Wednesday, September 26, 2007

# Posted 8:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVEBLOGGING THE NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATIC DEBATE: So what if there have already been seven Democratic primary debates? I am confident that this one will be especially informative. As Jeff Zeleny of the NYT Caucus points out, it is the first debate after Labor Day. And just like regular human beings, presidential candidates don't take anything seriously until after Labor Day.

8:46 -- The fun begins in 14 minutes!

9:05 -- Ack! I missed the first five minutes because I had to download the newest version of Adobe Flash Player so I could watch it online.

9:08 -- Hillary interrupts! John Edwards says she won't take out all of our combat troops. She says she'll only leave them behind to fight Al Qaeda. What? Al Qaeda is in Iraq?

9:09 -- Edwards: We won't go back into Iraq alone even if there's a genocide. That might be counterproductive. We should wait for international help. After all, would they keep on stalling after the embarrassment in Darfur?

9:10 -- Richardson: I want an all-Muslim peacekeeping force in Iraq. I guess that will happen right after the Arab League and the UN act to prevent a genocide...

9:14 -- Biden: "All [our troops] are is fodder." Um, tell that to the soldiers and marines in Anbar. Building on political leverage, our military can make a critical difference against Al Qaeda.

9:16 -- Russert says he has listened carefully to Mike Gravel during this campaign. I guess he has a lot of time on his hands.

9:18 -- Gravel: Joe Lieberman is getting us ready for a war against Iran!

9:20 -- Hillary: Bush "outsourced" our diplomacy against Iran. It's not outsourcing! It's multilateralism! No, wait. Not when Republicans do it.

9:22 -- Hillary: No, Tim, you can't finish your question. I already know what it is. And I'm not going to answer it.

9:32 -- Richardson: Tell Mexico they need to give their people jobs, not maps to the US. Well, I agree about the maps, but does a veteran diplomat like Richardson think you can just tell a country to create lots of jobs?

9:34 -- Biden: Rudy Giuliani is the most uninformed man running for President. I hope Biden meant the only serious candidate. No one on a stage with Kucinich and Gravel can really think Rudy's at the bottom. Even among Republicans, you'd think Biden would know about Tom Tancredo...

9:45 -- Tim to Hillary: You screwed up healthcare and we're terribly wrong about Iraq. Why should people think that your plentiful experience is a good thing?

9:49 -- Edwards: These other candidates sound like a bunch of Washington folk! I can't stand that silly populist card. Especially from someone who changed his most important opinions after he started running for president.

9:58 -- Russert isn't pulling any punches. He's asking each candidate about their experience by listing their mistakes. Long lists. You won't see this in any general election debates.

10:02 -- Question: Would you approve a second grade teacher reading to her class a story about the wedding of two gay princes ? If your child were in that class? Edwards says yes, of course. He doesn't want to impose on his children his own views about gay marriage. Better the public schools should teach them about homosexuality, I guess.

It would hard to come up with an answer that is any sillier. Edwards sticks by his opposition to gay marriage because he is afraid to flip-flop on yet another issue. Yet he has so little confidence in his own moral perspective that he is afraid to impose it on his children.

I've made clear my belief that gay Americans should have full equality before the law. Edwards wants to pander to Democratic base, but doesn't have the guts to do it well.

10:12 -- Russert and Hillary are going back and forth about Social Security. He's trying to get her to answer a question she's doing her best to avoid. Well, that's what candidates do. But I like primary debates a lot more because the moderators don't have to be so timid.

10:17 -- Edwards: "Why would you trust the same politicians who say the same things over and over and over?" Trust a flip-flopper instead!

10:19 -- Kucinich: Lower the age at which you can collect Social Security! 65 is too old! Our bodies break down! Maybe someone should tell Mayor Dennis that most Americans don't work in steel mills any more.

10:23 -- Obama: If there isn't enough progress at the local level towards banning smoking in public places, I will support a national ban. Well, if you're that determined to demonstrate that Democrats favor a nanny state... (And Edwards favors a ban now.)

10:29 -- Kucinich: And lower the drinking age, too! Well, I guess that will reduce life expectancy and make it more feasible to lower the retirement age for Social Security.

Now what's up, Adesnik? You say that only a big government liberal would ban smoking in public places, but it's the government's job to set the drinking age? Well, we set the smoking age, too. You have to draw a line somewhere.

But what about laws that ban alcohol consumption in public places? Hmmm. Are those federal bans?

10:34 -- It's the lightning round! 30 seconds per answer. Russert says it makes sense because these same candidates will be spending millions of dollars on 30 second ads. Well, if you want to bring the debate down to that level...

10:42 -- Gravel. The entertainment really makes this debate easier to watch. Plus, I can play games on my laptop, too.

10:44 -- Obama: We can never say that we would sanction torture under any condition. But with regard to your hypothetical about Al Qaeda and a big bomb, I won't say. Hmmm...

10:47 -- Hillary: We can't let these hypotheticals about Al Qaeda leaders get in the way of a no-torture policy.

10:47 -- Russert: But the author of that hypothetical was William Jefferson Clinton!

I have to admit, I don't have an idea much better than Obama's. We can never let torture be our policy. But if thousands of American lives depended on it in some unexpected situation? You could say that torture never works. But that's a rule of thumb at best. And surprises happen.

What sounds silly is to pretend that hypotheticals don't exist. But since my girlfriend is a Hillary supporter, I guess I can refuse to answer any of her hypotheticals. What if Salma Hayek showed up in my hotel room on my next business trip? What if! (Those Campari adds are amazing.)

10:56 -- Question: What is your favorite Bible verse? As far as I can tell, only Edwards recited an actual verse. (The "Sermon on the Mount" is not a verse.)

11:00 -- Actually, I think there was a second verse in there. I'm waiting for a transcript.

11:01 -- So, was it worth the two hours necessary to watch the debate? Well, it's not like I was going to do anything else terribly important. Obama is still not willing to go more aggressively after Hillary. But it's tough to make that work with so many candidates on stage. I'm beginning to think I may have overestimated his chances.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

# Posted 9:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JUDGE MUKASEY: I won't pretend to have an informed opinion about the new AG, but Phil Carter has only the highest praise for the distinguished judge, whose merits include:
The temerity and integrity to tell the Bush Administration "no" when it wanted to detain Jose Padilla indefinitely and without access to counsel. Although his lengthy decision did display a considerable degree of deference to the executive branch, it approached these issues in a thoughtful, deliberate and balanced manner.
. Phil adds that the NYT's evaluation of Judge Mukasey was rather miserly, even though liberals and conservatives alike affirm that he is exceptionally qualified.

On a personal note, I should add that the judge's wife Susan was my first grade teacher. Seriously.


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# Posted 8:43 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY DOES OXBLOG RESPECT BIGOTRY? In a post about Larry Craig, I stated my unequivocal support for equal rights for gays and lesbians. I also stated that "I respect the opinion that homosexuality is a grave sin from a Biblical perspective." One commenter observed that if that is what I believe:
Then you also respect a lot of other, ridiculous things.

Can't you just say that you don't respect that opinion?

Essentially, you're saying that you'd take a stand on a moral issue, except against certain, fervent people... Because what they believe is rooted biblically.

I didn't really take that argument seriously at first, so I didn't post a response. But then the author appended the same comment to a different post about a different subject. But he did so respectfully, so I believe that he is serious in raising this point. So what is my response?

Invoking the Bible as a justification of one's arguments does not provide automatic legitimacy. Often, the bible is radically misinterpreted. If someone invoked the Bible to justify racial segregation, I wouldn't profess respect for that opinion. Yet there are also instances in which I wouldn't respect an opinion that has a legitimate basis in the Bible. For example, if someone seriously argued for legalizing slavery since it is allowed by the Bible, I wouldn't profess respect for that opinion. Yet who in the United States would ever make that argument seriously?

As the example of slavery suggests, the community of American believers has come to accept over time that democratic rights must sometimes prevail over Biblical injunctions. This acceptance is often implicit, since I sense that few of the faithful feel comfortable subordinating the word of God to any other principle. Yet implicit or explicit, this acceptance is there.

So, then, how should one treat a fellow American who invokes the Biblical as a justification for denouncing homosexuality? The position of my anonymous commenter seems to be that one should deny respect to such opinions or even denounce them as "ridiculous". But I think that approach is entirely counterproductive. The scorn of the secularists accomplishes little more than postponing the day when equal rights for gays and lesbians are no longer a political issue. The tide is turning in favor of those who consider equality before the law to be self-evident and unthreatening.

But I also reject scorn as a matter of principle. Faith has a tremendously powerful influence over the faithful. As a Conservative Jew, I am not bound so closely to the literal meaning of the biblical text. But many other denominations do emphasize that approach. It is a powerful approach that brings much good and meaning into many lives. Of course, it has its drawbacks as well. Yet on balance, is this kind of commitment to the Bible such a terrible thing that it should be met with scorn?

I am certainly willing to meet it with disagreement, but I see little reason to deny it respect. Not all that long ago, I took part in the liberal consensus that evangelical Christians are deserving of condescension at best and vitriol the rest of time. Over time, I came to see that this approach accomplished little other than to close my mind, insult others and contribute to unnecessary polarization, which I can do without.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

# Posted 4:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PETRAEUS' DISCREDITED OPTIMISM? I've heard a good amount of talk among the general's critics about an op-ed he wrote for the WaPo on Sept. 24, 2004, during a fiercely competitive race for the White House. For Jon Stewart and others, the op-ed provides considerable evidence that Petraeus is willing to serve as a White House pawn, even to the point of selling naive optimism about Iraq. I disagree.

Certainly, the op-ed has its weaknesses. For example, there isn't a single instance where Petraeus identifies the potential for sectarian forces to take control of the new Iraqi police or military forces. Yet in the fall of 2004, the sectarian dynamic in Iraq was very different from what it has become since the bombing of the Samarra mosque in Feb. 2006. In 2004, Iraqi Shi'ties were still displaying a remarkable degree of constraint in light of Al Qaeda's vicious provocations. Atrocities had certainly been committed by Shi'ites at that point, but death squad and militia activity were quite limited compared to today. Moreover, elections were still to come, so the government was not controlled by Shi'ites.

One sentence in the Petraeus op-ed that might strike many readers as naive is his assertion that:
Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq.
In light of the ethnic partisanship and apparent incompetence of the Maliki government, that statement seems rather improbable in hindsight. Yet Iraqis have volunteered for police and military service in considerable numbers, in spite of the constant danger. Whereas the first years of the occupation were troubled by stories of Iraqi units that broke and ran in the face of the insurgency, the problem now is that too many units stay and fight for sectarian advantage.

Much of the Petraeus op-ed is about details and statistics, which isn't surprising given Petraeus' disposition. He wrote:
The future undoubtedly will be full of difficulties, especially in places such as Fallujah. We must expect setbacks and recognize that not every soldier or policeman we help train will be equal to the challenges ahead.

Nonetheless, there are reasons for optimism. Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) and an additional 74,000 facility protection forces are performing a wide variety of security missions. Equipment is being delivered. Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being reestablished.

Most important, Iraqi security forces are in the fight -- so much so that they are suffering substantial casualties as they take on more and more of the burdens to achieve security in their country. Since Jan. 1 more than 700 Iraqi security force members have been killed, and hundreds of Iraqis seeking to volunteer for the police and military have been killed as well.
According to page 35 of the latest Iraq Index from Brookings, there are now 194,200 Iraqi police and 165,500 National Guard and military personnel, for a total of 359,700. I'm guessing that facilities protection forces are included in that number, since they are not listed separately.

There is also no question that Iraqis are willing to fight and die on the battlefield. According to the Brookings Index, 7,742 Iraqi security force (ISF) personnel have been killed in action. One might say that that is an indicator of the insurgents' success not ours. Yet for the same reason that we don't consider insurgent fatalities to be an indicator of our success, I don't think that ISF casualties provide a real indication of who's winning. The real issue is how well the ISF fight and whether they pursue and achieve the right objectives. (As a result of sectarian politics, they often don't.)

Also interesting is that only 76 ISF personnel were killed in August, with a similar number projected for September. Those would be the two lowest totals on record since January 2005, when monthly numbers became available. Moreover, only once before (in Jan. 2007) has the total checked in at under 100 KIAs.

All in all, I would say that Petraeus' op-ed wasn't bad. It was nothing like Cheney's infamous "last throes" remark or various other predictions of imminent victory. It provided a considerable amount of relevant information, but may have been slightly more optimistic than seems justified in hindsight. If the general's critics want more attention paid to the op-ed, that's fine, since it won't hurt him.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

# Posted 10:26 AM by Patrick Porter  

SPEAKING FOR THE SOLDIERS: When I was scratching away at my Phd on the first world war, a theme that intensified as the war persisted was the struggle over who spoke for the dead and wounded.

Both pro and anti-war polemicists frequently tried to strengthen their stance and give their arguments authority by claiming that they spoke for the dead and wounded.

At times this became highly inventive, as some preachers even ventriloquised the voices of killed combatants, making up speeches that the dead would have delivered.

It is striking that in the age of nationalism and mass politics, this is part of the process where glory or honour is democratised (pardon the word), so that ordinary warriors as well as the elites that direct them are ritually commemorated and, during the war itself, become politically potent figures, often invoked in the name of certain policies.

This in itself also breeds tensions. To invoke the dead or claim to identify a political opinion with the living wounded risks the charge of demagogy and cynical manipulation.

Consider this article (cited in the excellent 'Blog them out of the Stone Age'), discussing a documentary about injured veterans returning from Iraq:

Watching a legless father go ice-skating with his two kids, among many other such scenes of courage, grit, and determination, restores your faith in humanity in a fashion that few things I have ever seen have ever done. At the same time, watching and listening to the struggles they’ve been forced to undertake all because of the lying, extremism, and incompetence of this administration and the cowardice of its enablers in the media is infuriating beyond words, particularly when you remember that including the Iraqis themselves, these stories need to be multiplied by the hundreds of thousands.

And this comment follows it:

At the same time, watching and listening to the struggles they’ve been forced to undertake all because of the lying, extremism, and incompetence of this administration and the cowardice of its enablers in the media is infuriating beyond words, particularly when you remember that including the Iraqis themselves, these stories need to be multiplied by the hundreds of thousands.

Why not just type, “I will now cheapen their sacrifice with the following words.”

If there is anything I strongly feel in the aftermath of this war, it’s that I’m f*cking tired of people using us as pawns in their agitprop.

Whether it’s the creepy Socialist Realism of (parodoxically) conservative milblogs, or the gratuitous Victim of Halliburton/Judith Miller espoused by the partisan left’s presses, the reality is that we’re collectively “cultural icons,” and not real flesh and blood people, only because of clueless pundits like Alterman.

We don’t need the arbitration of Alterman or even HBO to understand the wreckage of modern combat. I have no doubt that HBO avoided the political homily delivered by Alterman, so I’ll watch it knowing that legless men shall skate and brainless columnists, at least for that hour, shall remain silent.

As Phil Carter noted recently in his analysis of the furore over the 'Baghdad diarist', the troops as a concept and institution become a rhetorical weapon, and hear themselves constantly spoken for:

And as the argument grows louder, each side turns toward the troops, using them to stand in for their own preconceived ideas about this war.
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Monday, September 10, 2007

# Posted 9:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HILLARY WANTS MY MONEY: I never expected to get a fundraising letter from Senator Clinton. It may have been a waste of postage on her part, but I certainly enjoyed the letter. Compared to some of the solicitations I've gotten from Republican candidates and think-tanks, this one was a model of sanity and factual precision. Nonetheless, it was quite interesting because of how it sought to portray Hillary in a very different way than she pitches herself to the mass media.

Like most Democratic candidates, Hillary presents herself as a candidate of the great American middle class in order to establish that she is not an old-fashioned liberal who represents little more than a collection of niche interests, such as feminists or minorities or college professors or the very poor. Yet in this letter, those seem to be exactly the credentials that Hillary is trumpeting. For example, did you know that:
In law school, Hillary worked for legal services for the poor and at the Yale Child Study Center and Yale University to study about children and the law...

Hillary also led the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, which played a pioneering role in raising awareness of issues like sexual harassment and equal pay...

[As First Lady,] Hillary went to Beijing for the International Women's Conference and gave an unbelievable speech declaring "that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."
As a loyal alum, I have to be somewhat gratified that Hillary mentioned Yale twice in one letter, but I'm not holding my breath for the day when she plays up her Ivy League resume in front of a national audience. (Not that I expect Obama to do it either.) Nor do I expect Hillary to run television ads in any battleground states identifying her as a pioneer in the struggle against sexual harassment.

Presumably, this letter is trying to shore up Hillary's credentials with the Democratic base. (I'm guessing her campaign got my name from the ACLU mailing list, which also identifies me inexplicably as a potential donor.) What's interesting then, is what seems to have been so carefully omitted from this letter: Iraq. The war is mentioned once. The letter informs us that with Hillary as president, "we'll end the war in Iraq." Perhaps wisely, the letter doesn't describe her policy in much more detail, since it would probably antagonize those primary voters who want an immediate and full withdrawal.

The letter is also strangely silent about the current president and his party, neither of which is mentioned at all. My best guess is that the campaign is concerned that any effort to go negative will backfire. But it seems like quite a handicap to be reaching out to the base while avoiding any references to George Bush or Iraq.

Also missing from this letter are a set of standard themes that Democrats also seem to emphasize when addressing a national audience. There is no effort to demonstrate that Hillary will be a determined fighter against terrorists and rogue tyrants. Instead, she will "build a world with more partners and fewer enemeies." (Pass the flower petals, please.)

Nor is there a single reference in my letter to Hillary's passionate faith in God, which she seems to mention so often in her autobiography and other national forums. (But who am I to complain? My people know that hiding one's faith is often the best way to survive.)

Finally, I couldn't locate either the word "family" or the word "values" in Hillary's letter. There are plenty of references to children, who are generally known to live with families. There is even a reference to Hillary's support for adoption, which often involves at least one family. But that is all.

When you put all of these pieces together, Hillary seems to be saying that the Democratic faithful do actually have a worldview similar to the one that the Republicans accuse them of having.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

# Posted 3:14 PM by Taylor Owen  

SECOND LIFE? Few scenes better sum up the wondrous complexity of the evolving online world that the following paragraph from a Globe and Mail article on legality and justice in virtual online worlds:
Last year, Second Life claimed its first living, breathing millionaire, Ansche Chung, who had made $1 million US entirely by developing virtual real-estate and other investments, over the course of two years, from an initial investment of $10. Her in-game press conference was interrupted by a swarm of flying penises.
This is the new reality, and Second Life, Warcraft, etc, are just the tip of the iceberg.

One thing is becoming increasingly clear though, "second life" is a misnomer. The internet is not an alternative to life, it is life. It is us, in all our complexity, madness and brilliance, out in the open for all to see, critique and engage. No doubt that we are going to have to adapt, in some cases dramatically, our social and legal norms, built to moderate relatively innocuous forms interpersonal interaction.

But hey, I'm not sure the Craig press conference would have been that much more bizarre had it too, been interrupted by swarms of flying penises...
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Thursday, September 06, 2007

# Posted 9:21 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIASCO REVISITED: Thomas Ricks' Fiasco is one of the most influential books about the war in Iraq. It was published just over a year ago, to considerable acclaim. It was only a few days ago, however, that I began to read the book.

One of the first things is noticed is a map that precedes the title page. The map is entitled "The Sunni 'Triangle': Heart of the Insurgency". That title speaks volumes about the dramatic changes in Iraq over the past six months.

A year ago, when Fiasco was published, it seemed delusional to hope that the US and its Iraqi allies could ever take back the Sunni provinces of Western Iraq. We understood the war in Iraq as essentially a civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis. Since we had taken the side of the Shi'ites after the fall of Saddam, it seemed perfectly logical to assume that the most heavily Sunni parts of Iraq were the natural home of the insurgency.

Gen. Petraeus has up-ended that logic and shown that we can turn many of Iraq's Sunnis into our most effective allies -- more effective than most Shi'ites. This strategy has its perils, but those perils are almost infinitely preferable to the status quo of July 2006. Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor provided an overview of the dramatic changes in Anbar:
It's been six months since the so-called Anbar Awakening, when Sunni sheikhs joined US Marines in the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni extremists may still have a presence here, but US military officials say that with the help of the expanding Iraqi security forces, they've driven most of what remains of Al Qaeda from the urban areas.

Violence has stayed down, dropping from 2,000 attacks in March to about 450 last month – as the number of Iraqi security forces has increased, from around 24,000 this spring to nearly 40,000 today.
A 75% reducation in attacks in what was once the heartland of the insurgency. Is there any hope of extending that progress to the rest of Iraq? There are good reasons to say 'no'. Whereas Anbar is all-Sunni, Baghdad is a mixed metropolis with vicious Sunni-Shi'ite violence. How can any US strategy succeed on such dangerous terrain?

A year ago, we were asking the same question about Anbar.

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# Posted 8:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SEX IN PUBLIC BATHROOMS: Larry Craig is a sad and tragic figure, but he got what he deserved. A hypocrite of such magnitude deserves to become a political outcast. Yet those Republicans who punished him may be almost as hypocritical. Tim Russert made the case for a GOP double standard last Sunday on Meet the Press. Russert said, compare the GOP's repudiation of Sen. Craig to their toleration of,
Senator [David] Vitter of Louisiana, who has acknowledged that he solicited a D.C. madam, and yet there’s no calls for his resignation. Senators say, “Well, that happened when he was a member of the House.” He did not plead guilty to a criminal offense...Is there a difference or is it a double standard?
The answer to that question comes down to a hypothetical. If David Vitter had solicited sex from a male prostitute, would Republicans have abandoned him like Craig? My gut says 'yes', but certain liberal Democrats [!] think the GOP would've stood by a gay senator from Louisiana. For example, Bob Shrum told Tim Russert that Vitter's survival was purely a matter of partisan politics:
The difference wasn’t, as the Republicans have said, that Vitter faced no criminal charges or had no criminal charges. The difference was that Louisiana doesn’t have a Republican governor who can appoint a Republican successor [as is the case in Idaho].
There is also another way to explain Craig's situation, one more favorable to the GOP. As Republican consultant Mike Murphy told Tim Russert, the GOP is now tarnished and can't afford another enduring scandal. Thus Craig had to go.

Arguably, the Craig scandal is something that intelligent Americans should just ignore because it is tawdry and partisan. But I think the affair says something important about homosexuality in America. Public conservatives are still ashamed of homosexuals, even as they increasingly tolerate them in private. That is a kind of hypocrisy. Public conservatives resist civic equality for homosexuals even though they provide no reason why, other than vague references to "tradition" or "values". That borders on hypocrisy as well.

Over the past several years, I have walked away from a lot of liberal orthodoxies. But a commitment to gay rights is not one of them. I respect the opinion that homosexuality is a grave sin from a Biblical perspective. But one is no less of an American if one is gay. Being gay is not a threat to anyone else. Thus, I support equality for homosexuals in all aspects of public life.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

# Posted 9:22 AM by Patrick Porter  

HYPOCRISY OR DISTRACTION? There's been much talk lately, and over the past year, around the issue of hypocrisy in public life.

Recent talking points include John Edwards' expensive haircuts and lavish wealth, conservative Christian evangelists having gay sex with prostitutes, or environmentalist campaigners racking up their airmiles.

Everyone has their favourite example that suit their politics. Hawkish pundits who actively avoided military service, or rich people who crusade for the redistribution of everyone else's wealth.

But a number of objections can be made to the 'hypocrite' accusation. Here's just three:

One: we are all hypocrites more or less, so the charge is inevitably itself hypocritical (!).

Two: its a distraction from real issues, made in bad faith. Its easier to lampoon Al Gore's vast energy consumption and jet-setting lifestyle than talk about the painful issues of sustainable development and cutting global warming. Its more fun to ridicule Bill Kristol for his lack of military experience than deal with the serious argument over whether, when and how to leave Iraq, and what to do about states that threaten to wipe out Israel. And isn't John Edwards right to name poverty as an important but neglected issue, even if he himself propagates and enjoys a good measure of material inequality?

Three: the obsession with people living up to the standards they themselves set panders to the priorities of celebrity culture, where lifestyle and self-absorption comes before substance.

But the fact remains that if someone advocates a certain policy or agenda, particularly one which entails how individuals ought to behave, they do set themselves a standard which they will naturally be judged by. I think it was Gandhi who advised people to be part of the change they desire in the world (even though he said other things that were less enlightened, like advising non-resistance against Nazi Germany).

To be sure, we shouldn't become so fixated on the politics of personal choices that we forget the broader issue, or forget that almost everyone violates in some small way the principles they adopt. Nor should we treat hypocrisy as the very worst of offences.

But it remains annoying when people who live exorbitant lifestyles tell the rest of us to sharpen up our act, a reality that some public figures should try harder to observe.
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