One of the themes you sometimes hear – especially from liberals – about politicians’ morally bad behavior is that the real problem is hypocrisy. Thus, we are told, what is really offensive is not politicians engaging in all sorts of sexual misconduct – much of it leaving behind a trail of misused and discarded women – but when such politicians have the temerity to preach “family values” or support laws aimed against vices, including ones they themselves may have engaged in. The charge of hypocrisy is a fair enough one, but its place near the top of our hierarchy of sins is absurdly inflated, and that inflation is not coincidentally weaponized to draw distinctions between liberal and conservative politicians caught in exactly the same misconduct.
As I’ve argued for years, what is far worse than hypocritically standing up for good in public while doing bad in private is to let your own private sins deter you from doing good in public. I would much prefer to see a wicked man be a hypocrite and vote for what is right and good, rather than choose consistency and advocate for wrongdoing. And if he finds himself without the courage to be a hypocrite when right and wrong are on the line, well, that’s exactly why private character always matters in public officials.
I thought of this yet again, in the context of President Trump, on two recent occasions. One was the stunningly candid admission to CNN by Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow that the site attacked the sexual predation allegations against Roy Moore while Marlow believed those allegations to be credible because the sexual harassment allegations against Trump compromised Breitbart’s ability to admit that Moore was unfit for public office without having to admit the same about Trump:
Until Election Day, Breitbart seemingly did everything in its power to try to discredit Moore’s accusers. Marlow said one of the factors in Breitbart’s coverage of the allegations against Moore is that, he believes, the news media was trying to use them to set a bar on sexual misconduct “that President Trump cannot match.” ”I think they want to create a standard where President Trump either from past or future accusations, will not be able to match whatever standard is now in place for who can be a United States senator,” he said. “Based off not any sort of conviction or any sort of admission of guilt, but based off of purely allegations.” ”I think that’s the playbook here,” he added. “And I think it’s part of the reason why it was so important for Breitbart to continue our coverage of the way we covered it … and for Steve in particular to hold the line the way he did for — I think part of it is because it’s not just about Judge Moore, it is not even just about establishment, anti-establishment. It’s about what’s coming next for President Trump.”
The second was a point that Rich Lowry makes in today’s column about Trump’s bizarrely defensive public posture regarding the substantially-supported domestic-violence allegations against now-deposed White House aide Rob Porter, again due to Trump’s own vulnerabilities:
The website Axios reports that Trump privately believed the allegations against Porter (which are highly credible — one ex-wife would have had to lie to the police in real time and both lie to the FBI). But Trump couldn’t bring himself to credit the accusers publicly, even though this would have served his own political interest. The firestorm over Porter quickly became a firestorm over Trump’s remarks, which represents the real threat to the president.
Trump’s shamelessness in the face of his own past actions and words has sometimes produced positive dividends for social conservatives; for example, his Administration has taken a series of strongly pro-life positions and actions. And when he is hypocritical in those ways, I’m happy, for the same reasons liberals are happy that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act while not-even-that-privately throwing around the n-word like he was handing out Halloween candy. But when Trump’s personal failings come with public consequences, it’s another story, and one that reminds us of the value of screening out bad characters before nominating them for high office. If he and his supporters are gunshy about denouncing wife-beaters and men who prey on 14-year-old girls because they are worried about making it easier to hang sexual harassment charges (or worse) around Trump’s neck, that’s proof positive that his personal character can’t be separated from his public duties.