Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond

Jeremy Waldron writes:

When American politicians are caught having illicit sex – like Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as governor of New York in 2008 after it was revealed that he was using a call-girl when he went to Washington, or Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, who got into trouble when his aides discovered that he was really visiting a divorcée in Buenos Aires when he said he was hiking in the Appalachians – a lot of people say that it’s not the cheating or the fornication that bothers them. It’s the hypocrisy; or it’s the lying. They say that the zeal for prosecuting prostitution rings which Spitzer had displayed when he was attorney general made him a hypocrite when he availed himself of the services of the Emperor’s Club VIP as Client No 9. ‘This is really about hypocrisy and not sex,’ according to the Republican Party consultant who tipped off the FBI about Spitzer’s extra-curricular activities. A columnist in the New York Times said that the Sanford affair ‘would be a private matter … if it were not for the appalling hypocrisy of yet another social conservative saying one thing while doing another’. (Sanford was a strong proponent of ‘family values’.) Or remember what people said about President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s. It wasn’t the oral sex with a young White House intern that they minded; it was that Clinton lied about it. This is what puritans sound like when they’re trying to be liberals.

(LRB 6 January 2011)

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