; or an ideology that by its own definition is inherently immoral and whose adherents don’t even have a moral code to violate?”This position depends on the premise that those of the former position in fact ‘try to champion a moral code’. But that’s not what hypocrites do. They are really magicians. They divert peoples attention with fear, posturing, and grandstanding about principles they really DON’T believe in while they are subtly fixing federal contracts, cruising mens restrooms, or shepherding suspect legislation into law in the dead of night.Your position is a dishonest one, as it does not really depict the real choices. While Weiner’s actions were certainly questionable and ill-conceived, they were not illegal nor in opposition to his stated political positions (that I am aware of). His is a personal failure and really isn’t any of our business (if infidelity were a crime, most of Congress would be in jail). Compare that to say ex-Senator Larry Craig, who championed anti-gay positions – then got arrested for lewd behavior, Mark Sanford, who used state funds in the pursuit of his affair, or Newt Gingrich, who actively sought to impeach Clinton for lying to Congress over his affair with Monica Lewinsky when he was already an adulterer. These were NOT the actions of men trying to champion moral causes that just happen to make a mistake or two. They were the actions of men who hold themselves to different standard than the rest of us, who believe they are above the law. If my choice is between someone who thinks sexting is acceptable behavior and had the poor judgement to cheat on his new bride, and someone who legislates one way, but then behaves the opposite, I’ll chose the former.All of you are just one big circle-jerk. Have fun with that.

    You want someone with bad judgment making our laws?

      

  10. 10David M. Ginsberg on Jun 11, 2011 at 7:26 am:

    First, we liberals do not condemn all conservatives who are caught in a sex scandal It is conservatives whose conservatisim dictates that they should live, and dictate to others, how they should live, in all aspectes, including which morals and sexual behaviour is appropriate. More often than not, they believe they are entitled to dictate this, and in fact feel obligated to dictate this, based upon the codes and morality of their religon.

    Most liberals, however, have as an inherent part of their liberalism the belief in “live and let others live.” We do have a moral code, often, as I do, a very strong moral and religous code. But it is my code, for me, and it is amoral and undemocratic for me to impose those codes, religons, and standards on others. Remember the “Seperation of Church and State?” Does that make our society lack a moral code because we exclude the source of most moral codes, religon, from our society’s government?

    We liberals recognize that there are pesonal choices about morals, religon, and values which may differ, and to many, may seem aberrant. My religon may seem aberrant to most as I reject Jesus as the Son of God. I am Jewish. Does that mean I am immoral? Our society recognizes my right to practice my own religon, although many conservatives don’t. Just as I have the right to practice my own religon, I have the right to interpret my own religon (all religons have different sects and interpretations.) Along those same lines, I have the right to make decisions about my own life, and others do as well, which are not explicitly addressed by religon (as technology changes.) I also have the right to reject, as almost everyone does in day to day life, various aspects of my religon.

    I use the phrase “religon”as religon is nothing more, at its heart, than an organized system of moral codes, practices and procedures. Even people who do not believe in God, can have a sustem of moral codes, practices and procedures.

    Liberals embrace the separation of church and state, the right of privacy, the right of consenting adults to do what they want, and that even when an individual clearly makes a mistake, it is may be a personal private matter (as was teh case with the Congressman), not a public or political issue. Just as the church wanted to force Catholic politicians to oppose measures that would assist, encourage, or legalize abortions, the issues of religon, morals and codes become intertwined between individual rights and liberties and group beliefs.

    Conservatives believe in the collective right to impose collective beliefs, codes, morals and values on others, and to do do so in all aspects of life. Liberals believe in the individual’s right to hold their own beliefs, morals and values, that it is imporper to impose those beliefs, morals, and values on others, and that, to the extent we must do so, it should be limited to those aspects of a person’s life where it is relevant.

    There is no hypocrisy here. You have to recognize who and what a conservative is, and who and what a liberal is. A liberal is a true American who believes in the Constitution, its bill of rights, and all it stands for, express and implied. a Conservative is one who seeks to exploit and pervert it and eviscerate the individual freedoms and liberties enshrined therein.

    David M. Ginsberg
    lawphila@aol.com
    http://usa-china-international.blogspot.com/

      

  11. 11windbag on Jun 11, 2011 at 9:36 am:

    David M. GinsbergThere is no hypocrisy here.

    There is hypocrisy here. Simply defined, a hypocrite pretends to be something while acting or claiming to be another. Unless Weiner claims to be in an open marriage, then his cyber actions don’t square with his domestic claims. This is clearly not the case (open marriage), given his statements at his press conference. It is assumed that their marriage vows included at least passing reference to fidelity, respect, or some other character trait that Weiner has violated, or else he would have nothing to apologize for to his wife in a public forum.

      

  12. 12Kurt C. on Jun 12, 2011 at 7:41 am:

    I see there already is another Kurt. I’ll be Kurt C., then. Good post Kurt.

      

  13. 13Patrick Robotham on Jun 18, 2011 at 10:40 am:

    Here’s the problem with your reasoning: An action can be immoral according to one moral code, and perfectly fine by another moral code.

    You say

    And — here’s the key — for the liberals to be let off the hook when they do something immoral, then that means they must profess an ideology with no moral claims whatsoever.

    To be strictly accurate, this should read

    And — here’s the key — for the liberals to be let off the hook when they do something immoral (under the tenets of conservative morality), then that means they must profess an ideology with no moral claims whatsoever.”

    It’s entirely possible to profess a code of morality that doesn’t judge as immoral everything conservatives consider immoral. If I have a moral code that emphasizes fairness and honesty, I’m not a hypocrite if I punch someone in the nose. On the other hand, if I had a moral code that emphasized non-violence, I would be a hypocrite.

    In summary, it’s possible to be sexually liberal, and not collapse in to utter moral nihilism.

      

  14. 14daniel noe on Jun 21, 2011 at 9:29 pm:

    @David M. Ginsberg
    If I took your comment and replaced the word “liberal” with “conservative” and replaced the word “conservative” with “liberal”, this would be EXACTLY the story I hear from self-described conservatives. I think it’s funny.

      

  15. 15earl on Jun 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm:

    The reason why liberals get pegged with being amoral is multifaceted. First, when they say that Weiner didn’t do anything illegal/unethical/immoral, they paint a very plain picture for most americans to see. Most american don’t defend someone like weiner. Second, liberals are mostly utilitarians, which is a fine system of describing ethical behavior when it is subordinate to a system describing duties and obligations, and meta-ethical foundational truths. And the modern liberal’s usual meta-ethical position is post modern (nihilist). Of course there are many exceptions, but this appears to be a strong trend with liberals. Lastly I will mention the way liberals have such superficial trends and fashions in morality, one after another as the previous goes out of style. Conservatives typically strive to follow universal and timeless moral truths. Liberals tend to follow whoever seems to suffer the most, or make a good speech about suffering. So they rightfully get the rep for being amoral, or moral chameleons.

      

  16. 16earl on Jun 23, 2011 at 8:45 pm:

    And BTW, laws, ethics, and morals are all the same thing. All laws are simply moral beliefs which are enforced by violence. To say that weiner did not do something illegal only goes so far with people who know the difference between laws and morals is only a matter of breadth of consequences, not substance of claim.

      

  17. 17johnbrown on Jul 2, 2011 at 7:41 pm:

    Awesome essay, zombie and you certainly appear to have explained your POV poingiantly. I do,however think a third kind of problem drunk spouse exists in addition to the one drunk trying to quit drinking or the one embracing the life of a drunk: The drunk who admits being a drunk and with sincere pain tells their spouse,yes, I’m a drunk and always will be and today I can live without drinking and more importantly live happily without drinking,but I’m a drunk and I’d be lying if I said I could quit on my own without the help of an ethical set of beliefs
    and the fellowship of others who share this set of
    beliefs therefore I must admit if I walk away from
    these ethics and the folks who also believe in
    them,there exists a strong likelyhood I will either go
    back to being a drunk or act like a complete asshole
    because I am NOT DRINKING. Still wanna get
    married knowing this great because I never want mislead you. Also, Id love to hear your illustrious opinion on post #6…

      

  18. 18Justanurse on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:50 am:

    I think the liberal “but at least he’s not a hypocrite” may be saying 2 things, both of which are not logically arguable. The first implication of “but at least he’s not a hypocrite”, as you stated, implies that they themselves are amoral. But the second implication is rather between the lines. If they say “at least he’s not a hypocrite”, it seems to me that they are indirectly acknowledging the the sited behavior is immoral, especially with the words “at least”. If they were truly amoral, wouldn’t their response to the sited liberal’s behavior simply be, “So what?”

      

  19. 19adam on Jul 22, 2011 at 9:37 am:

    I actually agree with Diogenes’ implication that the argument here is taken too far. It is true, there is another half of the argument being left out, but it isn’t “liberals ideology is immoral.” Logically, it is simply that the man in question never championed a sexual morality which he then violated.

    I take exception with a few other things you say, Diogenes. And in any case the liberal anti-hypocrisy argument isn’t relevant at all.

    Diogenes: They divert peoples attention with fear, posturing, and grandstanding about principles they really DON’T believe in while they are subtly fixing federal contracts, cruising mens restrooms, or shepherding suspect legislation into law in the dead of night.

    Really. You’re really going to lecture Republicans about fixing contracts and shepherding suspect legislation into law in the dead of night? Do you live in f—ing Guam?

    Your position is a dishonest one, as it does not really depict the real choices.

    Neither does yours. You’ll see.

    His is a personal failure and really isn’t any of our business (if infidelity were a crime, most of Congress would be in jail). Compare that to say ex-Senator Larry Craig, who championed anti-gay positions – then got arrested for lewd behavior, Mark Sanford, who used state funds in the pursuit of his affair, or Newt Gingrich, who actively sought to impeach Clinton for lying to Congress over his affair with Monica Lewinsky when he was already an adulterer.

    Then why is the personal failure of conservatives failing to live up to their expressed principles your business? Because their expression of said principles informed their legislative decision-making? You do realize how aggressively contradictory that stance is, right?

    These were NOT the actions of men trying to champion moral causes that just happen to make a mistake or two. They were the actions of men who hold themselves to different standard than the rest of us, who believe they are above the law.

    Wait a second. I thought you just got done telling us infidelity isn’t illegal. For these men to believe they are above the law while committing acts you’ve labelled hypocritical, they would have to be breaking the law. But they aren’t. Oh, you’re talking about Mark Sanford’s misuse of state funds. But that’s a different argument entirely. Unless… unless his intentions matter? What if he’d misused those state funds to pay for the health care of a cadre of gravely ill Mexican immigrants? Would that be okay with you?

    If my choice is between someone who thinks sexting is acceptable behavior and had the poor judgement to cheat on his new bride, and someone who legislates one way, but then behaves the opposite, I’ll chose the former. All of you are just one big circle-jerk. Have fun with that.

    That’s your prerogative. The personal behavior of our politicians isn’t directly relevant to their job performance. We get to judge public servants’ job performance. We don’t get to judge their behavior. Call them hypocrites all you want. I guess you can decide where to draw the line. I just hope you’re willing to see the problem with it.

      

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