The Hollow Morals of the Right

We’re repeatedly told by the far, far-right that without religion, and the guidance and incentive structures it offers, there can be no morality, and no hope of a controlled, steady society. We should hope they’re wrong — and, still more, note that the strongest proponents of this theory are also the best counterexamples.

By this point it’s almost tacky (and boring) to laugh at fallen fundamentalist politicians, so for the latest example, Mark Souder, save for that short note, we’ll skip past that and get into something more interesting. Concerned Women for America, a hilariously misnamed anti-abortion group, rushes to Souder’s defense, thusly:

Those of us who have worked with Mark over the years know him to be a kind and thoughtful legislator. If Mark Souder is capable of sexual misconduct, it could happen to anyone. The frat house environment on Capitol Hill does nothing to encourage accountability. Most Members do not live with their families while they are working in D.C. during the week and have even ditched common rules of etiquette that even major corporations follow such as office doors with windows or careful examination of employee/boss interaction.

I remain thoroughly unimpressed with a morality that depends for its vindication on a lack of alternatives. Virtue never tested is no virtue at all — the socialist Billy Bragg has something on straight-laced Souder, here — and if the best defense that can be mustered for Souder is that no-one’s watching in D.C., not only is he weak, but the expectations imposed by an external, rule-based morality are far, far too low. Here, the “liberal” alternative — a morality predicated on the duties we owe each other by virtue of sharing a society, a civilization, and a common destiny — might be preferable, as more visibly continuous, and less escapable. A man can atone for a sin against his God, and privately, too, thus forestalling any real accountability to real victims; but where forgiveness comes from the community, it’s harder, if not impossible, to attain, a difficulty that’s likely to make you think twice ex ante. Just a thought.



  1. I’m curious. Let’s say this had been a conservative who never gave speeches about family values or abstinence or anything like that. Would he still be a hypocrite? Would you care nearly as much?

  2. I’d acre as a married man with daughetrs who may eventually marry. I’d care as a citizen who wants his “leaders” to be the best examples of our collective morals as possible. And I’d care as a man who is so sick and tired of other men doing the wrong thing but then claiming they had no choice.

    1. I would agree Phillip. When Clinton did what he did was when I started thinking about registering as a Republican. But I also think that both the media and the blogosphere give liberal indiscretions much more of a pass because there isn’t the charge of hypocrisy since liberals don’t harp on family values. I don’t think that lessens the crime.

      1. True, not harping on family values does not lessen the “crime”, but the hypocrisy of one who wants to legislate family values exacerbates it. Adultery should not cost anyone their job in my office, but it would be a different case somewhere like Focus on the Family.

        As public figures, all politicians are expected to meet certain standards of common decency, but those who wish to legislate their morality are willingly playing a different game.

        1. So…if I am a politician and I promote harsh penalties for gun crime and then I get caught with an illegal machine gun in my closet, should I be treated differently than a politician who never talked about guns and is caught in the same way?

          1. MarshallDog · ·

            If you stake your politcal career on being anti-gun and it turns out you keep a cache of illegal weapons in your house, I would hope you would pay by giving up your office.

          2. Adultery is not a crime (improper workplace relations and prostitution being other matters). The rule of law is that to which we are all universally held accountable, not morality.

      2. MarshallDog · ·

        I really don’t think liberals are given any more of a pass than conservatives. In fact, off the top of my head, I can think of three conservatives (Sanford, Vitter, and Ensign) caught in sex scandals that have refused accountability for their actions, even though they were deeply entrenched in the moral majority. I can think of two liberals (Spitzer and Edwards) that got caught and are now done politcally speaking.

        1. I’m talking more about the media and the punditry.

          1. And ultimately we should care about them why, exactly? Both have done SO MUCH for our country after all . . . .

            1. Every time a GOP leader stumbles there’s a smugness from the Left I just argue that a mistake is a mistake and one’s prior actions don’t compound it.

            2. Mintman · ·

              Well, that is just silly. That is what the word hypocrisy is for!

              Of course somebody who, say, builds his career on the idea that drugs are bad and druggies are irresponsible and ought to be jailed should be treated differently when caught stoned than somebody who builds his career on campaigning for the legalization of marijuana (not by the law, obviously, but by the press and the voters). For the first, it makes him look entirely ridiculous and noncredible; for the second, it would just be consistency and the bravery to live by their own convictions. That’s a no-brainer if there ever was one.

              (Full disclosure: as you may remember, I do not come from the USA but from a country where we have several openly gay high-ranking politicians and look with bemusement upon your gestapo-like scrutiny of politicians’ private lives.)

              1. Just to kinda help clarify – any official punishment (arrests, government censure) should be independent of what you claim your stance on a subject is. BUT, what people think of you is ABSOLUTELY going to be affected by context. You really think that the public is wrong to take it differently when the NORML party’s candidate is caught with pot vs. a candidate who has been vocal in her opposition to pot? No, they’re going to think that person is dishonest and full of poop.

                1. Ahhh…but let’s follow the logic. Back to my example of a trunk full of guns. Why would the law not give an anti-gun politician a tougher sentence than someone who was pro-gun? Why would that be wrong?

                  1. Because all men are equal before the law, but not before the electorate.

  3. James F · ·

    It’s getting so that train is never late: “Family values” Religious Right types get caught doing the very thing they decry.

    He’s a vocal creationist, too, which makes the Schadenfreude all the more piquant.

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