Streetcar Line

Political Psych Job

Having fun with liberal self-justifiers.

By 11.6.07

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A short story in Monday's Washington Post may offer an explanation for something previously inexplicable.

Have you ever wondered how some people -- including numerous prominent politicians -- can possibly live with their own double standards, hypocrisies, and lies?

Now comes the Post to tell us of a study by University of Washington researchers, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, showing people at both extremes of behavioral ethics to be more likely to completely justify (in their own minds) their own actions than are people who make more nuanced or moderate choices or actions.

The researchers asked two basic questions of people: whether they considered themselves moral, and whether they would ever cheat on a test. Of course, the ones who said they would never cheat also tended to be quite firmly convinced that they were moral, and "those who lacked a strong sense that they were moral tended to be iffy about whether they would cheat."

Then came the interesting part: "But when the researchers looked at the group who said they were most likely to cheat, they found to their surprise that this group, too, had strong convictions that they were moral." These people with "exceptionally strong convictions about their moral goodness are likely to follow extreme courses of action because they can convince themselves that whatever they do is good."

In other words, these people throw normative ethics out the window because they themselves define morality for themselves -- and, reading between the lines, on behalf of their own self-interest. If Napoleon said "L'etat, c'est moi," (the state, it is me), these cheaters effectively say "Morality, it is me" -- meaning that morality is whatever best serves their own needs and aims.

"Aha!" we can now say. "So that explains Bill Clinton!"

And no, this isn't about the sex, although the sex may also be explained by this sort of psychology. This is about the repeated, documented, casual lies -- the ability to say one thing in private and the exact opposite in public, not only without batting an eye, but with an almost frightening intensity of insistence that it is the accusers who are out of line no matter how objectively accurate their accusations.

It is in that frame of mind that Bill Clinton not only did not have sex with that woman, but that he did not rent out the Lincoln Bedroom, did not repeatedly get too cozy with shady Asian money men, did not fight welfare reform and then claim credit for it, did not endorse ideas for entitlement reform and then kill the same ideas, did not...oh, this list is too long to bother with.

And Hillary Clinton has a whole list of her own "did nots," also amply documented to the contrary; the only problem it seems is that sometimes not even she can keep up with her own contradictions, as was shown in her bizarre attempt last week both to endorse and to deny endorsing New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's wacky idea to provide driver's licenses to people known to be illegal immigrants.

Now this is not to say that the political left has a monopoly on extremely indefensible lack of ethics -- witness a fair number of jailed and indicted Republican congressmen -- but, from where we conservatives sit, it is the shamelessness of the double standards on the left that rankles. Forgive the slight admitted overgeneralization, but: When our guys get caught, they often (or usually) hang their heads. When their guys get caught in hypocrisy or worse, they just brazen it out. (Witness Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson.)

So it is that a host of Democratic senators, including Pat Leahy, could repeatedly say that presidential nominations, especially for judges, should never be filibustered to death -- and even to, in the case of many of them, endorse a sliding scale rule weakening all filibusters, on legislation as well as on nominations -- but then turn around and break 214 years of tradition (and arguably violate the Constitution as well) by repeatedly filibustering Republican judicial nominations, yes, to death. (And yes, by the longstandng standards of the Senate, filibustering judicial nominations to death is indeed cheating.)

So it is that liberal senators can take positions diametrically opposed to their own earlier positions about when Supreme Court precedent can and can't be broken. So it is that they can whine that conservatives "question [their] patriotism" even when the alleged questioning is only, at worst, by supposed inference, but then turn around and directly and repeatedly use the word "unpatriotic" to describe conservatives.

No wonder it didn't seem odd for John Kerry to boast, as if it were a point of pride, that he had been for something before he was against it!

*****

Okay... Now we've had our fun for the day. If the left accuses this column of roaming too far afield from one short news report about one academic study, well, uh....well, this column pleads guilty.

See what I mean?!? Even when we on the right who consider ourselves moral think we're actually on to something, we can't help acknowledging that there isn't enough data to support the conclusions we believe to be true. That wouldn't be honest.

Not that Clinton and Clinton and Leahy would think there was anything wrong with that.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.