Hypocrisy is a funny thing. We are all hypocrites in our own way, and part of being a grownup is coming to terms with how we fail to measure up to our own best image of ourselves. Few of us are as good as we’d like to be (some are, but they tend to be insufferable), and understanding our own inner hypocrite can be a healthy thing.
But out in the public forum, where its repercussions can be brutal, where professing one thing and doing another can hurt people, often intentionally, hypocrisy is not healthy at all. And if hypocrisy can be measured by the direness of its consequences, then today’s Republican party has ushered in its golden age.
None of the traditional pillars of Republican orthodoxy have survived the Trump era. Small government, free trade, strong alliances, containment of Russia, low deficits, balanced budgets, the list goes on. All have fallen with a thud, accompanied by jaw-dropping hypocrisy. Yes, their worship of tax cuts and deregulation remains fervid, but only because Trump likes those things too. Beyond that, their actions have been diametrically opposed to their supposed beliefs.
So now it’s all hypocrisy, all the time. To the point where the word itself has lost its power to piss us off.
We watch the pompous posturing of a Mitch McConnell or a Lindsey Graham or anyone on Fox News, and the nonstop barrage of hypocrisy just wears us down. It’s so in-your-face, we’ve become desensitized to it. There’s only so much outrage a person can muster in a day.
Call it “hypocrisy fatigue.” The feeling that every word out of their mouths is hypocritical, and that’s not even the worst thing about them. What’s the use of calling them out for hypocrisy, when there’s lethal criminality in plain sight?
So against this backdrop, how are we to consider Joe Biden’s current problem? A 27-year-old incident of alleged sexual misconduct that could conceivably take him down. Leaving us where? I don’t even want to think about it.
To be sure, the allegations are factually murky. As of this writing, the story seems to be fading, but that could change by the time you read this. Or something else equally stomach-churning could surface.
So it’s not so much about whether Biden did it. It’s about what if he did? Can we come to terms with our own hypocrisy in the face of the existential threat of a Trump re-election?
The questions slap us around. Would a 27-year-old incident of sexual misconduct be an automatic disqualifier for the presidency? Would it be mitigated at all by Biden’s performance on women’s issues in the 27 years since? Would it be mitigated by the fact that a known sexual predator currently occupies the White House, doing damage that makes sexual predation seem almost an afterthought? Would it be mitigated by a cataclysmic pandemic that’s being criminally mismanaged in real time?
Wait, there’s more. Do the new #MeToo standards apply only to Democrats? Must we lose an Al Franken but accept a Brett Kavanaugh, just because our moral compass works better than theirs? Do Republicans currently enjoy a license to molest, unencumbered by either moral or legal strictures?
I don’t have the answers. But the questions themselves leave a bad smell. As Ruth Marcus put it last week in the Washington Post, “Ensuring that Trump does not enjoy another four years in office may be enough to justify egregious hypocrisy, but it would be hypocrisy, nonetheless.”
Can we live with that? Personally, I’m inclined to give Biden a pass. But only because — and it pains me to say it — the ends justify the hypocrisy.
Or, as one podcast host said recently, “Joe Biden could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and I’d still vote for him.”