Rules for thee and not for me
I’ve never been all that moralistic about public officials.
While I am certain that there are good people who hold public office, in my experience the truth has been that power and influence attract only the worst among us.
So, generally speaking, I try not to express any outrage about the various affairs, divorces, sexual dalliances, substance abuse issues or legal hangups that politicians of all stripes experience.
I avoid complaining about these things because I have long since given up putting my faith in anyone as a representative of morally upstanding integrity. They’re all rotten.
I think my opinion is generally shared by most Americans, at least in principle. Yet our inherent tribalism causes us all to act with incredible hypocrisy, based on what team we perceive someone to be on, and what team we think we are on.
I’d love for that hypocrisy to end.
In the 1990s, we had Bill Clinton, and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky as a litmus test.
Republicans (including me) like to think that, at the time, we were really outraged that he lied to a grand jury and perjured himself, not that he had an affair. The reality is, the primary driver of disgust with Clinton on the right was about him using the White House as his own personal dirty hotel room.
You can think otherwise if you like, but George W. Bush’s main argument in the 2000 election was that he would restore “honor and dignity to the Oval Office.”
Democrats, in contrast, told America that a politician’s personal failures were irrelevant to their job performance, and all that mattered was whether or not that he was doing his job well.
But neither side was making an argument of real conviction. They were making a tribal argument of convenience based on their politics. Yes, both of them.
Post-Clinton, Republicans have long since stopped caring about general scumbaggery when it is their own politicians that are demonstrating it. Democrats, in contrast, couldn’t wait to go after a whole host of Republican politicians, judges and celebrities on the issue of personal integrity.
Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a Democrat, for instance, complain about Donald Trump’s supposed lack of moral character.
But personal failings, scandals and demonstrated lack of character don’t seem to matter as much when Democratic politicians are in trouble. Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring — all Democrats — are all still in office, despite disturbing accusations and admissions of racism and sexual assault. Democrats did little more than send out virtue-signaling press releases expressing outrage before going right back to what they were doing and pretending the whole thing never happened.
If those three had been Republicans, though, nothing would have stopped the avalanche of vigils, state house sit-ins and special interest group-funded ads not only demanding their departure, but accusing all Republicans of being complicit in their behavior.
And now we have Joe Biden, and the many accusations that he has inappropriately touched women over his long career in politics. The party that has made the Me Too movement a systemic part of its political strategy is now in the awkward position, again, of ignoring and dismissing such accusations, because it is one of their own.
The point of my complaint is not to single out the Democrats. Lord knows I can (and often do) complain about the ridiculous hypocrisy on the right when it comes to certain people like Roy Moore.
My point is only this. Let’s establish a standard, whatever it is, and let’s apply it evenly, to all figures of all political persuasions, regardless of what tribe we are in. Let’s stop vacillating between positions depending on who we are talking about, embarrassing ourselves along the way.
Hey, a guy can dream, right?
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.