Monday, June 29, 2009

# Posted 6:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT SO MANY LIBERALS DON'T UNDERSTAND ABOUT ADULTERY: On ABC, Paul Krugman effectively summed up what many liberals are saying about Sanford-gate:
If a liberal sees somebody who talks about moral values and does something like this, and they call it hypocrisy. A conservative looks at it and says, well, but at least he stands up for moral values.
As Krugman's tone of voice made very clear, his comment about conservatives was meant to be derisive. Back when I was in college, I felt the same way. We all know politicians will sleep around. So in the end, talking about family values will achieve nothing except raising the hypocrisy quotient. Democrats seem to understand that.

But there's something deeply flawed about that kind of thinking. Culture matters in politics. Millions of voters want to elect leaders who set a certain standard for individual behavior. When individuals like Mark Sanford fail to live up to that standard, you shouldn't vote for them a second time. But there will be new candidates who live the values, and they will get elected. Although it's inevitable that some leaders will be exposed as hypocrites, that is no reason for other leaders to give up on the cause of promoting ethical behavior.

For many liberals (and libertarians), the idea that we should care about what a politician does in the bedroom is deeply problematic. Putting personal behavior -- and especially sex -- at the center of politics -- promotes intolerance and creates massive diversions, such as the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Why not be more like the Europeans, who understand that powerful men are simply going to have mistresses? Let's just get on with making better policy.

That position isn't intrinsically wrong, but it avoids addressing the role that culture does play in creating the social conditions that necessitate better policy. Poverty, public health and many related issues are affected by our collective standards for sexual behavior. Not unreasonably, a lot of voters want politicians to set an example that leads us in the right direction. Can you measure how much a good example contributes to addressing social issues? I doubt it. By the same token, it is both premature and self-destructive for Krugman and liberals who think like him to dismiss the family values agenda as nothing more than the hand-maiden of hypocrisy.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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