Our leaders should strive to be paragons of virtue, yet their ranks are populated by hypocrites. I have long argued that hypocrisy is the mortal sin of politics. Never, it seems, is that more evident than in today's political environment. Webster's Dictionary defines hypocrisy as pretending to be what one is not...a pretense of virtue. We have a lot of pretense and little virtue.
A virulent and growing level of cynicism amongst the general populace can be traced directly to both the real and perceived degree of hypocrisy exhibited by our elected leaders. And while consistency is valued it is not necessarily the sine qua non of respected leadership as bona fide leaders can and often do adjust their positions for perfectly valid reasons. But the self-serving baseless adherence to ideological dogma that passes for rational thought today has rendered our governmental system in a state of perpetual paralysis.
Flip-flopping on an issue oftentimes is perceived as a function of political convenience but giving those who are guilty of such transgressions the benefit of the doubt it is both conceivable and acceptable to adjust positions on complex public policy issues in light of evidence/data that previously was not available to the decision-maker. Of course absent these conditions flip-flopping for the sole purpose of courting favor with a prevailing popular consensus is a pretense of virtue and thus hypocrisy. Changing positions is not ipso facto an expression of hypocrisy, but situational valuation of foundational issues is. Our system is rife with not merely inconsistencies but outright contradictions. It gives new definition to the axiom that where you stand depends upon where you sit. And were it not so tragic it would merely be comical.
Infusing the term virtue in most political discussions within the contemporary context of ideological purity is dangerous to say the least, however hiding behind the veil of cowardice and corruption that pervades the current political environment makes a mockery of the pretense that virtue is even a consideration in what passes for political dialogue today. People are simply fed up with the pettiness, self-aggrandizement and hypocrisy that govern our political system while conditions for the vast majority deteriorate without any pretense of redress. One only need look at the levels of voter participation, especially in off-year elections, for validation of the point that we are experiencing an immense crisis in confidence in both our leaders and the institutions intended to represent us.
Hypocrisy knows no partisan bounds; it is practiced assiduously on both sides of the political aisle but seems to be particularly prominently on display in the consistently vicious animosity between the Executive branch and Congress. This of course is perfectly natural when the stated goal of one of the actors in this modern-day Greek tragedy is to ensure obstruction leads to no action whatsoever. We are not talking about obstruction as a tactic but rather a goal. It is hard to imagine anything being more self-destructive than a strategy to prevent action when action is required. Yet Congressional seats are increasingly filled by those whose stated goal is to prevent anything from happening.
Certainly the Founding Fathers could never have envisioned such a state of affairs when they painstakingly put together the template for our current constitutional system. The real hypocrisy lies in the rejection of progress by those who profess to offer great patriotic deference to the governmental structure they are simultaneously committed to destroying. The current flaps over personal emails and in general transparency, Congressional interjection into foreign policy prerogatives usually reserved for the Commander-in-Chief, and the abjectly dismal politicization of the Supreme Court all represent a perversion of representative government as envisioned by the architects of the Constitution. Patriotism required making the hard choices necessary to benefit the greater good, anything less is, well, unpatriotic.
The hypocrisy of democracy is on full display daily and millennials in particular register their disgust by refusing to participate in the charade while simultaneously a majority of states are aggressively pursuing a strategy of openly denying minorities the right to vote. As we celebrate the historic anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery we as a society are witnessing a wholesale evisceration of the Voting Rights Act that was spawned in reaction to Bloody Sunday 50 years ago.
Hypocrisy is a cancer eating away at the fabric of our government, it facilitates a vigorous retreat on the humanistic victories secured by the blood of those who were beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and it is preventing a rational and sane approach to mitigating the ravages of the most dangerous phenomena confronting our children and grandchildren: namely, climate change.
Changing one's mind in light of new facts is a sign of growth, bowing to the politically expedient winds of change is a sign of cowardice. Today we are in the grips of a political elite afraid of its own shadow, our Supreme Court is an instrument of ideological terrorists, and our governmental infrastructure is built on the mounds of money required to ensure economic benefit to an oligarchic class of entrepreneurs, preferential industries, and the financiers who reign over a system designed to eliminate the middle class.
It is long past time to reject the status quo and fashion a system that reflects the values of public service and a vision for community that was emerging a half century ago. Government can work and inure to the benefit of the greater society but only when hypocrisy is exorcised from its essential functions. We need to inject our system with a healthy dose of patriotism devoid of partisanship and dedicated to advancing opportunity for every American lest we continue to squander any claims to virtue. Expanding participation in our system of government is a virtue while suppressing it is a vice.
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