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Hypocrisy

- July 1, 2008

bq. Politicians are hypocritical for the same reason the rest of us are: to gain the social benefits of appearing virtuous without incurring the personal costs of virtuous behavior. If you can deceive even yourself into believing that you’re acting for the common good, you’ll have more energy and confidence to further your own interests — and your self-halo can persuade others to help you along.

That is from John Tierney’s column in today’s New York Times. He explores the psychological means by which we can rationalize hypocrisy and perhaps avoid it. Since his motivating examples are political — McCain’s rejection and then embrace of the Bush tax cuts; Obama’s support for and then rejection of public financing — I would add this: politicians shift positions for a variety of strategic reasons, and they can do so because it is rare for them to be punished obviously and explicitly for those shifts. Such shifts may even provide net electoral gains.

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