Hypocrisy, n. A feigning to be what one is not, or to believe what one does not believe. Behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. [Merriam-Webster’s Third Collegiate Dictionary]
As the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body—now there’s a phrase you don’t hear very much these days!—begins hearings on the Barrett nomination, there’s much talk about the stench of hypocrisy wafting over the process. The Republicans, having defended their decision not to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016 on the grounds that they wanted to “let the people decide,”*** now do seem to be engaged in “behavior that contradicts what they claim to believe.”
***Just for the record, I have appended to this essay a compilation of the statements made by leading Republican Senators in 2016 to defend their decision not to hold hearings or otherwise act on the Garland nomination. If you have forgotten the explanations they provided to the American people for their actions, you might want to refresh your recollection by reading over that collection.
But there is an argument—I’m not sure whether or not it qualifies as a “trope” or a “meme”—making the rounds these days, arguing that both sides, Republicans and Democrats alike, share in the hypocrisy, in equal measure.
The argument is based on the apparently symmetrical position of the two parties. It goes something like this:
In 2016, Democrats said “the Senate should consider the president’s nominee during a presidential election campaign,” but in 2020 they say it shouldn’t. In 2016, Republicans said “the Senate should wait and let the people decide,” but in 2020 they say it shouldn’t.
See? Should/shouldn’t, shouldn’t/should. Six of one, half-dozen of the other. So much hypocrisy, on both sides!
Disturbingly, I’ve heard this argument from otherwise intelligent and reasonable folks; otherwise, I would simply dismiss it as partisan silliness. It is ill-logical and flat-out wrong, because the positions of the two parties are not symmetrical. An illustration might make this clear.
Robbie Republican and Debbie Democrat have had a regular high-stakes craps game in the Senate cloakroom for many years. They had a number of informal rules. One was that the games would last for exactly one hour—there was important public business to attend to! Another was that if the dice fell off the table after a throw, you get to throw again.
During a game in 2016, with 15 minutes to go in their game, Debbie threw the dice and one fell off the table. She picked up the dice again to re-throw, but Robbie grabbed the dice from her hand and said: “No, the re-throw rule doesn’t apply when we’re near the end of the game.” Debbie protested, arguing vehemently that there was no such “end-of-game” exception to the re-throw rule, but Robbie, who was holding the dice, prevailed.
In 2020 they’re at it again. With three minutes to go in their game, Robbie rolls and—oops!—the dice fall off the table. He picks them up.
Robbie: “I get to roll again.”
Debbie: “Wait just a minute!! You said the re-throw rule doesn’t apply when we’re near the end of the game. And that was when there were 15 minutes left! We’re a lot closer to the end now, and you’re telling me the re-throw rule does apply?!”
Robbie: “Yes. The ‘end-of-game’ exception doesn’t apply when I’m winning, only when you’re winning. Plus, I’m holding the dice, and I can do what I want with them. I’m rolling again.”
Look familiar? Debbie said the re-throw
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