Friday, July 3, 2009

Hypocrisy Pt.3

Perhaps the most persuasive candidate for a charge of political hypocrisy is Obama's response to Helen Thomas's famous "interruption" at a recent presidential press conference. The president was saying how affected he was by the video of Iranian Neda Agha-Soltan being shot in the chest and bleeding to death. He referred to international norms of freedom of speech and expression. At that, Thomas started to ask him why he would not allow publication of the photos of the abuse of detainees held by Americans abroad. Obama brushed the point aside as "a different question."

The New York Times's Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" columns, challenges that position. See

Cohen shows the importance of transparency in and for a democracy and that that cannot mean you only allow publication of uncontroversial material. Beyond that, he says, "There is also the matter of personal integrity. President Obama campaigned as a proponent of openness and accountability. On his first day in office, he issued new ethics directives, pledging to make transparency a hallmark of his administration." Only last April, his justice department said it would comply with a court order to release the photographs...and then revised the policy to refuse publication. Agreeing with Obama's principled pro-transparency position, Cohen deplores his abandonment of it [at the first real test]. He concludes, "But more than this, transparency is an ethical ideal, the political expression of a commitment to honesty. It is disheartening to see it resisted by someone who has spoken so ardently in its defense."

Was Obama acting hypocritically? Well, he affirmed one standard but failed to meet it in his own actions. As we saw below, that in itself is not yet hypocrisy. Does he advance one set of standards while really and in practice accepting another? That would be hypocrisy. But can we really tell the difference? Do we need a pattern of such discrepancies before we can call it hypocrisy?

No comments:

Post a Comment