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Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 in Politics | 29 comments

Ideological Hypocrites (Guest Voice)

WASHINGTON — When we talk about hypocrisy in politics, we usually highlight personal behavior. The multiply-married politician who proclaims “family values” while also having affairs is now a rather dreary stock figure in our campaign narratives.

But the hypocrisy that matters far more is the gap between ideology and practice that has reached a crisis point in American conservatism. This Republican presidential campaign is demonstrating conclusively that there is an unbridgeable divide between the philosophical commitments conservative candidates make before they are elected and what they will have to do when faced with the day-to-day demands of practical governance. Conservatives in power have never been — and can never be — as anti-government as they are in a campaign.

Begin by asking yourself why so many conservative politicians say they’re anti-government but spend long careers in office drawing paychecks from the taxpayers. Also: Why do they bash government largesse while seeking as much of it as they can get for their constituents and friendly interest groups?

Why do they criticize “entitlements” and “big government” while promising today’s senior citizens — an important part of the conservative base — never, ever to cut their Medicare or Social Security? Why do they claim that they want government out of the marketplace while not only rejecting cuts in defense but also lauding large defense contracts that are an enormous intrusion in the operation of the “free market”?

The contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum is unearthing all sorts of double standards of this sort, and I salute each of them for drawing attention to the other’s inconstancies.

Santorum scored a direct hit on Romney last Thursday in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club. Both Romney and Santorum opposed President Obama’s rescue of the auto industry, a form of direct government intervention whose success Republicans (though not, it appears, Michigan’s voters) have a hard time acknowledging.

But Santorum raised a good question. “Governor Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit,” Santorum said. “My feeling was that … the government should not be involved in bailouts, period. I think that’s a much more consistent position.”

Indeed it is. Romney can offer all sorts of rationales for the difference between the two bailouts, but once he backed the Wall Street rescue, he could no longer claim free market purity. The financial bailout he thought was so vital created the very “dependency” and sense of “entitlement” within our privileged classes that he condemns when it comes to the less well-off.

Many conservatives — including, bravely, George W. Bush — pushed for the bank bailout because the alternative was a catastrophic collapse of the financial system. But having done so, could they please stop claiming they are free market virgins? They gave that up long ago.

Santorum has a long list of ideological heresies of his own to defend. They include his eagerness to win federal earmarks, a habit he shares with Romney, as The Washington Post’s Rosalind Helderman recently reported.

There is also the critique that Romney’s super PAC is making in an ad airing in advance of Michigan’s Feb. 28 primary: It attacks Santorum for regularly voting to increase the debt ceiling when he was a senator from Pennsylvania.

This is the same Santorum who supported congressional conservatives last year when they blocked a debt-ceiling increase in pursuit of more budget cuts. “We cannot continue to write blank checks that our nation cannot cash,” Santorum said — the very blank checks he freely endorsed when he was in the Senate. True, both parties have played games on the debt ceiling, but never to the point of undermining the federal government’s credit standing, as the Republicans did last year.

Of course Santorum was only doing the responsible thing when he was a senator, but he cannot really defend what he did in the past without acknowledging that what he said more recently is flatly contradicted by his own behavior.

Can conservatives finally face the fact that they actually want quite a lot from government, and that they are simply unwilling to raise taxes to pay for it?

This is why our political system is so broken. Conservatives keep pretending that they can keep anti-government promises that they know perfectly well they are destined to break. We won’t have sensible politics again until our friends on the right bring their rhetorical claims into closer alignment with what they do — and what it takes to make government work.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne(at) (c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group. This column is licensed to run on TMV in full.

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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • ShannonLeee

    It looks like Mitt was born in Michigan, but his heart belongs to Wall Street.

  • wesleypresley

    Thank you for this great article Mr. Dionne. And thanks to TMV for posting it.

  • zippee

    It’s the immaturity of their audience. They are being unreasonable in their demands for ideological purity which is impossible to live up to. Thus instead of saying “we’ll work to minimize earmarks because some are good” they are forced to say all of them are evil and then be hypocrites for advocating them for their districts. Their base wants their Social Security and Medicare but demands lower taxes. They demand across the board cuts (except for defense – defense can’t spend enough money) but then grouse about the results.

  • dduck

    Yeh, we know, they talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. What’s new, and how’s that hopey changey thing Dionne?

  • zephyr

    It’s a process dd. 😉

  • dduck

    Z, so’s a suppository, don’t mean i got to like it.

  • zephyr

    Dd, well said.. butt it’s for your own good.

  • dduck

    Excellent…………………….., LOL
    But, I don’t need too much government in my butt.

  • PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

    While Dionne has good points, I think he ignores the fact that this kind of double standard is bipartisan.

  • slamfu

    Yes all politicians backtrack on their promises, but I think the point of this one is that the current crop of GOP mainstays has incorporated conflicting promises into their campaigns to a degree that is unusual even for politicians. Basically they promise nice little sound bites that people get suckered by even though if you think about it a bit, they are impossibly contradictory. They have talking points, and regardless of whether or not they make sense, they are going to repeat and repeat them to sway the more gullible voters.

  • cjjack

    “how’s that hopey changey thing…?”

    A good question. If, that is, Obama runs again on the “hopey changey thing.”

    Yes, both parties run heavy on rhetoric. Yes, people from both parties – when eventually elected – find that governing is a different animal than campaigning, and will backtrack on campaign promises.

    Yet the difference is that Republicans, even when they’re the incumbents, will continue to run on the idea that “government is bad.” They’ll spend a campaign railing against the corruption and graft in government, participate in the corruption and graft, and then campaign against the corruption and graft in government. If they get unceremoniously thrown out of office, the very next campaign will be about how if you just let them back into the chicken coop, they pinky swear not to act like wolves again.

    If Obama ran on “hopey changey” this year, it would be ridiculous. Yet every election, the GOP runs on “government is bad.” Why is that not ridiculous?

  • Hypocrisy and double standards are in the DNA of all politicians. So is the ability to reverse stands on the issues. And it’s also bipartisan;ie Obama’s reversal on the super PACs and federal campaign funds.

  • dduck

    You tell em, RAL, and Gitmo and NYC terrorist trials, and murdering people overseas. Not that that is all bad.

  • Dr. J

    Yet the difference is that Republicans, even when they’re the incumbents, will continue to run on the idea that “government is bad.” They’ll spend a campaign railing against the corruption and graft in government, participate in the corruption and graft, and then campaign against the corruption and graft in government.

    And that’s different from Democrats how? Obama ran on a familiar platform that current government was bad, to the extent it was too locked in partisanship, too beholden to Special Interests and not doing enough for The People. And then he largely continued the militaristic and corporatist policies of his predecessors. The coming months will no doubt treat us to a variation on the same theme: government is still besieged by Special Interests, and the Democrats are civilization’s only hope.

  • dduck

    Or as I hear the Dems saying, we are still trying to kill all the cockroaches from the previous administration.

  • cjjack

    “And that’s different from Democrats how?”

    You said it yourself. Obama ran on the platform that current government was bad.

    Republicans run on the idea that government is always bad.

  • Dr. J

    Republicans run on the idea that government is always bad.

    Obviously they don’t, as EJ Dionne inadvertently admits. “Government is bad” is shorthand for a more complicated position, no matter how stubbornly he refuses to acknowledge any nuances. Even Ron Paul would get rid of only 5 out of 15 federal departments.

  • bluebelle

    Republicans say its bad but what they really mean is that government taxation is bad, aid to the poor is bad, and regulation of business is bad— they are fighting for deregulation in order to have unfettered capitalism. Same reason they are getting the millions from the Koch brothers and other big corporate backers

  • Dr. J

    Yes, Bluebelle, those are some of the nuances. No one, though, is calling for “unfettered capitalism.”

  • bluebelle

    Dr. J

    Crushing the power of the unions, lowering taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest lowering the corporate rate, and deregulation of environmental regs are huge steps in that direction. If you listen to GOP speeches all you hear is that Obama is standing in the way of free enterprise.

  • Dr. J

    Fair enough, Bluebelle, you can certainly debate the merits of the policies they favor.

    And if you do, you’ll be making a more intelligent argument than Dionne’s. He takes an oversimplified model of the candidates’ views, finds times when they depart from it, and accuses them of hypocrisy. It’s a character assassination, a Dionne staple, and a poor substitute for an argument based on the issues.

  • davidpsummers

    While Dionne has good points, I think he ignores the fact that this kind of double standard is bipartisan.

    Like Democrats talking about helping those less well off while support a mortgage deduction that only goes to those who can afford to buy a house?

    The fact is that both parties are deeply hypocritical. The irony is that most of the charges of hypocrisy are from those who hypocritically ignore it on their side while crying about it on the other side.

  • dduck


  • zephyr

    “No one, though, is calling for “unfettered capitalism.””

    Right. Because it’s already here.

  • Dr. J

    Right. Because it’s already here.

    I hear your frustration.

    Do you really believe that, though? If you believe we have literally unfettered capitalism, you will support getting rid of our labor laws, environmental laws and product safety laws. You’ll put an end to our accounting standards, the tort system, and the corporate tax code. You’ll abolish bankruptcy courts, the patent office, the customs office, the DEA, the FDA, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. You’ll eliminate the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and most of Agriculture. If all these amount to a negligible constraint on capitalism, there’s no point keeping them around.

  • dduck

    DJ, I can already hear some people saying, isn’t that what the Repugs are trying to do now.
    The Reps/capitalists are devils and evil incarnate.

    This is the partisan mindset some (and increasingly more)are thinking, while the other side is thinking that May day will become a national holiday.

  • Dr. J

    Yes, dduck, partisanship is raining down heavily, at least on these pages and in Dionne’s columns. IMHO, the best counter to it is to focus back on the facts.

    Which means citing what candidates are *actually* saying rather than some caricature of it, and taking it in context. Most of what candidates say is too vague to interpret (eg “government is bad”, or “fairness is good”), and even specifics often sound like saber-rattling (eg “close the department of energy”). What can one glean from any of that? Not much, other than they’re candidates for political office.

  • roro80

    “I can already hear some people saying, isn’t that what the Repugs are trying to do now.
    The Reps/capitalists are devils and evil incarnate”

    dduck: Use thy critical thinking skills to tell me why these two sentences, when placed one after the other, are cracking me up this morning.

  • dduck

    Because the essence of comedy is to recognize human weakness and give it a tweak. Example, slipping on a banana peel can be dangerous but it sure can look funny (I think it is our sadistic side).

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