In a recently released, secretly taped conversation with a friend, Pres. Bush spoke of how he wouldn't fire gays because he was himself a sinner. The nature of the remarks themselves did come in for some comment in the media, and to be honest the ‘I’m a sinner’ defence is a little too much of a catch all. For example one might just as easily say “I can’t fire homicidal maniacs from the cabinet because I’m a sinner”. Not that I’m personally implying that being gay is equivalent to being a homicidal maniac. Still, it occurred to me that one aspect of the President’s behaviour was not as widely commented on. The consistency between what he had said in that conversation and what he has done in office, and how rare such consistency appears to be in public life.
Odd as it may sound he was saying something in private and demonstrating in public something that we could do with seeing more of in public life. Consistency is sadly lacking in the practice of modern politics. In part because too many people are primarily, indeed we might say solely concerned, with ‘winning’, even if that means completely changing their own expressed views in order to do so. For me this can only be possible with a complete denial of that which a person should be in politics for. What I believe people should be in politics for is the furtherance of ideas they actually believe in. Politics is meant to be the contest of ideas of how we can live our lives, and it is up to the voters to decide which ideas are most appropriate, or which sit most comfortably with them. The voters should do this after being presented with these ideas by people of ability who have given their all to show why these ideas that they have chosen to articulate are the best and most appropriate to a given situation. If the person presenting the ideas simply changes their mind in order to get themselves into a position of power or influence then what is the real difference between they getting elected and someone else who originally held those beliefs? Being a partisan politician and expressing at the limit of your voice, to stretch your abilities to attain a position to be able to do what you hold in your heart to be true and to use your mind and your skills to defend those same beliefs is part of what constitutes the democratic politics of the republican model we have.
Hypocrisy is often mistakenly identified in people who say do as I say and not as I do. In actuality true hypocrisy is to expect people to do something that you do not believe to be the right thing in the first place. If the President was being properly hypocritical he might have commented that he saw nothing wrong in being gay but that he was going to fire people to assuage the Christian right or that he thought being gay was a terrible thing but than he wouldn’t be taking any action because it was likely to be politically dangerous to do so. I seem to recall Neal Stephenson making a somewhat similar point in The Diamond Age. He probably made the point a lot better though.