Ted Frier

Ted Frier
April 02
Ted Frier is an author and former political reporter turned speechwriter who at one time served as communications director for the Massachusetts Republican Party, helping Bill Weld become the first Bay State Republican in a generation to be elected Governor. He was Chief Speechwriter for Republican Governor Paul Cellucci and Lt. Governor Jane Swift. Ted is also the author of the hardly-read 1992 history "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." So, why the current hostility to the Republican Party and what passes for conservatism today? The Republican Party was once a national governing party that looked out for the interests of the nation as a whole. Now it is the wholly-owned subsidiary of self interest. Conservatism once sought national unity to promote social peace and harmony. Now conservatism has devolved into a right wing mutation that uses divide and conquer tactics to promote the solidarity of certain social sub-groups united against the larger society while preserving the privileges of a few.


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FEBRUARY 23, 2012 12:23PM

Are Right Wing Conservatives Hypocrites By Nature?

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The fire-and-brimstone Christian Right bible-thumper who gets busted buying crack cocaine from a male prostitute, or the "family values" conservative who turns out to be a serial philanderer. These are now stock characters out of GOP central casting.

But other than the rather tedious accumulation of examples of self-righteous Republicans who want us to do as they say and not as they do, is there something about Republicanism itself that produces these double standards? Is hypocrisy, in short, endemic to conservatism?

That is what Washington Post liberal E.J. Dionne wants to know. In his column this week, Dionne says that hypocrisy - "the gap between ideology and practice" -- has now reached a "crisis point" in American conservatism.

"This Republican presidential campaign is demonstrating conclusively that there is an unbridgeable divide between the philosophical commitments conservative candidates make before they are elected and what they will have to do when faced with the day-to-day demands of practical governance," writes Dionne.  "Conservatives in power have never been -- and can never be -- as anti-government as they are in a campaign."

In an oft-quoted 2006 essay in Washington Monthly, "Why Conservatives Can't Govern," Boston College professor Alan Wolfe called contemporary conservatism "a walking contradiction" since conservatives were unable to shrink government but also unwilling to improve government and so ended up splitting the difference in ways that resulted in "not just bigger government, but more incompetent government."

The problem begins, says Wolfe, when conservatives promise to shrink the size and reach of the federal government but find once in office they are "under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives." And this, says Wolfe, "puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions -- indeed, whose very existence -- they believe to be illegitimate."

To Dionne, this pulling in opposite directions is what inevitably makes conservatives hypocrites.

Why, for example, are so many conservatives anti-government while spending long careers drawing paychecks from the taxpayers? asks Dionne. Why also do conservatives "bash government largesse while seeking as much of it as they can get for their constituents and friendly interest groups?"

Why do conservatives criticize entitlements and big government yet promise their older, conservative base they will "never, ever to cut their Medicare or Social Security?"

And what about defense?  Why do Republicans support the free market yet refuse to consider any cuts at all in the bloated Military Industrial Complex that takes taxpayer dollars and transforms them into private profits.

The list goes on. The reason our political system is so "broken," says Dionne, is that conservatives are hypocrites who keep making "anti-government promises that they know perfectly well they are destined to break."

Dionne's criticisms are well taken. But he needs to dig deeper. It's not just small-government conservatives who are hypocrites about the size and cost of government they are willing to support. It's that conservatism itself, as a collection of ideas about organizing society, inevitably breeds hypocrisy.

Conservatives are sure to cry foul and will no doubt respond by producing a mountain of examples where liberals have behaved hypocritically. I am sure they can. But that's beside the point. The real point is that liberals care about hypocrisy and conservatives don't.

Here's why: liberals want to build a larger community by weaving together the different threads in our society into a fuller and more varied tapestry. This multi-culturalism and promotion of diversity, in fact, is what conservatives hate most about liberals since conservatives want to defend the community they already have by keeping others out, and by using politics to do it.

Hypocrisy matters to liberals because the only way to build a larger community is by first building trust. And the only way to build trust is by treating everyone equally -- by consistently and impartially applying the same universal principles to like individuals in like situations.

Hypocrisy is the unequal application of principle, producing an arbitrariness that eats like a cancer at the connective tissues of the ethnically, religiously, and demographically diverse communities liberal societies hope to create.

Hypocrisy matters to liberals like Rachel Maddow -- a lot -- as her long-time listeners well know. Nothing makes Maddow madder than when people say one thing and do another. The best parts of her show, in fact, are when she takes apart right wing hypocrites with prosecutorial precision, exposing Republicans who attack Obama's "job-killing" stimulus program on Fox News while taking credit for the jobs actually created in their local newspapers back home.

When Republicans accused Democrats of destroying the American Republic by using budget "reconciliation" to pass the Affordable Health Care Act, you could see the glee (and contempt) in Maddow's eyes as Republican duplicity is exposed while she quietly sits there as example after example of Republicans using reconciliation when they were in charge scrolls endlessly across the screen.

I watch Maddow's surgical dissection of Republicans and think they've got to be devastated. But then I listen afterward, dumbfounded, as their only takeaway from this embarrassing unmasking is that Maddow is a partisan hack.

But after all, why should a right wing conservative care if he's ridiculed for applying one set of standards to one group and a different set of standards to his? Why should he care if he is called a hypocrite considering that his ultimate objective is to guarantee the supremacy of white, Christian, affluent males?  

Or take a charlatan preacher like Franklin Graham, whose sole objective isn't saving souls but electing other Republicans. Why should Graham care if his duplicity is called out on national TV when he insists it's impossible for him to vouch for the authenticity of President Obama's Christian devotion while Graham eagerly does just that for Rick Santorum or even the three-timing Newt Gingrich?

Man is moral but society is not, the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us. Telling the truth and being true to our stated principles may be sovereign in our personal lives but can easily give way to the demands of our political commitments, as right wing conservatives know all too well.

Hypocrisy matters to liberals because the principles of equality and fair-dealing upon which our liberal way of life depends matter to liberals -- and when those principles are impartially applied bridge our differences to create a society greater than the sum of its parts.

Right wing conservatives do not share this vision of the Great Society and so are untroubled by hypocrisy because their first and only commitment is to their group.

We are a nation not of blood and soil but of ideas, President George W. Bush told us in his second inaugural. Liberals accept that belief implicitly. Right wing conservatives do not. To this new generation of radical conservatives, societies are still based on soil and blood. With the emphasis on blood.

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Another solid post. You must enlighten us how you have made your transformation. Often, it is the opposite: the resolute lefty in youth becomes the arch conservative as time marches on.

To dig deeper is to look at the impact culture has on political choice. Most are totally unaware of the assumptions that are the basis of their "conscious" decisions. The "old guard" is threatened, even if in fact their political choices do not benefit them it doesn't matter. "Reaction" is just that. It does not rest upon reason, it depends upon fear--and that is what those drawn to the GOP at present are drawn too, both as "leaders" and followers.

This is nothing new or particular to the nation. That doesn't mean it should be avoided either. A theory worked out by a mathamatician (a Brit whose name I have forgotten) estimated that at any one time in history only six per cent of the population is engaged in driving the rest forward, and by definition their views are held to be suspect. Some of us are more sensitive than others to that, depending on our dispositions, and others won't have a clue what I am even talking about. (They're too busy with their wars.)

Sound like a small number? Or does it simply sound accurate?
Another great essay, Ted.

My answer to your title question is, "Yes!"

I see you agree.

I have a less scholarly approach to the question...a more anecdotal perception of the issue, which is important, because it is not just the political element of conservatism that shows a tendency toward hypocrisy. The grass roots element is equally disposed in that direction.

The conservatives (the people who proudly assert their conservatism) I know personally show an amazing amount of personal hypocrisy in their daily lives. Don't get me wrong, I love many of them dearly, but the fragmentation between what they see as the right (or as they might put it, moral) way to lead a life in modern America simply does not comport with the way they live their lives. We are all county employees…and I hear lectures from them on how government has to be more efficient and less wasteful, but when asked to actually walk the walk…they decline. (For obvious reasons, I don’t want to get into specifics here.)

I simply cannot see how any conservative can hide the massive hypocrisy within their ranks from themselves…although I will give them high marks for attempting to do so…which, of course, is another form of hypocrisy.

The short answer as to my switching positions probably goes something like this: I didn't leave my party, my party left me.

But beyond that, I think that over time I've discovered there is a huge overlap between conservatism and liberalism if you know where to look, at least in terms of temperament. There will always be arguments between liberals and conservatives of good faith about such things as the proper level of taxes and regulation, as there should be. But on general disposition there are great similarities.

For example: Edmund Burke is known as the father of conservatism and what Burke hated most was ideology. Burke had an organic view of society and so prized tradition and history above all else. This is why he was so critical of any utopian blueprint that tried to make society conform the the bright idea in someone's head.

Liberalism, I think, shares a lot in common with this Burkean disposition against utopian ideologies (religion, perhaps?) in the systems it sets up for discovering truth. Freedom of thought and conscience above conformance to dogma is one. There is also the preference for objective and impartial ways of thinking and acting over arbitrary and capricious whim. Whereas the conservative favors hierarchy and the unaccountable authority that goes with it, liberals prefer due process, proceduralism, rule of law, and science.

I've often said that HOW a party thinks is more important than WHAT it thinks. And given the GOP's turn toward superstituion and authoritarianism I think you can by my discription abovethat it was not too big a leap for me to switch sides from a conservatism that was no longer conservative or prudent to a liberalism that in many ways was.

A lot of these ideas are contained in one of my favorite books, Walter Lippmann's "Essays in the Public Philosophy." And Lippmann, interestingly enough, was at various times labeled both a conservative AND a liberal.

As for your point about elites, I wrote something very much like this about a year ago, in a post called "American Elites: With us or against us?" Here is the relevent section:

The history and destiny of every society is shaped by this small handful of outstanding people - the "best and the brightest" -- who invent its technology, organize its industry, lead its wars, articulate its view of itself and write its laws.

There will always be a division between the elites and the masses in any complex society where someone has to grow the food and someone else has to make sure other people get it. But whether these divisions tread lightly on social harmony or whether they harden into rigid class distinctions is a decision that every social elite must make for itself.

For there comes a point in the history of every society when its elites must decide if they are going to throw themselves into the life of their people and become engaged with their progress or whether they will wall themselves off from their fellow creatures so as to protect their wealth and privilege.

Alexis de Tocqueville famously said that the reason why France suffered a bloody revolution but England did not was the profound difference in character between those two nation's governing elites. In England, he said, the nobility showed a "peculiar ability to merge and mix with other social groups," while in France "it tended to close ranks and preserve its original purity of birth."

In other words, said de Tocqueville, "while the English nobility developed into an open aristocracy, the one in France became a rigid caste."

America has always been blessed to have at the nation's founding a uniquely enlightened generation of elites, reared in republican simplicity, whose great handiwork - the US Constitution with its system of checks and balances -- reflects the customary elitist dread of mobs at the same time it expresses a honest and healthy distrust of vesting too much power with elites just like them.

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this," wrote James Madison, as much about his fellow Virginia planters as about the fledgling American Republic, "you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

How different, then, are these Founding Fathers, who grew up in America's more innocent democratic age, reading Cicero and creating their republics in which elites ruled but only at the sufferance of the consent of the governed, from our own conservative elites today who praise the "morality" of a capitalist system that puts one-quarter of all national income in the pockets of just 1% of its people, and who devour the works of a writer who encourages them and all the other "better sort" of people to think of themselves as a put-upon class that should teach their countrymen a lesson whenever they don't get their way by going out on strike?
Something else occurred to me after posting my comment above.

Branding conservatives as hypocrites may NOT hurt them at all. Most Americans seem not to be particularly bothered by hypocrisy…and conservatives seem to be able to sail through seas of it without any trouble or fear.

The fact that Newt Gingrich, for instance, had so much to say about Bill Clinton’s dallying…while concurrently dallying himself is very instructive on the issue. The fact that conservatives made such a big deal of the fact that Clinton did not serve in the military—while being fairly tolerant of George W. Bush’s skirting of service…is instructive of the rank and file tendency toward hypocrisy.

For many conservatives, even proof positive of hypocrisy on the part of a candidates will not even factor into the equation. What they are looking for is a win—and all that other stuff is extraneous. In fact, whether the win will bring improvement or actually exacerbate the problems they perceive in society is not really a factor they tend to consider either.

We are, in short, in a shitload of trouble here in this country.
Thanks Frank, and you've got it exactly. I've just finished (or maybe not!) a rather unpleasant Facebook exchange with an in-law who is a Christian fundamentalists -- probably a dominionist who believes in the supremacy of God's law over man's law -- and who is incensed by a story she heard on Fox News where a pastor who converted to Christianity is about to be put to death by the ruling Mullahs in Iran. All hell broke loose when I suggested that this is what happens when there is no separation of church and state. The hypocritical contortions she had to go through ("freedom of religion but not freedom from religion") to maintain both her outrage at both Iran's Ayatollahs for putting a Christian to death for his faith and her outrage at American secular liberals for wanting to put up a wall separating church and state reminded me of the swiveled-neck Linda Blair in the Exorcist. It's true what they say: You really can't talk with some people. And when all logic disappears into the self-interest protecting fog of double standards and hypocrisy, where there are no consistent principles or standards to help guide our debates then we really are in trouble as a democracy.
Hummm I thought I had commented on this post but I'm not always as sharp as I'd like to believe. This is a very interesting conversation you and Frank are having and I can't find a single disagreement with anything either of you has said. In fact Ted the Franklin Graham interview prompted my post The Abortion of Faith, Empathy, Compassion, and Love. Please read it. I think you and I are cosmically connected my friend. And it makes me wonder if our stated designations as Republican, Independent or whatever aren't just meaningless titles we learned to attach ourselves to long ago because we didn't know any better. Clearly we are on the same plain regardless of how we got here, so why not ascribe to a more realistic designation, we are rationalists. And Frank I would say you are as well.
Desnee, you are always welcome -- however you got here!
I know I'm late to the party, but I thought I'd leave a thought...

I have been amazed that this acceptance of hypocrisy has become so commonplace within movement conservatism. There is a certain level of cognitive dissonance that has become a requirement of strict adherents of conservatism, and I think that it's what allows such blatant hypocrisy. Especially for those among the Religious Right, the direct conflict between their stated religious and political beliefs leaves a giant chasm where this hypocrisy can live. For instance, Christ commanded his followers to care for the poor, yet Conservatism says that the poor are responsible for their own state, and shouldn't be "rewarded" for being lazy. Christ said that the old law ("eye for an eye") had passed, and that forgiveness was the new ideal: Conservatism claims capital punishment is the preferred deterrent for heinous acts.

So, when someone "inside" their belief system acts in a hypocritical manner, it's not out of the ordinary. The better question may be why conservatives get so ginned up when a non-conservative gets caught in a hypocritical act. Maybe it's just another act of conservative hypocrisy...
I agree. Burke is back in vogue now among the literate pretty much for the reasons you give. It's become obvious the ideological battles are a tunnel with no cheese among those who actually have the ability to see the difference between it and "politics."

Those, of course, are the political "whores" to the "professionals" who make their mark (and millions) by demonizing the opposition. I tend to steer clear of apocalyptic thinking by either side since it's wedded to ideology. Burke knew this too, writing in the aftermath of the French revolution and the havoc it brought to Europe. It's a lot easier to find villians than heroes and demands a temperament that few possess. Our elections are won by adds that convince children.
I think you've got Burke mostly right, but a more precise way of saying things is that he hated"casuistry" in defense of any ideology, rather than ideology of any stripe in and of itself. Churchill, who revered Burke, told Britons in 1943 that post-war Britain would have to make reforms in health and unemployment insurance, education, and housing, "from cradle to grave". Here was a statement American New Dealers might think a bit much, yet Churchill (and Burke) saw no contradiction in believing in the ideal of England's stories past, on one hand, and the need to move forward, on the other. What they despised were the self-appointed arbiters of right on wrong among left-wing intellectuals. Churchill (an agnostic on the God thing) believed that self-declared left-wing politicians would betray the Liberal vision he had championed since his days with Lloyd George. And under Attlee and Bevan, they did, and ruined the British economy in the process.

I, too, worked for Bill Weld's campaign, and I, too, feel my Republican party has been hijacked by the Sky God people. But liberals must be aware that their visions and ideals have been hijacked and distorted by so-called liberal politicians who are really just oligarchs draped in flowery liberal phrases, as much so as the so-called Conservative pols who are really oligarchs hiding behind the "bootstraps" and "self-reliance" rhetoric, and further muddled by this Jesus tripe. If the Repubs would only jettison the Christ wing of the party, I'd return. I'd add, re: Ben Sen's comment, that the literate have always read Burke, and further, as our students become less literate with each generation, Burke--and Locke, Hume, Dickens, the whole gang--will simply disappear, because his thinking is anathema to the oligarchs, left and right, who seek a society comprised of the fat, dumb, and happy to take care of from cradle to grave.
Thank you TheBadScot for that wonderful summary of Burke et al.

Beware the oligarchs, left and right. Rules to live by! I'm sure our paths crossed lo these many years ago before the Sky God people took over!
I haven't taken much from Burke other than the typical observations about the French Revolution versus Paine's Rights of Man and that his was a liberalism within a monarchical system. Aside from that difference, that rights descend from convention rather than from our concept of natural rights. His view of ideology is something I just learned, and it makes sense in that politics has to be guided, to a great degree, by ideology, and law is necessarily ideological. Ideology is a reduction of philosophy to a conclusion, and there's no such thing as a nation of philosophers, justifying political acts through epistemology. Common citizens have no ability of or use for philosophy. Law may be drawn from philosophy, but its conclusions have to be axiomatic -- the law is the law.

When Kirk declares his conservatism to not be an ideology, and in fact a force against ideology, he's speaking of a conservatism of being, the intellectuals influencing the policy makers along the lines of tempering progress with the continuity of traditional institutions. A modern Burkian objection to a French Reign of Terror.

In that configuration, conservatism was described, properly, as the tail on the liberal kite. Though the philosophy of American conservatism is liberalism, in the kite analogy the reference is to leftist liberalism, or simply left-ism in general. Kirk wasn't very political, though.

The problems came with Movement Conservatism which is, as "movement" implies, an ideology. From that point forward, the cap C Conservatism has devolved in exactly the way Kirk and his contemporaries would have described as a radical ideology. Meaning that, in a very real way, Conservatism has come to be in direct opposition to conservatism. Of all the hypocrisies ideological movements dwell in, this is our Conservative's Grandest Hypocrisy.

I've been working on a post about how that's worked out, reduced, hopefully, to a readable and easily understood piece. In other words, not nearly as complicated or enlightened as what's being discussed here.