Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh yes it IS hypocrisy.

John Cloud at Time has an essay suggesting that Larry Craig isn't guilty of hypocrisy, just weakness.

Assume for a moment that Craig and Haggard actually believed what they said--that homosexuality is sin. They spent most of their lives fighting for the conservative cause. But in Craig's case, the Idaho Statesman has published allegations that there were at least three other slipups involving men, beginning in 1967. What if, like the radio host who gets fat but commits to losing weight, the moralizers were trying through their "pro-family" endeavors to expiate their lustful sins? You may think they are wrong about homosexuality (I do), but that doesn't make them hypocrites.
But this is an explanation, not an excuse. And it doesn't excuse the right-wing anti-gay positions Craig has made such a proud part of his record.

Yes, Craig deserves pity. Watching the self-destruction of a career is never pretty, and the pain is only increased when it happens in public. And despite the bravado of Craig's press releases about getting the verdict reversed, his public career is almost certainly over.

And if he had simply been living a quietly closeted life and got outed, that would be one thing. But these incidents have apparently been going on for years. Cloud makes something of a big deal about how important sequencing is--that if you claim you're going to lose weight, then eat pizza every day for a week and gain 5 pounds, you're a hypocrite. But if you eat pizza and gain weight, then announce you're going on a fitness plan, you're virtuous. Fine. By that criterion, Craig's a hypocrite.

Craig deserves pity. But he also deserves a measure of contempt. Not only for the lie he lived, but for the effect his rhetoric and his policies and his votes on the Senate floor had on people who were living with far more integrity than he. He got far too much mileage out of the "family values" (i.e. anti-gay) meme to deserve sympathy for being exposed.

How much pity, how much contempt? Hard to say. There is a certain amount of self-deception in the closet, and Craig appears to have had more of than most. Cloud describes a series of psychology experiments in which people adjusted their beliefs to match their behavior, no matter what the cost:
They had crossed over from hypocrisy to something more pathetic: self-deception. In this light, getting married, having kids and advancing conservatism looks more like a heartfelt, doomed effort to change sexuality than a hypocritical ploy.
Well, I suppose. Though Craig didn't have kids, he acquired the entire family ready-made when he married. (The kids are his wife's, from her previous marriage.) (Hmmm, 'previous marriage,' how did that come to be acceptable for the 'family values' crowd?) And his votes weren't just on tax cuts. Craig never missed a chance to posture himself as the guardian of society from the Homosexual Menace. Yes, the self-loathing driving that behavior must have been awful. But the fact that he bore it, rather than standing up and admitting what he was doing--or bringing his behavior under control--shows a remarkable lack of integrity.

Cloud gets one thing right, though:
Because their decision making is usually more diffuse, institutions aren't as susceptible to cognitive dissonance. Corporations and political parties routinely say one thing (the GOP is the party of strict values) and do another (the party let Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who unlike Craig holds a swing-state seat, get off with a simple apology after he was linked to a female prostitution ring). The GOP's moralizers deserve some pity. The party itself, not so much.
Craig deserves some pity. The GOP leaders helping run him out of town, none at all. Particularly if the rumors swirling about some of them turn out to be true.

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