Friday, August 31, 2007

Hypocrites R Us

Well, it's starting to look like Senator Larry Craig (R - Idaho) is going down in flames. He's got some sort of announcement about his future planned for this Saturday, and the conventional wisdom (and the news media) says that he's going to throw in the towel. If this goes down like most other political retreats-under-fire, there will be a lot of blaming, but no-one will care, and attempts to salvage "dignity" (whatever that means in cases like this) that no-one will notice.

As per usual, the calls of "Hypocrisy!" have gone up from critics, some advocates for the homosexual community, some not. The basis of the charge lies at the intersection of very public hostility to homosexual rights coupled with what appears to be private homosexual behavior. While this formulation has become something of the public standard, I think that makes an assumption that you can't always back up - namely that Senator Craig would want, were he not a Republican Senator in a conservative state, expanded rights for homosexuals to be the law of the land. It would be like saying that a religious politician is a hypocrite for being outspoken in their support of the separation of church and state, and for laws that contravened the teachings of their religion. In the same way, it's possible to be homosexual, and sincerely opposed to laws that expand the rights of homosexuals. While we may find it bizarre that people could take such a stance, the charge that it is inherently hypocritical isn't really accurate.

Being a member of a given group is perceived as carrying an obligation to side with the party line of that group, whenever there might be a conflict. In that light, the term "hypocrite" may be better understood as sort of a euphemism for "traitor." Think back to the civil rights movement, and the anger that White supporters of civil rights faced from other Whites. Alternatively, being a member of a group is thought of as creating an insurmountable bias towards that group - for instance that while the childless might not favor legislation that favors parents, becoming a parent automagically changes one's feelings. Again, the idea that NOT following the party line constitutes a form of betrayal is often present, and it manifests itself with the label of "hypocrite."

No matter how you slice it, the result is going to be the same. A public flogging, that in the end, changes nothing. But I suppose there are worse pastimes.

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