I had the opportunity to review Win McCormack's new book "You Don't Know Me - A Citizen's Guide to Republican Family Values", a new offering published by Tin House Books. Featuring a red-faced elephant caught with his pants down on the cover, the back announces "FINALLY, THE TRUTH! Political Hypocrisy, Sexual Hanky Panky, and Downright Deviance Brought To You By The Family Values Crowd."
McCormack's main theme is that the Republican Party is riddled with hypocrisy concerning "family values" issues, particularly those concerning sexual morality, and he provides some 100 examples, ranging from the well known episode concerning Idaho Senator Larry Craig (my sentimental favorite to be John McCain's running mate), to those of much lesser known GOP office-holders and a few staffers. I'm largely in agreement with the author's overall thesis, but just as I finished reading the book John Edwards confirmed the National Enquirer's reports of his extra-marital trysts. This came too late to include him as Example Number 101 of such hypocrisy.......oh, wait.....maybe I've got him confused with Joe Lieberman concerning any political cross-dressing. But I digress...read on.
I'm one who has very little use for moral hypocrisy and phony self-righteousness; on the other hand, I'm equally perturbed over loosely-constructed "guilt by association" and stereotyping. The tension between these two frequently tugs at me to re-examine....maybe "refine" is a better term.....my feelings about this whole area of "do as I say, not as I do" as it pertains to public service. Reading McCormack's presentation, coupled with the Edwards episode, became another opportunity for refinement.
First, a few remarks on the author's format: McCormack makes no claim in his book to be a social scientist, although he devotes the first 25 pages to a discussion of what drives people who preach rigid "moral values" while behaving oppositely. He cites Theodore Adorno and others for the proposition that there is an underlying explanation for such contradictory behavior most folks condemn as hypocritical. Coupled with a brief history of how the Republican Party came to be increasingly receptive to groups such as the late Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, McCormack then devotes the remainder of his work's 300 pages to his selected 100 or so examples.
His format is quite clever: He groups his selected GOP sinners into 26 alphabetical sections, with each letter beginning with a quotation. Example: Under the letter "E", he first quotes Wendy Vitter, wife of Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who despite his own public pronouncements concerning "Family Values", has acknowledged some marital transgressions involving a prostitution ring in our nation's capital. Wendy says:
"I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbit than Hillary. If [Senator David Vitter] does anything like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony....trust me."
Then under each letter McCormack proceeds to list a number of topics. Under most of these he relates the moral failures of one or more selected Republicans. For example, under "H", he lists "Harassment, Sexual", "Hillary Duff", "Hospital Visit", "HotMilitaryStud.Com", "Hypersexuality", and finally "Hypocrisy".
The "Harassment" topic deals with Bill O'Reilly's alleged dalliances, as well as those of former Oregon Republican Senator Bob Packwood. The author also reminds us of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings, where there were allegations concerning his affinity for pubic hair in a Coke bottle, and finishes with a story about a former Speaker of the Virginia House of Representatives. Under "Hypocrisy", he merely says: "See All of Above and Below". All of that makes for a light read and a touch of humor tying together a number of varied stories of moral transgression, almost all of the sexual variety.
The book was an enjoyable and reasonably light read, and if you are itching for something to put on the coffee table for your like-minded friends to reinforce their beliefs that such hypocrisy abounds within the ranks of the Grand Old Party, this one serves that purpose quite well.
Having said that, any quick Google search on the author's name produces a number of items identifying him closely with the Democratic Party, including a maximum contribution to the John Edwards campaign. So his work can hardly be termed a detached academic study addressing the phenomenon of Republican moral hypocrisy. In fairness, he doesn't claim otherwise. But while I generally agree with his overall "thesis" linking a GOP beholden to a base linked to claims of moral righteousness, I do have some mild difficulties with a number of his examples as supporting his basic message.
Clearly, in choosing his examples, McCormack properly includes some of the more notorious Republican politicians, like the senator from Idaho (when he's not ambassador to the Minneapolis airport restroom), and other GOP luminaries whose not-always-so-private behavior is in sharp contrast with their sanctimonious public sentiments. But on the other hand, many, if not most of his examples simply list the tawdry conduct without any specific reference to what that individual may or may not have said concerning moral righteousness. Moreover, in a few instances, maybe by pure oversight, McCormack doesn't even specifically identify an individual as a member of the GOP. I guess we are simply to assume that since they are in his book, they are members of that party.
It may well be that each and every individual listed has to some degree made self-righteous, homophobic, "family values" pronouncements on the way to seeking public office or espousing a particular position. But the author's failure to say so in each instance causes me to think he may have swept with a bit too broad of a brush. While it may well be true that in general, any affiliate of the Republican Party who commits moral and/or legal transgressions, particularly when they involve sex, should be tainted with a "The GOP is hypocritical" epithet, my own dislike, as an openly gay man, of the Righteous Right's stereotyping of the GLBT community in terms of "guilt by association", leads me to want to be more cautious and even-handed in my own judgments about other groups in general, even those I may tend to think of as "my enemies".
So, for example, when McCormack includes California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his compilation, I struggle to think of instances where the Governator ever wrapped himself in sexual morality and impeccable wholesomeness when campaigning for California's top executive position. If Schwarzenegger did, I'm open to correction.
Likewise, I wonder to what degree many of the other lesser lights cited in the book went out of their way to paint themselves as pinnacles of virtue. McCormack's message seems to be that specific and egregious instances of hypocrisy aren't really needed to make a general condemnation of the Grand Old Party. Simply being a card-carrying member in addition to having committed some moral transgression suffices to make his listing.
I'm not ready to make such a large leap of logic.
In fairness, McCormick himself deals with an argument that, in effect, both Democrats and Republicans can be guilty of such duplicity. He observes:
"There might be those who would counter - in fact I think it is safe to predict that there are those who will counter - that an equivalent amount of research would disclose a similar number of sexual malefactors on the Liberal/Democratic side of the political spectrum, that this sort of behavior is not confined to Right-wing conservatives. And indeed sexual sinning is obviously not confined to any particular group of people; on the contrary it seems clearly endemic in human nature."
But he nonetheless insists, citing some scholarly researchers, that the brand which pervades the current Republican Party does not have its counterpart on his own side of the political fence because the propensity to espouse more authoritarian/dogmatic views of human behavior simply isn't present in the generally more relativistic/liberal views in the usual Democrat circles.
While I agree with that, I nonetheless think that in failing to methodically set out, for every one of the persons he puts on his list of examples, a contrast between their own moral pronouncements and their own practices, he makes the overall case less persuasive.
But then I may be holding him to a standard of statistical research and accuracy that he himself doesn't claim. He didn't set out to draw a random sample of Republicans; nor does he specifically assert that a random sample of Democrats would produce demonstrably different set of results concerning this kind of hypocrisy. And again in fairness, he doesn't claim otherwise.
And as to how John Edwards fits into all of this I'll admit I haven't completely made up my mind. I haven't searched for any of Edwards' prior statements concerning either claimed GOP moral hypocrisy or his own affirmative claims of moral superiority to be able to say his own failings refute the central theme of McCormack's book. But certainly the Edwards episode shows that hypocrisy concerning moral issues isn't confined to one political party. And I suspect that at some point the author's counterpart in the GOP may come forth with 100 or more Democrats in a book seeking to at least even up the score.
If so, who am I not to have my own "fair and balanced" coffee table to put it on?