Saturday, November 04, 2006

Introspection: The Remedy for Hypocrisy

Over at, Nathaniel Frank, a Senior Research Fellow at the Michael D. Palm Center at the University of California, has posted an insightful article on the latest sex scandal to rock the embattled U.S. Republican Party.

Note how once again a social commentator has made connections between the Republican leadership and the Catholic hierarchy when discussing hypocrisy.

Following are some excerpts from this particular piece, with thanks to my friend Lydia for alerting me to it.


Haggard, Foley and GOP Preach Against the Vices They Can’t Shake
By Nathaniel Frank
November 4, 2006

Are all homophobic Republicans secretly gay? The leaders of the party with a penchant for condemning others would do well to look inward. It’s time to call them on their hypocrisy.

In the latest sign of rank hypocrisy among social conservatives, the president of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals has resigned amidst accusations that he had a relationship with a male prostitute. Ted Haggard, who is married with five children, is a frequent adviser to the White House, and a staunch advocate of banning marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

[. . .] What are we to make of a reigning conservative regime that lists the following inglorious claims to fame: Strom Thurmond, a notoriously racist senator who turned out to have a black lover; a Republican indictment of President Clinton's sexual license headed up by a team of philanderers; a Congress full of divorces passing an anti-gay law known as the “Defense of Marriage Act”?

In the pundit corner, we recently saw three giants of conservative moralizing unmasked as incapable of restraining their own vices: William Bennett turned out to be addicted to gambling, Rush Limbaugh to drugs. Meanwhile, Ralph Reed, the hand-picked youthful leader of the religious right, was quietly helping the corrupt lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, enable everything that religious conservatives oppose: casinos on Indian reservations and compelled abortions and sex slavery in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory.

And this is not even to mention the Catholic Church’s strident indictment of sexual freedom as it shuffled its own cadre of child-molesting priests from parish to parish.

The cover-ups and power grabs, of course, are simply raw politics. But the pattern here may reveal something more striking than the obvious reality that those in power will sacrifice almost anything to stay there. The Republican Party appears to be chock full of people who make a life of preaching against the very vices they can’t shake. Why?

For answers to the puzzles that seem to infest the conservative worldview, we might dust off our old Freud texts. From the father of psychoanalysis, we learn the concept of “reaction formation” which describes how we react to our own unacceptable impulses. Reaction formation is a classic “defense mechanism” – an unconscious behaviour designed to ward off uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes we react to our discomfort with ourselves in harmless ways, such as when a man cheats on his wife and brings her flowers to ease his guilt. Other times, the reactions can be punitive – we judge and condemn others who exhibit the very impulses that we, ourselves, cannot control. This is frequently the case when dealing with lust or greed.

[. . .] Reaction formation is one of the few explanations that help us make sense of all the hypocritical moralizing: the preachers are preaching to themselves!

What is the solution to this misplaced effort to restrict others’ behavior? For Freud, it was therapy. But more broadly, it’s a dose of introspection, an ability to look inward, and to shift focus from others’ behavior to our own. If hypocrisy in American political life is, in part, a symptom of inadequate introspection, if our fear that we can’t control ourselves leads to an unconscious effort to control others, we’ll continue to reach for a magnifying glass when what we really need is a mirror.

[. . .] Social conservatives must be called on their hypocrisy, not simply as a matter of justice, but so that Americans can fully understand the roots and impact of the politics of moral judgment.

Virtue, it’s true, is necessary to a healthy democracy; but it begins inside.

Nathaniel Frank is Senior Research Fellow at the Michael D. Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and teaches history on the adjunct faculty at New York University's Gallatin School. His publications on gay rights and other topics have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Republic, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Lingua Franca and others.

To read this article in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed post, What the Republican Leadership and the Catholic Hierarchy Have in Common.

No comments: