Moralizing for me, but not for thee

The Baltimore Sun

In the wake of the Larry E. Craig "Bathroomgate" story, some intrepid, free-market-oriented bloggers came up with a novel solution to the problem of closeted gay conservatives indulging their carnal desires on the side: gay sex offsets.

The same market-based approach is used by environmentally crapulent liberal celebrities all the time. They use private jets, drive around with big entourages and own numerous energy-sucking homes. To make amends, they purchase an indulgence in the form of "carbon offsets" - a contract whereby the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases is soaked up by newly planted trees and the like.

So why not do the same thing with gay sex? Cruise the bus station, cut a check to the heterosexuality-promoting organization of your choice.

Since most on the left think Mr. Craig's alleged sexual liaisons are perfectly benign, they shouldn't object. Rather, the left claims it hates the fallen Idaho senator's hypocrisy, not his behavior.

From Rush Limbaugh's drug use to William J. Bennett's gambling to the long list of Republican politicians who have thrown a few earmarks and riders into their marriage vows, the left has chosen to denounce the perceived hypocrisy rather than the behavior.

The indictment sometimes loses its punch in the details. Mr. Bennett never inveighed against gambling, for example. But that misses the point. The left claims to hate "moralizers." So any failure to live like Jesus while telling others to follow his example is an outrage.

One solution to the hypocrisy epidemic, of course, is to have no morals at all. You can't violate your principles if you don't have any. Another solution: Simply define down your principles until they are conveniently consistent with your preferred lifestyle. My own perfect moral code would mandate a strict regimen of not enough exercise, too much scotch and a diet rich in cured meats.

But the left has another solution. Under its system, you can still be a moralizer. You can still tell people what to do and how to live. And, best of all, you can still fall short of your ideals personally while guiltlessly trying to use government to impose your moral vision on others. All you have to do is become a liberal moralizer.

Once you become a liberal, you can wax eloquent on the glories of the public schools while sending your kids to private school. You can wax prolix about the greedy rich while making a fortune on the side. You can even use the government to impose your values willy-nilly, from racial quotas and confiscatory tax rates to draconian environmental policies and sex-ed for grade-schoolers - all of which will be paid for in part by people who disagree with you.

You don't even have to give up traditional religion, so long as you now define the teachings of your faith in perfect compliance with the Democratic platform.

The point is simply this: Hypocrisy is bad, sure. But it's a human failing that should fall upon the individual in question. What the left wants to do is use hypocrisy as a cudgel to declare that conservative ideals are categorically illegitimate because some conservatives fail to live up to them. But we all fail to live up to our ideals sometimes. That's sort of why we call them "ideals."

Most of us don't fall as far as Larry Craig seems to have fallen, but that's not necessarily an indictment of his arguments; it's an indictment of the man.

Jonah Goldberg is a syndicated columnist. His e-mail is

Clarence Page's column will return later this week. Trudy Rubin's column will return next week.

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