[12 December 2007]
Hypocrisy, according to dictionary.com, is “a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.” Of course, in American politics, the word “hypocrisy” is a stone rarely thrown, perhaps because the Capital building is one of the world’s largest glass structures, and you know the adage about people in glass houses: The pot shouldn’t call the kettle black, it takes one to know one, insert your idiom of choice here. Better to call the opponent a flip-flopper, waffler, John Kerry, or some other politically-correct soft-ball term that, if volleyed back, isn’t quite as scathing as “hypocrite”.
In government at the national level, the shameless juxtaposition of conflicting stances has become (or perhaps has always been) de rigeur: Center your election campaign around an end-the-war policy, then cave to Presidential bullying and vote to further fund the war you pledged to stop; rail against frivolous government expenditures, then support an enormous spending bill that brings a cache of politically valuable projects to your home state/ region/ backyard.
Compromises such as these are so common that they are dismissed before the ink dries on the newspaper that reports them, justified as part of the process of governing. The business of running a nation is not always black and white, and the system sometimes requires gentle massaging to ensure its cooperation. Thus, support for a hard-line bill on immigration reform is available in exchange for leverage on health care for undocumented workers. “Hypocrisy” is such a harsh word; better to call it “political flexibility”.
Recent events have caused me to suspect that the current Bush administration is the most politically flexible in history. Where most politicians east of Larry Craig try to avoid obvious self-imposed contradictions, the Bush team appears quite comfortable with incongruence. In fact, critics might charge that The White House mistakes “hypocrisy” as a synonym for “policy”.
Am I speaking of torture techniques that the US Government has consistently condemned in other nations but that the current administration finds occasionally useful and thus worthy of semantic refinement? The imposition of democracy upon other nations by a President who openly laments that he would prefer a dictatorship in America? The effort to claim a moral high ground with the No Child Left Behind act, followed by the reclassification of “drop-out” so that 23 million students who fail to graduate do not impact the figures?
While these shoes may be a disappointingly Cinderella-esque fit, I’m addressing a hypocrisy more bald-faced than even those overt offenses: I’m talking turkey.
Not the nation of Turkey, but the bird, that noble creature for which Ben Franklin lobbied as the national symbol because it “is in comparison (to the eagle) a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is, besides (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that) a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack.” (While I cannot confirm his ornithology, it strikes me that Franklin’s argument foresaw with disconcerting accuracy the America that would follow two centuries later.)
The story appeared in an AP piece featured on Yahoo News, an item that began, “President Bush is spending a long Thanksgiving weekend at the presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, where he’ll enjoy a traditional turkey dinner”. Not much news there, as many Americans would be setting the table with a traditional Thanksgiving meal, and the turkey has the misfortune of being the most popular centerpiece of these feasts.
Knowing that most web readers will boycott text-only articles, the AP knew to include an eye-catching seasonal image, something appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday. They settled on a photo taken at this year’s annual Presidential Turkey Pardon (An event that ironically featured as special guests, “representatives of the National Turkey Federation.” Isn’t that like inviting the CEO of a wrecking ball company to the dedication of a new building?)
That America is a country that has an annual staged photo opportunity involving the “pardoning” of a turkey is a beguiling commentary on the government, the media, and the nation. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the looming recession, and the then-impending Middle East peace talks, was it necessary to devote a day to pardoning Big Bird? And while we’re on the subject, what did this bird do that requires a pardon: Was he wrongfully accused of a crime and his appeal with the justice department fell on sympathetic ears? (If so, this bird had clearly not penned its appeal from within the confines of Guantanamo Bay.) And why does the pardoning of a turkey warrant extensive media coverage while Presidential pardons of humans are a page seven story at best?
Dog and pony shows aside, the White House’s Irony Advisory System should have been well into the orange for an article that simultaneously reports on Bush pardoning a turkey and Bush eating a turkey. That’s really not much of a pardon, Mr. President: It equates to pardoning a man on the eve of his execution, then executing his brother the next day. One would think that Bush’s press secretary would encourage the family to enjoy a ham dinner for Thanksgiving this year, as I don’t recall seeing any photos of him pardoning a pig. (Probably because pigs are incorrigible, and to set one free is to allow it to go back to committing whatever pig crimes it perpetrated in the first place.)
I can hear a chorus of party loyalists now: “This is yet another example of liberal media bias. Of all photos available, the AP opted for the pardon picture because it implied a compromise of principals and thus painted the President with inaccurate brush strokes. The President can’t even celebrate a national tradition that dates back to the nation’s founders without being damned for it, can’t enjoy a simple day off with his family without being subjected to the back-handed barbs of the press.”
Yeah, Yahoo News, that revered bastion of liberal bias. As I recall, the headline was sandwiched between an update on Britney Spear’s custody battle and a report on the emaciated condition of this season’s Survivor contestants. Combined, the agenda is clear: Covertly collude to ensure that Ryan Seacrest wins the Presidency.
The fact is, the Bush Administration no longer recognizes their actions as hypocrisy: Its members make each decision in a vacuum, unrelated to other positions, and any attempt to compare and contrast the individual items as contradictory is dismissed as a left-wing conspiracy to misrepresent them. Thus, they take advantage of the Turkey Pardoning Ceremony to wax patriotic about kids sending drawings of American flags and to praise (rightly so) the committed service of America’s armed forces, then when the cameras are turned off, they chop off the bird’s head.
I think the only person who can put an end to this particular strain of hypocrisy is Dennis Kucinich. Not because he offers genuine morality in a time of unprecedented “flexibility” (though he may), and not because he can single-handedly put an end to this type of D.C.-duplicity (he can’t), but simply because he is the only Vegan presidential candidate. As long as his White House doesn’t host a Tofurkey Pardoning Ceremony, at least one hypocrisy can be stopped.