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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Hypocrisy Strategy

posted by Silvana
I trust Rachel Maddow. I trust her a lot. I don't always agree with her choices as a host, but as a commentator? I've never seen anyone on television who reliably speaks my knee-jerk reactions in such a clear and compelling way. She's phenomenal.

So it's been a little jarring this week to find myself disagreeing with her over and over again. I've been watching her show a lot this week, and just saw her on Meet The Press. And I am still confused by why she is pushing a strategy that I think is wrong-headed and ineffective.

I call it the Hypocrisy Strategy.

I should say as a preface that I've been lukewarm on hypocrisy for a while now. I think it's completely taken over the political discourse as a rhetorical tool, and that makes me angry. Because focusing on hypocrisy--assailing your political opponents by pointing to discrepancies between two actions they take--ignores the lived reality of human experience, and it ignores truth. Lived Reality and Truth: two things that are vitally important to any effort to improve the lives of actual people.

Rachel has been hitting the hypocrisy strategy hard this week. Her argument is this: Republicans voted against the stimulus package, and publicly railed against government spending. Then, when the money from the Recovery Package flowed out from Washington, those same Republican congressmen and senators praised the spending in their own states. Allegation: hypocrisy.

After the litany of examples of Republicans praising the spending in their own states, Rachel's ultimate conclusion is a sound one: "Republicans don't care about policy." That is true. That is, in fact, the point. But I'm skeptical of the hypocrisy argument as a way to get there.

Come on. Of course Republicans are going to praise stimulus spending in their own states. They want the government to spend money on their state. Any senator who doesn't aggressively lobby for appropriations to his state is doing a horrible job of being a senator. The point is that they don't want the government to spend money on other states. It's a classic example of the "I got mine"-ism that animates everything the Republican party does. It animates their hostility to public aid, welfare spending, health care, poor people, and minorities of all kinds. They view government as a mercenary operation designed to keep privilege, wealth, and opportunity in the hands of those who already have it.

There's nothing hypocritical about what the Republicans are doing. I thought then, and continue to think, that the "gotcha"-ism of trying to get Republican governors to say they would reject the stimulus money was misguided. In fact, their world view is completely coherent if you look at what they do, rather than what they say. What they say is a string of platitudes that pretend that they actually care about the health and well-being of Americans. They have to do this, because they're politicians. And Democrats let them get away with it, because they're politicians. We have a government that's overtaken with a gentlemen's-agreement/gentlemen's-club mentality where we a) can't accuse people of lying; b) can't accuse people of having bad motivations. Instead, we pretend that we're merely arguing about how to go about doing what we all want to do, which is make life better for all Americans.

But Republicans don't want that, and they haven't wanted it at any point since I've been paying attention to what they're doing.

This morning, Rachel was making the same argument on Meet the Press. When Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) railed against the stimulus bill, she called him out for having also praised the stimulus spending in his home district. Crooks and liars has the video here, and the exchange starts at about 1:08. A transcript:
MS. MADDOW: ...just this week you were at a community college touting a $350,000 green technology education program, talking about how great that was going to be for your district. You voted against the bill that created that grant. And so that's happening a lot with Republicans sort of taking credit for things that Democratic bills do, and then Republicans simultaneously touting their votes against them and trashing them. That's, I think, a, a, a problem that needs to be resolved within, within your caucus, because, I mean, you seem like a very nice person, but that's very hypocritical stance to take.

REP. SCHOCK: Well, Rachel, with all due respect, I can assure you Republicans were not consulted on the stimulus bill. That bill was filed at 11 PM the night before the 10:30 AM we began debating it. None of our amendments were considered. There was no debate and no bipartisanship on that bill.

MS. MADDOW: How about the...(unintelligible)?

MR. GREGORY: But, but answer--all right, let me, let me...(unintelligible)...Rachel, which is that the, the question about you--you've called for spending caps out of Washington.


MR. GREGORY: But to Rachel's point, does that mean that you will not accept any federal money that comes the way of your district?

REP. SCHOCK: No. I think that argument that liberals are making is absolutely ridiculous. With all due respect, Rachel, does that mean you're going to give back your Bush tax cuts that you continue to rail against?
Everything else that Rep. Schock says in the fifteen-minute segment on MTP is either a lie or wrong, but in this exchange he's absolutely right. The Republicans were against the stimulus because they a) consistently run on a platform of being against government spending, mostly because this polls well and appeals to people b) don't want taxpayer money spent on other states c) hold incorrect beliefs, against scientific, economic, and sociologic evidence, that government spending can't improve the economy.

In the face of how overwhelmingly wrong, ignorant, and indifferent to the needs of their constituents and residents of other states they are, their hypocrisy isn't even worth bothering with. And focusing on it does damage to the political discourse. We've seen a hypocrisy-focused strategy for years now, from the Republicans assailing John Kerry as a "flip-flopper" to Biden's assertion just this morning that the Justice Department under Bush had no problem mirandizing suspected terrorists.

When Biden was presented with Dick Cheney's commentary about the dangerousness of mirandizing Abdelmutallab (the Christmas Day bomber), he didn't talk about how Miranda rights are important, constitutional, and how Andelmutallab was entitled to the protections of the Constitution. Instead, his argument was that DOJ mirandized terrorist suspects under Bush, so Dick Cheney is a hypocrite.

Which is true. But it's not enough. This is one of the primary problems with having lawyers (I am one, so I speak from experience) running the government. What Joe Biden is doing is called "impeachment," and I'm not talking about what they did to Bill Clinton, but the legal strategy of discrediting witness. If you have a witness on the stand, and they say "I didn't talk to anyone about the car accident," you read to them from the deposition transcript where they said "And then I called my wife and told her I crashed the car." The point being not to show that they did, in fact, talk, but to discredit their reliability as a witness.

And that's great for trials. But "you said something different before" is not enough when we are talking about millions of lives, health care, civil liberties at stake.

We need to keep our eyes on the prize, focus on the merits, and the facts. And lord knows Democrats are far from immune to the lure of talking out of one side of your mouth and spitting on your constituents with the other.

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