08 September 2009

STOP PRESS: Partisan Hypocrisy Discovered!

It took some digging, but Republican researchers have found an instance in which Democrats responded with hostility to a Republican president giving a talk to public school students. It happened in 1991, and Democrats actually went so far as to demand an investigation of a supposed waste of taxpayers' money for what some deemed a campaign photo op for George H. W. Bush. In the end, the General Accounting Office vindicated Bush, whose talk was no more and no less innocuous than the present President's lecture today.

What's the moral behind this particular piece of history. I don't doubt that Byron York, the winning researcher, means it as a proof of Democratic hypocrisy. He makes the same point I did about neither speech really expressing a hidden agenda, but the implication of the entire article is that since Democrats once questioned the elder Bush's right to harangue children, it's wrong for them (or anyone else, I suppose) to criticize anyone who questions Obama's right to do likewise, or his motive.

I think there's a qualitative difference between the criticism of Bush's talk, as reported by York, and the hysteria generated by the announcement of Obama's. The Democrats of 1991 seem to have acted with typical partisan cynicism. They characterized the Bush speech as a photo op, as if it were aimed as much at adults (i.e. voters) as children. But today's reactionaries have accused Obama of wanting to brainwash and indoctrinate children. Until York or anyone else can find a Democrat, liberal or leftist who made that kind of charge against George H. W. Bush, his comparison doesn't quite fit.

The larger implication of York's column is more distressing. Faced with a backlash against the hysterical opposition to Obama's school talk (and no other adjective does it justice), York digs into the files to find evidence of hypocrisy --as if that gets the maniacs of today off the hook. While he is personally reasonable enough to say that Obama's talk was harmless, his invocation of partisan hypocrisy can have no other effect than to vindicate the hysterical opposition. If Democrats criticized a Bush speech for any reason, then it must be okay for Republicans or people further to the right to criticize an Obama speech, not for the same reason, but for any reason that they choose. Confronted with a mass outburst of unreason, as any objective person must see it, York is less interested in condemning it, except in passing, than in saying, "so are you but twice as much."

Partisan hypocrisy is a key component of the more pernicious concept of partisan immunity. Partisan immunity is claimed by those who claim that their actions are being prosecuted for political or partisan reasons alone. An inevitable element of that argument is the claim, implicit or not, that the partisan prosecutors are hypocrites who would have done the same things had they been in power. Once these claims are made, the objective injustice of the act in question becomes irrelevant. The partisan immunity principle, which may be peculiar to bipolarchies, allows no distinction between the merely cynical sniping of Democrats at President Bush and the objectively mad raving provoked by the Obama speech, and no objective appraisal of each phenomenon. What's needed in all such cases is an authority all can appeal to that is indisputably non-partisan. Whether any can be found or created at this late moment is a question on which the nation's future depends.


Anonymous said...

I do believe it is impossible to find such an objective judge. Not because I think there is no one who is not partisan, but because in any given case where such a person would have to judge, those he judges against would simply accuse the judge of being partisan. I do think that the bipolarchy has blinded people in this country to that extent.

I will say that, historically speaking, Lincoln hit the nail on the head when he said a house divided against itself cannot stand. And unless reason begins to prevail, the house we call the United States is doomed to collapse.

hobbyfan said...

Lincoln, though, was quoting from the Bible.

Meanwhile, in today's world, the Chicken Littles & Screaming Mimis complaining about President Obama's address to the school children are being enabled by those who already have an agenda against the President. It's funny, though, that there wasn't the same kind of hue & cry 18 years ago when President Bush I gave a similar address. I guess that's because at the time he was looked upon as more of a father figure. President Obama looks more like the nice guy next door who's always there to lend a hand.