There are many liberals who lead thoroughly decent lives. And there are conservatives who do not.
But that is not the whole issue.
There is something about liberalism that is not nearly as true about conservatism. The further left one goes, the more one finds that the ideology provides moral cover for a life that is not moral. While many people left of center lead fine personal lives, many do not. And left-wing ideals enable a person to do that much more than conservative ideals do.
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If a married — or even unmarried — conservative congressman had texted sexual images of himself to young women he did not even know, he would have been called something Anthony Weiner has not been called: a hypocrite.
Why? Because conservatives — secular conservatives, not only religious conservatives — are identified with moral values in the personal sphere, and liberals are not. Liberals rarely called Bill Clinton a hypocrite for his extramarital affair while president. George W. Bush would have been pilloried as such.
Simply put, we do not generally judge personal conduct the same when it comes to liberals and conservatives.
Both liberals and conservatives know this. As a result, as noted, liberal social positions can provide moral cover for immoral behavior in a way that conservative positions cannot.
Though there are many sincere liberals, it is likely that this ability to provide moral cover for a less than moral life is one source of liberalism’s appeal.
I first thought about this when I saw how the left-wing students at my graduate school, Columbia University, behaved. Aside from their closing down classes, taking over office buildings, and ransacking professors’ offices, I saw the way in which many of them conducted themselves in their personal lives. Most of them had little sense of personal decency, and lived lives of narcissistic hedonism. Women who were involved with leftist groups have told of how poorly they were treated. And one suspects that they would have been treated far better by conservative, let alone religious, men on campus.
My sense was that the radicals’ commitment to “humanity,” to “peace,” and to “love” gave them license to feel good about themselves without having to lead a good life. Their vocal opposition to war and to racism provided them with all the moral self-esteem they wanted.
Consider the example of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He had been expelled from college for paying someone to take his exams. His role in the death of a woman with whom he spent an evening would have sent almost anyone without his family name to prison — or would have at least resulted in prosecution for negligent homicide. And he spent decades using so many women in so public a way that stories about his sex life were routinely told in Washington. (Read the 9,000-word 1990 article in GQ by Michael Kelly, who a few years later became the editor of The New Republic.)
When this unimpressive man started espousing liberal positions, speaking passionately about the downtrodden in society, it recalled the unimpressive students who marched on behalf of civil rights, peace, and love.
It is quite likely that Ted Kennedy came to believe in the positions that he took. But I also suspect that he found espousing those positions invaluable to his self-image and to his public image: “Look at what a moral man I am after all.” And liberal positions were all that mattered to the Left and to the liberal media that largely ignored such lecherous behavior as the “waitress sandwich” he made in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with another prominent liberal, former senator Chris Dodd.
In addition to knowing that liberal positions provide moral cover for immoral personal behavior, liberals know that their immoral behavior will be given much more of pass than exactly the same behavior would if engaged in by a conservative.
Women’s groups provided Bill Clinton with enormous moral capital because he supported their feminist agenda. One leading feminist famously said she would be happy to get on her knees and pleasure Clinton thanks to his pro-choice position on abortion.
Conservative politicians have the same sex drive as liberal politicians, the same marital problems, and the same ubiquitous temptations and opportunities. And some will therefore engage in extra-marital sex. But every conservative politician knows that, should he be caught, his positions on issues not only do not provide moral cover for his conduct, those very positions condemn it. There is no benefit to the conservative sinner in being a conservative. There is great benefit to the liberal sinner in being a liberal.
— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.