There is not a day that passes that some conservative writer doesn’t complain about the hypocrisy of Democrats or a liberal critic doesn’t denounce the Republicans for their hypocrisy.
I’m sick of it. I want to complain about the hypocrisy of political hypocrisy. It is hard for me to be the only American with consistent political attitudes.
Most Americans believe they hold consistent attitudes and can’t understand why politicians can’t do the same. In reality, politicians are not alone in holding inconsistent attitudes. Most Americans just fail to recognize their own inconsistencies.
One of the early studies of political inconsistency was Samuel Stouffer’s “Communism, Conformity and Civil Liberties” published in 1955. Stouffer found that Americans supported civil liberties in the abstract, but not the specific.
Americans overwhelmingly supported “freedom of speech,” but opposed such speech for communists, homosexuals or what were perceived to be other unpopular groups.
We universally support “freedom of religion,” but not for Muslims.
We support “freedom of assembly,” but not for the Ku Klux Klan, communists, Nazis, anti-abortion groups or other organizations we deem unacceptable.
The simple definition of hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing something else.
Political journalist John Dickinson in a 2010 article in Slate described three forms of political hypocrisy. One form is procedural hypocrisy. This is the least harmful form since it primarily impacts those in legislative bodies.
The filibuster is an example of procedural hypocrisy. Until the end of the 1960s, the filibuster was mostly used by Southern Democrats to oppose civil rights. Stopping a filibuster at that time took a two-thirds vote and was seldom successful. Attempts to lower the two-thirds vote were always met with the argument it was essential in protecting the rights of the minority.
When the filibuster rule was changed so that it only took 60 votes to stop a filibuster, it became increasingly used by liberals to oppose the Vietnam War and other Republican policies. Liberals who had detested the filibuster now embraced the technique.
A second form is policy hypocrisy. Every Republican in the House and all but three Republicans in the Senate voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the Obama stimulus plan. That did not stop more than 100 Republicans from seeking funds from the stimulus program.
President Barack Obama and the Democrats widely attacked the secrecy of the George W. Bush administration and Obama promised “the most transparent” administration in history. Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, recently accused the Obama White House of being “the most secretive White House” she has covered. It is currently conducting seven criminal investigations into leaks, more than twice the number of any prior administration. So much for transparency.
During the Bush presidency, the Democrats opposed the invasive intelligence gathering of the National Security Agency (NSA), while Republicans uniformly supported the program. Now it is the Democrats who support the intelligence gathering that Republicans now find intrusive.
A recent Washington Post survey found that 64 percent of Democrats support NSA monitoring compared to 52 percent of Republicans. During the Bush administration, 75 percent supported the NSA programs compared to just 36 percent of Democrats. In other words, if your party does it, it’s good.
Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell discovered that political ties have become stronger than religious ties. Americans prefer to hold tight to their political party and will change their religion if necessary.
A Stanford University study found Americans are much more likely to have hostile views of members of the other political party than they do of another race. This political polarization has grown so strong that 40 percent of Americans say they would be disappointed if their children married someone from the other political party. Fifty years ago, only 5 percent opposed such unions.
The third form of political hypocrisy is sanctimonious hypocrisy. Remember Eliot Spitzer prosecuting organized prostitution rings as a federal prosecutor? Several years later he would frequently avail himself of their services.
How many members of Congress campaign as defenders of marriage and then end up having extramarital affairs? Republican Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and David Vitter of Louisiana come to mind.
Remember Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich leading the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for his sexual indiscretions at the same time he was cheating on his second wife by sleeping with a staffer who would become his third wife.
There is little doubt that political hypocrisy has helped to diminish the stature of politics and politicians. A recent study found Americans ranking politicians below cockroaches. As the old joke goes: “How do you know when a politician is lying? They move their lips.”
Before we condemn politicians, perhaps we ought to look in the mirror. Who among us can say they have not changed political positions? How many of us have shifted our political positions over time or depending on which political party was in control.
Do we have the right to expect more of politicians than we expect of ourselves?