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Oh, the Hypocrisy of Us All

You and I, everyone, are hypocrites. All of us, in our lives, righteously disapprove of certain forms of behavior while wittingly or unwittingly partaking in them ourselves. We are imperfect beings, our words and actions sometimes at odds with the values we purport to live by.

Give you some examples. If you invest in mutual funds it is very likely you are a partial owner of, and thus stand to profit from, companies whose practices you might abhor: tobacco firms, predatory banks, industrial polluters, safety-violating employers, corporate swindlers. (Good idea to read prospectuses.) When you denounce a politician of an opposing party for extra-marital indiscretions, but ignore or underplay those your guy commits, you are a hypocrite. On the left, you have people calling for open national borders while safely ensconced in their gated communities. On the right, protesters railing against “socialism” while pocketing Social Security, unemployment and corporate welfare checks.

Hypocrites, and their hypocrisies, confront us at every turn. Overweight health practitioners who preach prudent eating habits. Smokers who light up while admonishing their children, “don’t you ever do this.” The Catholic Church decrying the mandate that its hospitals and universities provide health coverage for contraceptives, while the 98% of Catholics who have used them have scarcely heard a peep of remonstrance from the pulpit for decades. (There are far graver things that should be weighing on their conscience than family planning.)

Yes, we are all hypocrites. The difference is, to what degree? How hypocritical must one be before incurring the wrath and rejection of others? The short answer is: the extent to which countenancing or even defending another’s hypocrisy casts the spotlight on our own.

Herman Cain

"Blame yourself"

When former presidential candidate Herman Cain, a self-proclaimed pillar of family values, was accused by several women of groping and propositioning them, his poll numbers and campaign donations initially surged. This benefit-of-the-doubt bounce may have been less a belief in his innocence (his fuzzy explanations didn’t help) than a show of righteous indignation to cover the embarrassment of having fawned over an alleged serial womanizer and prevaricator—hypocrisy indeed. And for a while it worked, until a reasonably credible woman went public with the claim she had a 13-year affair with Cain, salted with infusions of financial support. Few wanted to back that pony. Cain plummeted in the polls and dropped out.

The takeaway from all this: political advantage trumps moral rectitude. To a point. The hypocritical tipping point.

The biggest enablers of hypocrisy, that is, the seductions that can cause us to ditch our values in a heartbeat, are sex, money, power, pride, and protection of the family reputation (as in parents who espouse strong school discipline going ballistic on the principal who dares to upbraid their own “misunderstood” child).

And that brings up an important insight into the nature of hypocrisy that ensures its long and healthy existence: the belief that our case, and our case alone, is the exception—a necessary and temporary aberration, the justifiable means to a worthier end. Self-endowed hypocritical privilege it may be called. And no subset of society is more likely to claim it, and claim it as frequently, as the politician.

So, as the 2012 races become ever more intense, the trick is to sort through the deluge of hypocrisies spewing forth from each camp and try to find the real candidate lurking beneath. Still, you can never be certain the advocate you voted for will show up if elected. One way to gauge future behavior is to analyze past behavior, for while people might ostensibly change their viewpoints, they rarely change themselves. Wafflers will continue to waffle, diehards will remain diehards, cavers will cave, compromisers will compromise.

Nor can candidates change what they’ve already done. They may try to disavow it with the feeble argument, “that was then, this is now,” but in most cases you can be pretty sure that what you saw is what you’ll get.

Thus, if you can look past the unprecedented hypocrisy, and hype, of this election cycle, and make a brutally honest assessment of how you think each candidate will perform if elected, you’ll have a much better chance of casting your vote here it counts the most for you.

June 2, 2012 • Posted in: Uncategorized

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