Hypocritical Thinking

It’s almost too easy pointing out instances of blatant hypocrisy in politics (whether it be from the right or the left) and I wonder if anyone really cares. Haven’t we become entirely numb to this sort of thing by now? Isn’t it almost expected that the very nature of our little game of “democracy” dictates that virtually all politicians (and pundits for that matter) will be dissembling frauds?

Although it may be irresistible at times, I have to admit that the endless game of highlighting egregious duplicity and intellectual dishonesty on the part of one or another political “team” and attempting to score points from it, the exercise gets pretty wearisome. After all, if there’s no serious consequence for duplicity, or in the case in point here, not even the slightest embarrassment by politicians at cynically making an opportunistic u-turn, then what difference does it make?

19 Replies to “Hypocritical Thinking”

  1. With the exception of the current Conservative party, I think we’re fairly free of this kind of hypocricy in Canadian politics.

  2. How one special election in Mass. changes things.
    What you have here is Republicans now treating Obama the way Obama treated them before Mass. If Maddow doesn’t like it, too bad.
    It wont get any better after November and the Dems know it, that’s why they are desperate.

  3. And the gold medal for missing the point goes to Feyenoord.

    Feyenoord scored well with the judges for his classic partisan take of “It’s okay because they did it too”. I think he may have lost some points on speed, recording only the third quickest response time, but speed only accounts for 25% of any competitors score. Certainly, he took it away with his “it’s okay if we do because it is helping us win”: it’s an oldy but he pulled if off and no doubt received extra points for difficulty and complexity in a brilliant contortion of pretzel logic and not just ignoring the point of the post and clip but in one short 49 word comment to so efficiently and precisely and eloquently provide such an exemplary example of exactly what Maddow was talking about. Well done, Feyenoord. Truly an admirable performance.

    The other competitors must be so disappointed. To have worked so hard and waited so long and to have fallen so far behind Feyenoord at the 2010 Neverland Hypocrisy Games.

  4. Duplicity is common in the political world. I think the dividing line is under what conditions the reversal takes place. The expectation that one should have a position and tirelessly stick with can become very detrimental (ie. the Iraq War). It really depends how much of those reversals depended on political gaming and expedience and an actual admission that the position was wrong from a policy standpoint. Here, it is quite clear that the Republicans are far more motivated by the former instance than the latter.

    In Canada, we have a lot of examples of this. The Chrétien Liberals reversed their GST position probably because they came to the realization that a consumption tax was more ideal in slaying the deficit. For the Conservatives, they believed taxing income trusts would prevent more loss of government revenue and a prevention of more trust conversions. In those two cases, those decisions were probably less motivated by political expedience as both incurred a political cost.

    I think that is defining difference: The validity of the charge of hypocrisy can be largely measured by the political cost associated the reversal.

    When you hold both positions practically simultaneously (as with that Republican congressman), however, well, you get what you deserve.

  5. Addendum:

    As for your question of what difference does it make, well, I would submit that most of these charges of hypocrisy are a shotgun approach to discrediting the opponents. Eventually, one will stick. The frequency could be remarkably low, but that is probably why it is done many times.

    Public policy and politics, I find, attain an unstable equilibrium more often than not. They are often held in counter to one another, so it is practically a given that politicians have to be fluid and salesman-like.

  6. “In those two cases, those decisions were probably less motivated by political expedience as both incurred a political cost.”

    How would you characterize:

    – promises of a fixed election date by someone who calls elections at the first expedient opportunity

    – promises for an independent budget office responsible directly to Parliament by someone who makes the budget office (and its budget) responsible to the government

    – promises of vetting Supreme Court nominees in public hearings by someone who appointed a good judge but without any public hearings

    – promises of no unelected senators by someone who appointed one on his first day in office

    – promises not to amend or undermine provincial equalization accords with NL, NS and Sask by someone who made future equalization deals conditional on abandoning them

    – promises to reduce spending by someone who broke spending records and then broke his own record all before the recession

    – promises to make the Access to Information Act stronger by someone who has broken records in terms of access denials, access redactions, access delays, and access reprimands from the Information Commissioner

    I could go on, but I suspect you are beginning to get the gist of my point.

  7. Not to say that we don’t have mass media steeped in political bias up here, but using a Fisher Price-like example (ie strong colours, flashing lights) from the U.S., I feel a sense of defeat when the people pointing fingers of accusation on sites such as Fox News and Media Matters are just as clearly guilty of wilful obfuscation of reality (with the goal of providing a POV which conveniently matches their masthead).

  8. @jkg
    Point well taken on the Income Trusts, GST, you can add Free Trade as well. However the Liberals reaped very little political cost on the FTA-GST hypocricy.
    The Tories took the political hit for those two major structural changes in Canada’s economy.
    The Liberals were rewarded by the surpluses it produced.
    Its all politics. They all play the game, Maddow only see’s one side.

  9. jkg – I see your point about the reasons for the reversing ones self, but I think you have to look at both ends of the turnaround to fairly assess culpability. The income trusts situation is a good example of that. I applaud the Conservatives for coming to their sense and levying a tax on the trusts. But they should have known better when they were making the promise to begin with and deserve our scorn for that. Politicians need to be held accountable for the reckless and negligent promises they make in the heat of an election campaign regardless of whether they come to their senses later and make the most pragmatic choice. So I don’t think you can just look at the genuiness of the reversal but the genuiness of the initial promise, etc.

  10. “So I don’t think you can just look at the genuiness of the reversal but the genuiness of the initial promise, etc.”

    A perfect example of that is the Harper and Flaherty gong show on residential mortgages.

    Now, they are claiming to be protectors of financial responsibility and living within your means, taking credit for tightening the rules two years ago by eliminating 40 year no down payment mortgages and announcing further tightening yesterday. Claiming at the same time that they have a public policy duty to do this since the government has guaranteed some of these loans.

    Funny that they should be taking these positions because back then in 2006, it was Harper and Flaherty who introduced 40 year mortgages, who introduced no down payment mortgages, who (under the heavy lobbying of major US mortgage insurers) agreed to guaratee mortgage insurance claims for which the taxpayer is on the hook for hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.

    If Rachel Maddow is having a chuckle over the hypocritical flip floppery of Republicans taking credit for introducing measures that they opposed, she would find Harper’s Conservatives a barrel of laughs for taking credit for opposing measures that they introduced.

  11. Shucks, I was really trying to be objective and even handed about this. I guess I should have been a little bit more clear. I was simply giving the policy reasons that both Liberal and Conservative reversals.

    Ted (and KC)

    Some of the promises that you outlined are good examples of reversals defined by political expedience in which taken together, certainly is damning to the CPC but placed in the time in which they were done, the political cost has been very minimal. I suspect that is very deliberate to preserve political capital for any other broken promises or policy surprises.

    That is why when assessing the overall hypocrisy of parties or politicians, these things have to be taken in aggregate more than on a case by case basis. When you amass the reckless and broken promises weighed against sensible policy reversals, the image is more clear as these people would fall on a scale. If a politician finds himself or herself on the lower end, it means that their woefully incompetent or circumspect such that their decisions have also resulted in both political and policy cost, which is something like the 40 year mortgage issue would partially point to.

    I was using the Income Trust example because I suspected this was something they thought they had to do. I, in fact, disagree wholeheartedly in their approach given that the U.S. was able to deal with this problem much more efficiently 10 years before.

    As for the Liberals political cost, I would have to disagree that it didn’t hurt them. Their embrace of the FTA and of the GST contributed to a gradual exodus of more progressive liberals from the party. The GST stuck with the party right until Martin’s demise, since Harper was able to make GST reduction a significant plank on his platform.

  12. Ted — What do you think the chances will be of our Conservative friends weighing in on Flaherty’s latest intervention into the mortgage market to impose some probity and curbs on speculation as meddlesome, odious “nannyism” or whatever they’d blast it as being if it were a Liberal government imposing the same restrictions on borrowing?

  13. They’ll weigh in the way they weigh in every time there is no reasonable defence of Harper abandoning yet another core principle. They’ll say the Liberals did it worse and thank goodness the Liberals aren’t in charge because they would be making it worse. We’ve seen Feyenoord at it already. And I can’t even blame them too much at this point for wanting to live in Fantasyland. It is tough living in a world where reality has such an anti-conservative bias.

    I’m sure they’ll also manage to talk about how bad Obama is and how the Democrats are to blame for the mortgage crisis in the US and isn’t Harper so ahead of it all and brilliant for turning the taps off now before a crisis. You read that here first.

  14. One of my all time favourites from the Conservatives, partly because it is so surprisingly under-reported, comes from this quotation from Flaherty when he was provincial Minister of Finance:

    Hon Mr Flaherty: The member opposite again raises the question of reducing the sales tax. I must say that with respect to tax cuts, I agree with Paul Martin. With respect to reducing the GST federally and the RST provincially, I also agree with the federal minister, and we’ve talked about this. All you get is a short-term hit, quite frankly. You accelerate spending. You pull it ahead by a month or two. It has no long-term positive gain for the economy.

    On this side of the House — and I say this with respect to the member opposite — we’re interested in long-term, sustainable economic growth and the creation of permanent jobs in Ontario. That’s what grows the economy. That’s what helps people. That’s what helps retailers in Ontario, not short-term, knee-jerk actions.

  15. We’ll just take it as read then. 🙂

    But you raise an interesting question: however will Ignatieff and the Liberals manage to overcome the “yeah, but they did it too” critique that’s used to excuse all manner of Conservative bad behaviour?

  16. If I wanted to be cheeky about it, I’d have Iggy say “C’mon now, Stevie. I can’t be held responsible for past Liberal actions. I wasn’t even here!”

    But more seriously (I’ve always got to have that “more seriously” part of a post, eh Ti-Guy?!?!) I think that is where Harper and co. have hurt themselves the most – or one of the most – with prorogation. They have so overused and in this case misapplied the “the Liberals did it too! the Liberals did it too! the Liberals did it too!” mantra, that I’ve really seen the media start to pretty much ignore them on that front or challenge them on it. It has been a really interesting couple of months.

  17. @jkg
    The Liberals milked the “slaying of the deficit” to the n’th degree. Remember, it would not have been possible without eliminating of the export killing manufacturers sales tax and replacing it with the GST. Several Liberal PM’s (Pearson, Trudeau) tried to get the MST replaced but failed. When Mulroney finally succeeded he took the political hit, as with the FTA.
    The Liberals won in ’93 opposing both the GST and FTA, kept both, and won successive majorities based on its “handling of the economy”. That’s reaping the political reward of a policy you fought tooth and nail against.
    I am not complaining like a whining Rachel Maddow, its politics. It hasn’t changed and never will.

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