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Playing the Hypocrisy Card
June 21, 2002
By Drew Vogel

Of the many underhanded, cynical, and blatantly deceptive tactics employed by the Republican party to finagle some political advantage for themselves, by far the most pernicious is the Hypocrisy Card. We all know the Republicans are hypocrites, that's not news. From the "chickenhawks" to the "family-values adulterers," Republicans have proved again and again that they have no desire to practice what they preach.

But the Hypocrisy Card is something a little more specific, and a little more dangerous. It works like this: if you see your opponent doing something which is successfully providing him with a political advantage, blast him for it. Later, do the very same that worked so well for him.

I know what you're thinking: it doesn't sound like such an impressive strategy. But look at how they've applied it.

It works best when there's a considerable gap between the two behaviors. Consider the matter of a president being over-reliant on poll data. Republicans slammed Clinton mercilessly with this one. "The man has no principles. He just gets up in the morning, checks the polls, and goes whichever way they say." Democrats, of course, said that the Republicans were exaggerating wildly, and, by the way, is that really such an evil thing to do in a democracy anyway?

Fast-forward a few years later, and we've got Bush spending even more on his own White House polling operation than Clinton did. Are the Republicans screaming about this? No, certainly not. And are the Democrats screaming about it? No. After all, they quite honestly defended the practice when Clinton did it, and they honeslty felt it was a non-issue. So, they won't, and haven't, brought it up against Bush. Some have brought up the hypocrisy angle, but that's all.

Bush is doing the very same thing on the fundraising issue. Clinton was mocked as the "fundraiser in chief." Bush is outpacing him. Same deal.

What makes this strategy so pernicious, so devastating, is that the Democrats are simply too decent to fight back against it. Democrats could start screaming about this behavior, but they don't. Why not? For one thing, they'd be walking into a trap. The Democrat could say "Bush is spending all his time raising money and not enough time looking for Osama bin Laden," to which the Republican could respond "You defended White House fundraising when Clinton did it, you hypocrite!" Of course, the Democrat could shoot back with "You condemned it when Clinton did it," and defuse the whole thing.

Even better, Democrats could frame their objections in a different way. They could imply that White House fundraising is fine in general, but Bush is taking it to extreme levels. Something like "This White House has been conducting the most intense fund-raising of any White House in American history, out-pacing even the Clinton White House by x%. It is out of hand, and it is deflecting the Administration's attention from far more serious matters. It's high time for this Administration to stop thinking about November and start thinking about the country."

That could be devasting. The Republicans would try to spin the hypocrisy angle, but the Democrats could continue to imply that Bush had crossed this invisible line that Clinton never did. Make it a problem not of fund-raising, but of excessive fund-raising, and claim that only Bush's activity is beyond-the-pale.

So why don't they do it? Why don't the Democrats make this case, and throw egg on the Republican's faces? Easy. Because it's not a very important issue. Democrats are more concerned about protecting Social Security, prescription drugs benefits for seniors, protecting the United States from terrorists, etc. You know, "issues."

Of course, all politicians want mainly to get re-elected, even Democrats. But Democrats seem to be much more comfortable attacking the Republicans on issues, on something tangible, real, and important. The Republicans, on the other hand, fire cheap shots that have no substance. While Tom Daschle gives a press conference explaining that the Republican prescription drugs benefit plan is tilted heavily toward their pharmaceutical industry donors, Trent Lott invites reporters to photograph a few bloodhounds called in to track down Republican sponsored bills that haven't come up for vites in the Senate.

It's that simple. Substance vs. stunts. The Hypocrisy Card, like so many other tactics the Republicans employ every day, only works because the Democrats are not willing to sink low to the Republicans' level.


Drew Vogel will be entering law school shortly. He publishes a blog called "Terminus" at www.terminusblog.blogspot.com

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