The Corner

Frum on Haggard

David puts it quite nicely. Haggard is clearly a hypocrite of profound proportions and, having barely heard of him until today and being ignorant of the circumstances of his alleged transgressions beyond the current headlines, I don’t feel compelled to defend him one way or the other. But I agree with David that liberals and some libertarians have a very hard time articulating what’s bad about these sorts of stories beyond hypocrisy. Very few liberals denounced Bill Bennett’s actual gambling or Rush Limbaugh’s drug use. How could they? The arguments usually sound like hypocrisy is the tip of the iceberg of so-and-so’s transgressions, when actually that’s all critics can actually condemn. The underlying behavior — in Haggard’s case drug use and gay romps — is not something liberals generally condemn on the merits. Anyway here’s a relevant passage from a mag piece I wrote during the Bennett flap:

So Bennett has fallen short of Jesus’ example. Still, it’s hard to see how this qualifies as a thunderclap revelation. It’s even more difficult to see how this justifies Michael Kinsley’s conclusion that Bennett is “a humbug artist who ought to be pelted off the public stage if he lacks the decency to slink quietly away” — unless, of course, you realize that liberals use the charge of hypocrisy as a cudgel and a gag. When Green says, “There’s a compelling case to be made just on the hypocrisy alone,” it sounds like there’s a case to be made other than hypocrisy. But there’s not. That’s it. Countless Bennett detractors insist, in the words of influential liberal blogger Joshua Marshall, “I don’t really have a feeling one way or another about gambling.” Even the Bennett detractors who contend that gambling is a sin, such as the libertarian Miss Vincent, don’t care that it is a sin beyond the fact that its sinfulness proves Bennett’s hypocrisy. After all, Miss Vincent wants to deregulate sin altogether.

And once you have this in mind, it becomes clear that the knights charging out to slay the virtue dragon are in fact defending a Potemkin village. The liberals aren’t defending a standard, they are defending the lack of standards. The virtue czar’s crime is not that he gambled and lost, or even that he gambled at all. His crime is that he talked about virtue in the first place. Hypocrisy is the perfect weapon for liberals — first, because is it uniquely effective against conservatives. “When Hugh Hefner moved out of the Playboy mansion the better to bring up his two young sons,” NR’s Ramesh Ponnuru observed, “nobody accused him of not living down to his principles.” More significant, the hypocrisy charge implicitly advances the idea that any moral message can be silenced if the messenger falls short of it….

….The hypocrisy game is particularly appealing to liberals because it is of a piece with the cult of personal authenticity. In Hollywood, in academia, and in the popular culture, being “true to yourself” has become the highest value. If you sin, you must own your sin to the point where it is a virtue. Take Bill Clinton. For some absolutely unfathomable reason liberals believe the former president has been absolved of his crimes because Bill Bennett somehow purchased indulgences for him at a video-poker machine. But the Left has long been determined to turn Clinton’s sin into a virtue. During impeachment, award-winning feminist author Jane Smiley wrote in The New Yorker that while the first President Bush was essentially repressed — “there he was, a guy for whom launching a missile seemed better than sex” — Bill Clinton was authentic (i.e., heroic) because of his sexual appetites. “Maybe what Clinton did in the Oval Office was love, or infatuation, or just sex. At the very least, it was a desire to make a connection with another person, a habitual desire for which Clinton is well known . . . But this desire is something I trust.” This sort of thing is a total inversion of traditional understandings of morality. Whereas once the permanence of sin was cause for a permanent struggle against it, now its permanence is precisely why it should be embraced.

 

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