Hypocrites Among Us

Scott DesJarlais
Scott DesJarlais
Scott Eugene DesJarlais, born February 21, 1964, is an American physician currently serving as U.S. Representative for Tennessee's 4th congressional district after winning re-election to a second term on November 6, 2012. | Photo: Archives | Scott Desjarlais, U.s. Representative, Tennessee, Bald, Tie,

It's fun to see them exposed and mocked.

Like a lot of people I'm fascinated by hypocrites.

I'm specifically fascinated by the times we get to see them caught out in their hypocrisy, the hollowness of their supposed principles on full display. I'm not sure if it's the drama of the exposure or the joy of seeing the self-righteous taken down a peg, but it always grabs my eye.

The right-to-life politician caught demanding his mistress get an abortion.

The politician who condemns food stamp recipients as moochers while getting millions in federal farm subsidies.

People who insist it's totally unacceptable for someone to do X, unless X, of course, is in the political party/church/union/corporation they belong to.

The drug warriors who don't see any contradiction between shrugging off their youthful drug use while insisting today's pot smokers should do hard time for the good of society.

Public figures who call for "traditional values" or abstinence outside marriage while cheating on their spouse (I admit adultery is a traditional value of sort, but you get my point).

I know I'm not unique in my interest. Writers, including Moliere and the Roman satirist Juvenal, have mocked hypocrites for centuries. Jesus suggested people remove the beam from their own eye before worrying about the speck of sawdust in someone else's. Hypocrites deserve to be mocked and (ideally) discredited. It's one thing to fall short of a standard you set for yourself. We all do that. It's quite another to demand everyone live up to your standard of purity when you don't believe the standard applies to you.

Some hypocrites are just bald-faced liars saying whatever will get them elected or hired. Others rationalize it: sure, X is wrong but when they do X it's totally different! Nobody else who does X has ever been in the same situation! Her abortion is justified, unlike the sluts who get all the other abortions. His government handout is totally deserved, unlike the parasites who get all the other government handouts.

The rationalizers have always creeped me out more. Lying for gain doesn't unsettle me as much as people who can convince themselves they're not lying, they don't have a beam in their eye, everything they did was perfectly moral so how dare you criticize them.

The biggest problem with mocking hypocrites is that it often doesn't have any effect. They hang on tight until there's a new scandal to focus on, then go right on mouthing platitudes and getting votes.

Another problem is that it's easy to think (or it was for me when I was younger) that discrediting X as a hypocrite also discredits X's views. I'm no longer so sure of that. Take abortion and birth control. I think banning abortions is wrong (and harms even women who aren't getting one), I think restricting birth-control access is likewise wrong. It's true some the-only-good-birth-control-is-abstinence-outside-marriage politicians and preachers don't live up to their own standard, but if every one of them abstained, that wouldn't make their position any better. I'd still think pro-choice and pro-birth control are the more moral options.

Likewise the merits of Social Security or the Affordable Care Act or food stamps do not depend on whether the people who condemn government aid are sucking at the public trough themselves. It's fun to watch people squirm when someone brings up the contradiction, but it's not a decisive argument.

Let's face it, if political positions are only good if their supporters are honorable and ethical, there are no good policies. The number of rogues and hypocrites is just too damn high.

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Updated Jul 11, 2018 1:00 AM UTC | More details


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