One of the debates that divides the political right and left concerns so-called moral relativism. Generally, the right is characterized as standing upon the higher ground of absolute moral standards while the left, overcome by "postmodern" values, sinks into a quagmire where there are no uniformly solid values.
Of course, this is gross misrepresentation, mainly perpetrated by talk-radio types. You only need look at socialist governments like Cuba's to see how puritanical the left can be. My own early experience in the New Left political movement quickly discouraged me because of encounters with nearly religious zeal and covert sexism and homophobia.
Likewise, you can look at thinking conservatives and see they are not all moral absolutists. The recent decision by the mainly conservative Supreme Court to overturn sodomy laws is a good example of an action that relativizes an old taboo.
It is a particularly virulent and damaging form of hypocrisy to advocate high standards for the community and practice the opposite. Some conservatives seem to be so devoted to this lately that they're staging real-life theater of the absurd. Surely this year's Emmy for Best Hypocritical Performance by the Media goes to Fox News. The blatantly conservative network whose pundits harangue us about absolute constitutional protections -- like freedom of the press -- recently sued comedian/author Al Franken.
Their laughable effort was to get an injunction against Franken's new book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Fox's lawyers claimed that the book's title violates the network's trademark of the phrase "Fair and Balanced." U.S. District Judge Denny Chin all but laughed aloud as he dismissed the silly suit, remarking on the obvious hypocrisy: "It is ironic that a media company that should seek to protect the First Amendment is instead seeking to undermine it."
The wholly frivolous lawsuit is, by all accounts, the result of a tantrum staged by the network's biggest mouth, Bill O'Reilly, who claims to occupy a zone where truth is never subjected to spin. In actuality, of course, he does more spinning than Penelope did while awaiting the return of Ulysses. Franken documents a particularly embarrassing case in which O'Reilly repeatedly claimed that "Inside Edition" won two prestigious Peabody awards while he was its host. He used this lie to defend the show when critics questioned whether it was "fair and balanced." Franken, who had the temerity to confront O'Reilly on C-SPAN, documents numerous other lies by the likes of Wingnut Diva Ann Coulter and God-Fearing Sean Hannity.
One of my favorite quotes in the book is Hannity telling Franken: "I don't believe in making ad hominem attacks."
When I did work for WGST some years ago and Hannity was at the station, he continually queer-bashed me until I went on the air and wondered if a straight man so preoccupied with my sex life wasn't disguising an appetite for anal sex with me.
Apologists dismiss their idols' hypocrisy as the ordinary failure to which all people with high standards are vulnerable. OK. I can even grant O'Reilly the possibility that he was misinformed -- highly unlikely, but let's just assume it's so. An ordinary person, confronted with his screw-up, ultimately will apologize and try to set the record right. (Even Clinton did that.) In the world of the genuinely pious, a sin requires confession. One may even stop to question the viability of the values by which one has attempted to live. But a hypocrite has no such needs. O'Reilly's response to Franken was rage, no apology -- just the pugilistic, "Go after me if you want." The battle's all he values.
In reality, of course, it was O'Reilly who "went after" Franken through Fox's lawsuit, which exposes the network's trivial regard for the First Amendment. Hypocrisy, then, is the blackest expression of moral relativism because its subject willingly ignores simple factual truth, not out of a genuine moral lapse, but to intentionally advance an agenda for personal gain while damaging the greater community. We saw it with several Republican philanderers like Newt Gingrich during the moralistic impeachment of Clinton.
We see it now with frightening regularity in the Bush administration. Claiming to be a "compassionate conservative," Bush hypocritically acts with stunning predictability to enhance the conditions of the wealthy while claiming to act for the average guy. The war in Iraq was undertaken with a completely bogus rationale. When Condoleezza Rice's evocation of the mushroom cloud and Bush's associations between Hussein and al-Qaeda were exposed as hollow, Bushies simply created a new rationale: ending tyranny -- one that they do not apply elsewhere in the world. Talk about head-spinning moral relativism!
Many Americans, seduced by lies, eventually see through the hypocrite's game. A great majority opposed the Clinton impeachment while the hypocrites tried to behead the emperor for their own sin. Now Bush's ratings are plummeting as Americans realize his "compassion" is reserved for the treasuries of his cronies and that his war has caused more harm than good.
And Franken's book is on the bestseller list. Maybe things are changing.
Cliff Bostock's website is www.soulworks.net.
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