So says a wonderfully titled post on Prawfsblog by Matt Brodie. The point is that much of our political discouse is given over to charges of hypocrisy. We wrap ourselves into knots to be able to say that those we don't agree with have been inconsistent. Anyone who even casually follows political blogs has read the hackneyed "pot, meet kettle" so often as to wish to never see or hear it ever again.
Why do we do this? My own view flows from two observations. The first is that our society has altered the former balance between the perceived value of personal authenticity in the sense of following your own lights and the virtue of conforming to a set of standards that originates outside yourself. We have moved toward a greater appreciation of the former. This is not to argue that we have given ourselves over to a radical moral relativism, only that our discourse had shifted in a way that charges of hypocrisy have a particular salience.
This isn't all bad. Intellectual consistency is a virtue and an important discipline.
But our concern here is its emergence as a preferred form of political attack. I want to evaluate the implications of the observation that it's "hypocrisy all the way down." Is there anything about that which is troubling?
I think so. My sense is that charges of hypocrisy are popular because they do not require us to talk with one another about the real reasons for our disagreement. It is the invocation of a widely shared norm by those who have no intention of honestly debating what divides us. Rather than discuss the substantive differences between the tickets of Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin, we search for "gotchas" - things that allow us to dismiss our opponents without ever engaging what they have to say. It's a form of discourse for those who have no intention of engaging.
Other preferred political tactics offer the same opportunity including the closely related horror of "flip flopping" and our passion for scandal. Changing your mind in the face of the facts can be the sign of a good leader. It's probably a topic for another post, but don't we seem to struggle with the fact that good leaders may have human imperfections?
Cross posted at Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog.