04 April 2014

Double standards and ulterior motives

As everyone knows, Republicans compulsively accuse Democrats, as well as liberals and progressives in general, of using double standards in political discourse. In crudest form, the argument is that Democrats denounce Republicans for doing the same things Democrats themselves do when they have power. The crude assumption is that double standards are simply a matter of partisan dishonesty, but Republican columnist Jonah Goldberg suspects that double standards go a little deeper than that, while remaining double standards. Like many fellow partisans, he's rallying to the defense of the Koch Brothers, whom Democrats are using this year as straw men to scare their base into voting and, perhaps more importantly, contributing. As usual, Goldberg scents a double standard in the demonization of the Kochs, though what he finds may be better described as a blind spot. He objects above all to the assumption that the Kochs advocate policies and support candidates primarily to enrich themselves. The objection is twofold. First, he questions whether people as rich as the Kochs really need to go to the lengths they've gone as donors and organizers just to get richer. This is a naive objection we can dismiss instantly. Goldberg's more challenging objection looks like a typical double-standards argument. He asks why people like the Kochs, if not Republicans in general, are presumed to have "ulterior motives" -- to be motivated primarily by greed rather than disinterested benevolence or even ideological zeal -- while Democrats rarely are.

Goldberg's argument is that the presumption of ulterior motives is wrong. Thus when he mentions how much money Al Gore has made off his climate advocacy, or raises the theoretical possibility that the disgraced California state senator Leland Yee promoted strict gun-control measures to steer business to his alleged gun-running operation, Goldberg is quick to reject ulterior-motive explanations in both cases. Gore's sincerity is unquestioned so his profits are unchallenged, while Yee seems too stupid to have been more than a "greedy hypocrite." While these are his own conclusions, Goldberg finds it "vexing" that the media draws the same conclusions. Democrats get "the benefit of the doubt," i.e. they're never presumed to take stands or make policy primarily for personal profit, while Republicans are nearly always assumed to do so -- except, presumably, when their religious fanaticism or bigotry override their profit motives. 

Goldberg is onto something, since suspicion of ulterior motive explains much of what looks like double standards. In foreign policy above all, Democrats justify hawkishness little different from Republican policy with the implication that Republican wage war to profit themselves and their corporate cronies while Democrats are concerned only with national security, the rights of small nations, the responsibility to protect, etc. etc. Republicans really have only themselves to blame for this entrapment, for when you declare yourselves the uncompromising champions of capitalism and free enterprise, it can't help sounding like you've just said "greed is good." Goldberg will excuse us if we don't buy his assumption that the super-rich at a certain point stop wanting to get richer. It may well be that the Kochs and their friends objectively believe their policies best for the country as a whole, but I doubt that such conviction comes without a belief that they'll benefit personally and more than most people. For more than a century now, Republicanism has defined itself against a "progressive" oppressor itself defined by a desire to limit how rich people can get. Regardless of what policies a Republican advocates, it's reasonable to assume that he wants to get and keep more money. That doesn't mean Democrats are unworldly or unambitious, but they do seem more deferential toward limits imposed by democratically-elected governments than Republicans are.

To be fair, let's meet Goldberg halfway by giving neither party and no politician the benefit of the doubt. If anyone actually does give Democrats the benefit of the doubt, that's probably a mistake. It would be foolish to assume, once Republicans are labeled the party of greed, that Democrats can't be greedy. As long as there's political power there's potential for abuse, and no ideology immunizes anyone from the temptation to abuse that power. Vigilance is essential to the well-being of a democratic republic, while it'd be dangerous to ignore or dismiss warnings of corruption for partisan reasons. If each party accuses the other of corruption, it's more likely that both are right than that only one is. It's nice of Goldberg, I suppose, to give the benefit of the doubt to Democrats, but a little less trust of (or blind faith in) one's own side is a good idea across the board.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

and repugnicans are correct in saying so. Democraps do seem to have dual standards - but then, so do the repugnicans. Which only further proves what hypocrites they truly are.