How to understand one third of all political arguments
I came across this (tongue in cheek) lament about the hypocrisy of the other side, on Volokh Conspiracy (but it’s floating around the internet):
Why is the other side of the debates I’m on always so hypocritical? They always jump on what my side says, and yet they willfully ignore all the faults on their own side. Let’s be honest about the double standard: The other side gets away with stuff that my side would never get away with. It’s just like the other side to be so deceitful: They’re always looking to score any advantage they can. People like that drive me crazy, and it seems like most of the people on the other side are just like that.
It’s a perfect distillation of the main point of Ch. 4 of The Righteous Mind (and ch. 4 of The Happiness Hypothesis). But blogs being blogs, people then set out to debate it. One commenter offered the perfect summation of what happens in maybe a third of all arguments about things that Obama (or any president) does:
It isn’t just a matter of each side claiming that the other side is hypocritical, and you have to figure out which (or both). The following often happens:
1) Right criticizes Obama for doing X
2) Left (correctly) points out that Bush did X, and Right didn’t care then
3) Right (correctly) points out that Left cared when Bush did X, but don’t now.
Of course, the same happens in reverse with the Left initiating the first complaint. Essentially, both sides are actually admitting hypocrisy, but for some reason they only care that the other side is hypocritical. This is a truly horrible form of discussion, and a neutral observer does not need to think hard to figure out which side is “right,” because both sides are wrong.
Amen. It is indeed striking that the response to the charge of hypocrisy is rarely apology, it’s usually “but, but, but… you do it too.” That’s what you’d expect if we all carry around in our heads a little inner press secretary, or inner lawyer.
Update: By amazing coincidence, Ramesh Ponnuru published yesterday a much more extensive and deeply insightful version of the “they’re all hypocrites” rant. His (tongue in cheek) rant should be required reading for all citizens. (hat tip to Independent Whig, below)
Update #2: By even more amazing coincidence, A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times Dispatch, wrote an essay similar to Ponnuru’s the day before his was published. This one’s called “The Wrong Side Absolutely Must Not Win”. (Hat tip to Brian Keegan, below)