Well, Senator Larry Craig has resigned today. And the left are celebrating their latest scalp.
Judged solely on its own, his offense is minor — even trivial. He apparently kinda came on to an undercover cop in a bathroom — also known as an “attempted George Michael.”
The biggest crowing about his fall came from those who lambasted him as a hypocrite, and are endeavoring to use him to tar his former colleagues and fellow Republicans.
I’m not going to bother to defend Craig. What he did was boorish and stupid, and he’s paying a hefty price for it. I have no sympathy for the guy whatsoever.
But I’m going to use him as an example — an ideal one — to assail the forces who are rejoicing in his disgrace.
It seems that the greatest weapon on the Left these days is the charge of “hypocrisy.” Never mind that it’s rampant on their side as well — John Edwards claims to be sympathetic for the poor while collecting five-figure fees for lecturing about them and building a mansion off his career as a trial lawyer; Al Gore zipping around the world in private jets to lecture about global warming; Hillary Clinton collecting scads of money from the rich while espousing socialism; Barack Obama insisting that he will give “the fatcats” no breaks, while back in Chicago one of his biggest donors has called in numerous favors from the Junior Senator; Ted Kennedy championing the raising of the inheritance tax while he had his mother declared a resident of a state she hadn’t visited in well over a decade purely for tax purposes; and so on, and so on.
But playing the tit-for-tat game is pointless. As the old saying goes (and here it applies), “an eye for an eye soon leaves everyone blind.”
Instead, I want to look at the crux of the “hypocrite” argument, and put forth the case that it’s almost always invalid.
The “hypocrite” argument, in one important way, reminds me of the “chickenhawk” argument — the notion of attacking supporters of the war in Iraq because they themselves aren’t currently serving on the front lines. It’s a very popular theme, especially among the most virulent of the anti-war crowd.
But, at its core, it’s fundamentally dishonest.
The whole point of the “chickenhawk” argument is not about refuting the points made by the pro-war side, but in discrediting the debaters themselves. It’s a classic ad hominem attack, gussied up in fancy language and elaborate excuses.
The attacks on (now former) Senator Craig are much the same. They are using his past votes, his past statements, his past actions to pummel him in light of his arrest. They are utterly ignoring whether or not his public actions were correct or not, merely that they conflict with his private conduct.
Back during Bill Clinton’s impeachment, he started using the phrase “politics of personal destruction” to describe the attacks on him. While it’s debatable whether or not that was apt in his case (I think it was a factor, but a minor one), I think it perfectly describes the “hypocrite” argument.
The ouster of Senator Craig was in no way proportional to the magnitude of his offense. Other members of Congress have committed far more serious offenses while in office, and have been excused. My favorite example has to be Rhode Island’s Representative Patrick J. Kennedy. In 2000, he assaulted an airport screener who insisted that the rules of air travel apply to everyone, even him. And last year, he pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence of drugs. By any measure, Patrick Kennedy is more of a public danger than a dozen Larry Craigs, but there have been very few demands for his resignation.
And as far as the hypocrisy issue goes… everyone’s a hypocrite. We all have moral lapses, whe our conduct doesn’t live up to our own moral standards. Lord knows I’ve had my own share of failings, and anyone who denies the same truth about themselves is lying.
Craig got caught acting in direct contravention with his own public stated opinions and beliefs. And he’s paid a heavy price for it. But that has absolutely no bearing on the positions he challenged. What he did — or did not — do in that airport bathroom has no bearing whatsoever on his stance on gay marriage, for example (I happen to disagree with him, and have repeatedly argued in favor of gay marriage here), or any other issue.
Because the issue was never about him anyway. The argument is NOT inseparable from the arguer.
All he did was give his opponents a cheap victory. A victory they did not earn, and did not deserve.
And with that, we are all a little poorer. Not for the loss of Senator Craig from public service, but from yet another win chalked up to the “politics of personal destruction,” another scalp collected by those who prefer to win their arguments by removing the debater, not by triumphing on their own merits.
I hope you choke on it.