Opinion | Political hypocrisy shouldn’t stay the norm

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

Joe Biden screwed up.

But despite his disastrous handling of the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Democrats were quick to point the finger in directions other than our commander in chief. Democratic insider David Rothkopf tossed the blame to former President Donald Trump.

“Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious,” he said. “And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history.”

I won’t pretend my first instinct wasn’t to do the same thing. I scoffed at the outspoken Republicans on my Facebook wall who suggested Biden resign or that the blame is solely his to bear. While I watched a 20-year war end without a real sign we had ever been there — except for the Taliban’s use of American military equipment — I wondered why it was so difficult for me to admit that Biden dropped the ball.

During the Trump administration, I wondered why Republicans refused to stand up to their party’s figurehead when he abused his power to influence the 2020 election or when he contributed to an insurrection. I knew when Trump said he could shoot someone in plain sight and not lose his voter base, he was right.

In many ways, Biden did just that. The fact of the matter is that his mishandling of the withdrawal cost American lives and jeopardized national security. But why does admitting that feel like a betrayal? Why was I so quick to judge Republicans unable to see Trump’s flaws while doing the same thing within the Democratic party?

Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, points to political tribalism manifesting more political hypocrisy.

“It’s a function of our extreme partisan polarization, and really, it justifies anything,” he said. “Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of politics.”

Hypocrisy is inherently intertwined with our political system. The moment you call someone else a hypocrite, you fall further down the rabbit hole. Nuance, though, is essential to the efficiency of our political process — we must learn to realize that our “side” can be wrong and, thus, can learn to do better. To unlearn the deeply embedded practice of hypocrisy, we must recognize its omnipresence and practice taking in and dealing out in-group critiques.

We’re not just hypocrites for hypocrisy’s sake. It’s quite an effective short term strategy. We are a deeply myopic society, meaning we prioritize avoiding short-term loss at the expense of a potential long-term gain. In our politics, this means we want immediate preservation, rather than long-term success.

Defending Biden now to avoid losing immediate voter support is costing us the possibility of genuine change and accountability down the line. It’s a never-ending cycle that keeps us fixated in the present — in cutting our current losses — while destroying the possibility of a brighter future.

Niccolò Machiavelli, one of the most highly regarded political theorists of all time, actually argued in favor of hypocrisy in his 16th century book, “The Prince.” His theories depended on deception in politics. Long after “The Prince” was published, we heeded Machiavelli’s call for governance by hypocrisy.

In his 2018 book, “Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, From Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond,” David Runciman, professor of politics at the University of Cambridge, argues Machiavelli’s assessment still bears weight today.

“It is actually more cynical to pretend that politics can ever be completely sincere,” he said. “We should accept hypocrisy as a fact of politics — the most dangerous form of political hypocrisy is to claim to have a politics without hypocrisy.”

In some senses, I agree. Hypocrisy is a critical part of our political system, especially as we become increasingly polarized. The same people who proudly chanted, “My body, my choice” about wearing masks now support Texas compensating citizens who report women seeking an abortion.

Mitch McConnell fervently blocked former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee but defended his obligation to push Trump’s through. And now Democrats, who stood in fury when Republicans did not stand up to Trump, aren’t acknowledging Biden’s failings in Afghanistan as just that — a failure.

So yes, hypocrisy is evident in every aspect of politics. But to blindly accept its presence rejects individual accountability. Yes, Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Ted Cruz are all hypocrites — but why does that mean we must follow suit?

Calling out members of our own group is hard, but it’s ultimately essential. Hypocrisy may be effective in the short term, but we are on a dangerous path toward political inaction to save face. Solidarity with your party is important, but solidarity with one’s moral compass is much more so. 

Julia writes mostly about sociopolitical issues. Write to Julia at [email protected].

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