Hypocrisy and shamelessness

A recurring argument here and in our circles on Facebook has concerned how much to make of Democratic hypocrisy on limits of power in the course of allying against the Trump administration. In this morning’s LA Times I make the case that hypocrisy is far from the greatest worry about political morality, and that there’s something to be welcomed in the out-party’s usual rediscovery of liberal norms. The bigger concern is the rejection of norms altogether.

Published on:
Author: Jacob T. Levy
  • Jeff Sylvester

    This is excellent.

  • DST

    If such hypocrisy was just a wavering attempt at principled action, you’d have a point. But the current Democratic appeals to limited government power and a restrained executive are false and opportunistic. They don’t actually want to limit government, they just want their opponents to fight with one hand behind their back until the Dems have a chance to regroup.

    Its not just hypocritical; it’s dishonest. And you fell for it.

    • Krinein_ev

      This assumes the Dems have a hive mind. Some opposed executive overreach in the Obama era, and some didn’t. Amongst the latter, many are more troubled by the substance of his actions than executive overreach per se. Amongst those that are newly alarmed by executive overreach, some will change their minds once a Dem is in the White House again. In the meanwhile, shouldn’t you welcome them to the coalition?
      Or is politics just about virtue-signaling?

      • DST

        To be clear, I’m not talking about voters, I’m talking about politicians. Dems in Congress don’t need a hive mind, they just need Schumer, Pelosi, and other leaders.They seem to walking in lockstep at the moment.

        As to your question, I remember the “coalition” of libertarians and progressives during the Bush Administration. I remember Obama stating emphatically that the president wasn’t a king. And I also remember that as soon as the Dems controlled both the legislative and executive, they starting ramming through as much illiberal legislation as their allies could write. I remember that as soon as they met effective Republican resistance, any opposition to progressivism became “obstructionism.” And I remember Obama ruling by executive order during his second term.

        Democrats don’t want libertarians to be allies, even temporary ones, they want us to be useful idiots to propel them back into power. And writers like Levy, desperate for page clicks, seem to relish the role.

        • Krinein_ev

          There were some useful things passed, like a more explicit codification of the torture ban.
          Also, the fallout of the Nixon collapse show that political opportunism can lead to substantial reigning in of the executive.
          Your alternatives are to work with Dems on the offchance you’ll get useful reforms, or consign yourself to political impotence.

          • One of the enduring mysteries to me is how a majority of self-identified libertarians consistently and persistently believe that the Democratic party is more non-libertarian than the Republican Party, when there is no good evidence to support this worldview. They continue to insist that Ron and Rand Paul are libertarians, when their actions at best demonstrate an inconsistent application of libertarian principles, and at worst reveal them to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, authoritarians sailing under a flag of convenience.
            Gary Johnson finished down among the dead men again this election cycle (and I voted for him again), so nobody is going to convince me that current libertarian messaging has made any headway in persuading enough electors to vote differently. The “either you agree with me or we have nothing to talk about” and “you’re just a statist” approaches need to be consigned by libertarians to the dumper truck of history. No mass market political party ever got that way by running theory-based purity tests and doing its best to piss off 40+% of possible supporters.

          • Theresa Klein

            Particularly in the Trump era, there is really zero reason to think that Democrats are any less libertarian than Republicans. Trump supports eminent domain, civil asset forfeiture, deficit spending on infrastructure projects, and opposes free trade. That substantially reduces the tally of issues that the Republicans were better on, to the point that the Democrats positions on criminal justice reform, the war on drugs, and other civil liberties issues make them essentially even.

          • DST

            I think both Pauls are far from completely libertarian, but by the authoritarian standards of the US Congress, they seem quite principled and fairly libertarian. The GOP doesn’t have many people that fit that mold, but does include Amash and Massey as well.

            Are there members of the Democratic caucus that reach even that stunted level of libertarianism? Is the idea of economic liberty compatible at all with the modern left generally, and with the Democratic party specifically?

          • Windy Wilson

            This is from my cellphone, so I will be brief and conclusively, but I think we can be assured the answer to both of your questions is “no”.

          • Windy Wilson

            Conclusory! Autocorrect is the spawn of Satan and the destroyer of arguments and bon mots and snark!

    • Farstrider

      I hope you were making the same argument about Republicans in 2009. Because it was the exact same scenario but in reverse.

      • DST

        I don’t know that it was the exact same scenario, as things are quite different than they were 8 years ago.

        But the general thrust of your post seems valid, that we as libertarians should be just as skeptical of the right as we are of the left.

  • geoih

    Or perhaps it was always nihilism on both sides simply testing its limits, while masquerading as hypocrisy.

  • Krinein_ev

    Hypocrisy is generally a disenguous argument. If you agree with the new course of action, you should be elated. If you disagree, argue against it on its own terms.
    Since all humans are prone to hypocrisy and self-serving reasoning, the charge is self-refuting.

    • Graham Shevlin

      Hypocrisy is an allegation of personal behavior defects. It has nothing to do with the merits of an argument. Even hypocrites can make compelling arguments.

  • Putin’s regime today is accused of doing far worse: murdering critical journalists, assassinating political dissidents, committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria?

    You really have me scratching my head here. You say that Putin is accused of doing “far worse,” but then the specific things you mention are all things that I could easily cite the US government as having done (except replace Chechnya with Yemen or Iraq).

    The problem with your argument is that you don’t seem to be aware of how far gone the US government actually is in this area. You’re disturbed by Trump’s rhetoric, but that’s only because you would be disturbed if you acknowledged the truth about the US government’s crimes. Rather than cautioning against a belief system that you are merely imputing to Trump based mostly on your imagination, you should be warning people about how close to despotism we really are – not because of rhetoric or belief systems, but because of what our government is doing right now, live, in the flesh!

  • Farstrider

    Here’s the thing that people always overlook: both Republicans and Democrats have switched positions on this. The complaint is that Democrats used to support broad executive power when a Democrat was in office, and now oppose it because there is a Republican in the office. But the same is true of the GOP, just in reverse: Republicans used to oppose broad executive power, and now support it, for the same reasons. To the extent hypocrisy matters to you, your complaint needs to be about both sides. Singling out one side for criticism is just more hypocrisy.

    • Graham Shevlin

      Generally, the approach while in government is to do what you think you can get away with. There are various levels of cynicism that can be applied to that approach of course, all the way up to the Richard Nixon approach of “it’s not illegal if the President does it”.

  • ThaomasH

    “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue”