Rarely in the history of this republic has hypocrisy been a public policy position. As Rochfoucaud noted hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays virtue. But suppose virtue has nothing to do with it. Suppose hypocrisy becomes a way to deceive and deflect criticism.
Two recent examples prove this point.
Recently President Obama argued that there was confusion surrounding the events in Benghazi that led to the death of four Americans including the ambassador. He contends that every effort would have been made to save Americans if we knew the extent of their parlous state.
However, we did know something about conditions in Libya since a request was made for reinforcements in the embassy months before the actual attack.
The president also indicated he was aware of the terrorist nature of the assault and acknowledged it as a terrorist orchestrated event. Yet when the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice spoke about the matter with the approval of the White House, she referred to it as an incident inspired by a film (aka trailer) dealing with the Prophet Mohammed. In fact, this was the standard line from the White House for several weeks until this position was thoroughly discredited.
President Obama said every effort will be made to get to the bottom of this incident. Yet the memos describing the events in Benghazi were altered. Former CIA director Petraeus expressed frustration at the new, scrubbed talking points, noting that they had been stripped of much of the content his agency had provided.
Secretary of State Clinton, during her testimony said “what difference does it make.” Presumably the testimony will not bring those Americans back to life. But it makes a difference for those who believe in the truth and the manner in which government conducts its affairs. Igor Stravinsky once noted that “the old original sin was one of knowledge, the new original sin is one of nonacknowledgement.” Alas the new sin surrounds us.
In a similar vein, President Obama claims to be outraged over revelations the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) used its coercive power to penalize conservative and tea party groups. The president went on to say an investigation was underway to ferret out those responsible for these actions at this “independent agency.”
What the president failed to note is that the IRS is not an independent agency. It is under the control of the same president who claims to be outraged by its practices. This is a little like a baseball manager saying he is outraged by the fact his players are using corked bats to gain a hitting advantage even though it is against baseball rules. Doesn’t he have to assume responsibility for this violation?
Already there are calls from Secretary of State John Kerry to “move on” from Benghazi. More recently, Democratic leaders said now that the president has acknowledged the unfair practices at the IRS, it is time to put that matter to bed. However, many Americans cannot move on until outstanding matters on both fronts are addressed.
Hypocrisy will not disappear from public life with both parties often culpable, but rarely do we find ourselves in a position where hypocrisy is the policy. The truth is a casualty of casuistry and double-talk is the language of politics. Now we see that through this shell game lives can be lost and institutions can be damaged.
Politics may not be bean ball, but it should be more than sophistry. At the moment, however, that does not appear to be the case.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
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