Jeremy Lott literally wrote the book on religious-conservative hypocrisy – it was called In Defense of Hypocrisy – and it made the halfway-plausible argument, familiar not only to conservatives but to the Victorians, that some measure of moral inconsistency is inevitable and that this falling short of perfection is no reason to repudiate one’s ideals altogether. It may be healthy and normal, even beneficial.
That argument sounds very reasonable if you’re surrounded mainly by two groups: flawed but nice people, and moral perfectionists. It looks more dangerous when you fall into the company of liars, cheaters, and other assorted assholes, who need no encouragement.
Speaking of which: I’ll be in DC today, so e-mail me (per “About/Contact” page linked in right margin) if anyone wants to meet up circa 10pm at a bar in the vicinity of the National Press Club, along with several other conservatives and libertarians, or else it’s back up to NYC on the train reading Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea for me. (If it’s half as fun as seeing two Carneys and Dan O’Connor – the man who would be Rep for Williamsburg hipsters, Hasidim, and Chinatownfolk – last night at our monthly Langan’s event, I’ll be happy. At the same time, I’m considering reconfabulating the monthly events I host in a hipper, more flexible space with a variety-show feel, so suggestions are welcome. On a related social note: no matter how many Facebook friends I acquire now that I’m on there, almost exactly a third of them always seem also to know Nick Gillespie, a number I’ll refer to now as the Gillespie Ratio and take as an indicator that a third of my acquaintances are libertarians.)
But it was politicians in particular I was worrying about handing easy moral excuses, not just DC people in general. And religious folk soothingly claiming that “Sin is inevitable” or that “Human nature is fallen, whaddayagonnado” may be the worst enablers (sometimes, the worst offenders). With that in mind, some quick recent thoughts about various politicians, starting with a trip inside the mind of a hypocrite:
NEWT GINGRICH: Vanity Fair reported that his second wife (of three so far) asked Gingrich how he could extoll ancient virtues while privately doing things like trying to talk her into tolerating his extramarital affair. He reportedly replied that people needed to hear his message and that how he lived wasn’t relevant. If that’s really indicative of how he thinks, his conversion to Catholicism in 2009 seems unlikely to give him the cover with moralistic religious voters he was likely seeking in that season of hypocrisy.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: With his marriage falling apart almost the instant he’s out of office and reports of his lovechild with a staffer coming out, it’s starting to look like this very disappointing man, who entered the governorship talking like a Friedmanite and left governing like a green wuss, may be as sociopathic as, well, a killer cyborg. (Speaking of which, there’s talk of another Terminator film with him, and real life begins to look a bit like the movies: The mission must be completed by 2018 A.D. or the rights revert to James Cameron, who might well make use of them. James Cameron is ineviddibuhl.)
MIKE HUCKABEE: I suspect it was his producer Woody Fraser’s idea to make Huckabee’s announcement that he’s not running for president into a tense televised event – but it’s a very happy ending as far as I’m concerned. The problem with Republicans, in a nutshell, is religion distracting them from the real-world task of shrinking government (and not even doing much to enhance morals, as noted above!), and Huckabee is a living embodiment of that problem. Had he run, he was the potential death knell of all the positive, libertarian impulses percolating in the party due to the Tea Party movement, which is imperfect but clearly moving in a useful direction.
DONALD TRUMP: His departure from the race, near simultaneously with Huckabee’s, gives me hope that what the press has been depicting as the second tier of Republican presidential candidates – who also happen to be the more-libertarian ones – will now rise to become the main tier in the polls. If Palin doesn’t run either, then we will have gotten her, Trump, and Huck out of the way and may not need to fear Gingrich for the reasons alluded to above. Then, an impressive pack of libertarians – Daniels, Paul, and Johnson – begins breathing down Romney’s bland neck, despite his inevitably brief rise for now (with Cindy Crawford’s help, I see – going for the Gen X vote, apparently).
Moving on, on that note, to politicians who are actually likable:
HERMAN CAIN: I’m glad everyone reacted positively to his performance in the first GOP candidates debate, but when focus groups cheer for a businessman’s vague assertions that he wants to put “plans” in place and consult the best people, etc., I can’t help thinking of Perot, who was charming and folksy and all but as naive as any big-government guy, really, in thinking that a little bit of common sense and elbow grease’d take care of all these here so-called problems in Washington. There are worse things than well-intended pragmatists, but they’re not a simple solution. And when, as in Cain’s case, they complain about “speculators,” I am reminded that one can easily be a businessman without understanding free-market economics (as Tim Carney wrote about so well in The Big Rip Off, a book that is likely a better and more practical expenditure of your reading time than the Lott one mentioned above, truth be told).
MITCH DANIELS: My fellow libertarians, many of us have ties, direct or indirect, to Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, and I will say it early and often, much as it pains me: We have to talk them into dropping out if it looks like mainstream conservatives are willing to rally around Daniels, who can make it through the primaries without being painted as too lefty-seeming for the regular Republicans and who has the mainstream credibility to win the general election.
Oh, and unlike Romney, who counts L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth among his favorite books, Daniels says his five favorites are by Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, Virginia Postrel, and Mancur Olson (and called himself libertarian in the interview he did about those books – a self-label that his casually-discussed potential running mate Condi Rice has also used, so please don’t freak out with your antiwar passions if that fascinating gender-racial-political combo ticket coalesces, not so close to a major victory).
And yes, he was in the Bush administration, but being OMB director is largely a good thing and does not make him the villainous secret architect of either the Iraq War or Bush’s domestic spending, even if he underestimated the cost of the former, like so many people.
And after decades of cultural change, I think America is ready to elect a short president. (He would also reportedly have the endorsements not only of Haley Barbour but of heroic governors Scott Walker and Chris Christie.)
RON PAUL: Even if I end up hoping he drops out – in part because I fear he’d inevitably lose in the general election once the Obama administration started combing through every fringe-political skeleton in his closet, like those racist newsletters someone affiliated with him once wrote – he’s a hero and has already done so much to reshape the GOP, I do not begrudge him more time in the spotlight.
I’m pleased when he gloats over things like the IMF head being arrested for assault, but remember that this way lies eventual press questions about why he endorsed the weird Chuck Baldwin for president in 2008, etc., etc. (Baldwin is reportedly relocating to Montana because he expects the area to be the spearhead of God’s revolution or something like that). Jerks like Michael Gerson criticizing Ron Paul’s stance on drugs will look tame if the press really starts digging for weirdness to criticize among Paul’s (our) associates.
CARL PALADINO: The major legacy of the Carl Paladino GOP gubernatorial campaign here in NY continues to be: complicated recriminations. It has literally reached the point where, in much the same way you can intuitively spot spam without being able to articulate what the spam-spotting rules are, I can tell I’m reading a mass-e-mail that will contain a Paladino reference because someone is accusing someone else of lying about something, often in some way that weirdly crosses party lines, such as a Democrat infiltrating the Tea Party or something, often without me being able to follow it even if I want to.
JOHN GALT: He’s not a real-life political figure, but after the disappointment of the Atlas Shrugged movie, I just want to mention that David Hoffman observed that in the audio tape version of the book, the famous John Galt speech laying out Rand’s whole philosophy, all by itself, lasts longer than the recent film. Perhaps there was never much hope of solid entertainment arising from the book. By contrast, the simplicity of this Bill Plympton short about Santa Claus being a fascist works quite well.
P.S. Despite my complaints above that religion – not to mention religious acceptance of hypocrisy – may be little use in fostering morals, I’m still pleased by this Mark Judge piece about punk as a supplement to religion. Culture is complicated.
(He at least seems to aim for a sort of intense authenticity, preferable to the attitude that once faith has dethroned reason, it is time to move on to letting pretension dethrone faith, an attitude I worry is creeping around the right every time I see a piece, usually by someone young, often by someone Catholic, written in faux-nineteenth-century gentlemanly argot. Irony is swell, as is a love of the past, but there are times that conservatives should get serious and be the ones to remind the culture how to do the right thing. I also had to send a jab in the direction of Thaddeus Russell on Facebook, lest his defenses of bootleggers and banditos as the secret grantors of our liberties likewise become too easy an excuse for general laxness.)
P.P.S. All right, off to DC now. Forgive me if I’m unresponsive for a day.