After reading about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s confession of an extra-marital affair today, I have to ask if it really matters whether a politician is a hypocrite.
No Shortage of Political Hypocrites
Reuters had an interesting piece this morning entitled “Live on Television,” in which it discussed Governor Sanford’s confession and a number of similar incidents. The article lists a number of social conservatives who have committed hypocritical sexual acts, including John Ensign (Nevada Senator), Mark Foley (former Congressman), and Larry Craig (former Idaho Senator). [Source: Reuters]
Undoubtedly, it is hypocritical for a social conservative to be unfaithful to his spouse.
There are also, of course, hypocrites among liberal politicians. Peter Schweizer wrote an entire book on that subject, entitled Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy.
But Does it Matter Whether a Politician is a Hypocrite?
In my opinion, there are two schools of thought about whether a politician’s hypocrisy matters. Most U.S. citizens either believe that (1) elected officials are morally superior people who wisely make decisions for the people or (2) elected officials are just like the rest of us and should strive to represent the interests of the voters they represent.
If you hold to theory number 1, then yes, it does matter whether a politician is a hypocrite. If Governor Sanford cannot live up to the principles you claims to uphold, then maybe he is not the type of morally superior person who we should put in office.
If you hold to theory number 2, then no, it does not matter whether a politician is a hypocrite. Whether Governor Sanford lives up to conservative social ideals is simply irrelevant. The important thing is that he continue to advocate conservative social policies, because that’s what his constituents want.
I would prefer that politicians of all persuasions be faithful to their spouses. Whether we like it or not, though, some politicians will be hypocrites. In fact, I would go so far as to say that hypocrites are more likely than non-hypocrites to run for political office in the first place. The only question is whether revealed hypocrisy should mandate their removal from office.
The public desire to remove hypocrites from office might say something good about our society (i.e., that most of us do abide by certain values). But if we get rid of every legislator who is a hypocrite, who will write the laws?
Schweizer, Peter. Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy. New York City: Broadway, 2006.
Whitesides, John. “Live on Television: U.S. politicians confess sins| U.S.| Reuters.” Reuters.com – World News, Financial News, Breaking US & International News. 25 June 2009 .