Ethics Dunce: Daily Kos Blogger “bal”

Did Past Paul Ryan make Future Paul Ryan a hypocrite, or vice-versa? Is that even possible?

I sometimes comfort myself with the fantasy that the extreme left websites like The Daily Kos are written and read solely by 15-year-olds. While this adds to my anxieties about the public schools’ incompetence at teaching basic skills like logic, analysis and argument, it soothes my fears that our nation’s policies and political discourse are being dangerously warped by millions of addled adults whose passion is untempered by even a modicum of fairness and common sense. In this spirit, I am hoping that bal is a teenager, which would explain, though not justify, his absurd post on Kos. I fear he is not.

He writes, “I guess it’s only when social programs help other people that they’re bad, because I haven’t seen Paul Ryan acknowledging how Social Security benefits helped him and his family in trying times.

It seems that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP’s most aggressive budget hawk, received Social Security benefits when his father died at 55.  Ryan was then only 16. The boy used the money to pay for college.  Today, Ryan is promoting reform of Social Security and other government entitlements, something that most economist agree is unavoidable if the United States is going to safely reduce its annual budget deficits and overall spending.  In bal’s crackerjack analysis, this means that Ryan is using the benefits of his education “to make sure others don’t get the same opportunities he did.”

“What an evil hypocrite,” he concludes.

This kind of logically-twisted thinking to condemn political adversaries is especially popular right now, as it neatly sidesteps the need to argue a contentious point of view on substance. Bal doesn’t have the skill or discipline to argue why continuing government entitlements at current levels is responsible policy even when the United States can no longer afford it, so he resorts to calling Ryan “evil” and a “hypocrite.” Ryan must be evil, of course, because the members of the Angry Left believe their position is the only right and good one, that they are all-knowing, all-benificent and all-wise, and the only reason anyone would question their world view is if that person is a cold, heartless bastard, a moron, or both. A Republican, in other words.

Let’s look at bal’s version of hypocrisy, then. He holds that if one receives a benefit in one’s youth, it is hypocrisy to advocate in favor of reforming, reducing or ending that benefit decades later. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that if one accepts aid during a difficult time in one’s life, one is ethically bound to advocate the virtues of the program involved forever, or be judged a hypocrite. Accordingly, none of the following factors can justify changing one’s position ten, twenty, thirty years or more later, no matter how valid any of these factors may be:

  • The program was or is ineptly run, illicitly funded, unfairly distributed or illegally operated.
  • Circumstances have changed, rendering the program unsustainable, unduly expensive, or redundant.
  • The recipient has increased his knowledge, wisdom, or policy acumen, causing him to sincerely change his position.
  • The recipient’s duties to others, including stakeholders and other constituencies, require him to evaluate the program from an objective, long-term perspective rather than a subjective, short-term one.
  • The recipient grows up.
  • The recipient decides, upon reflection, that he should not have accepted the benefits.

In bal’s view, one is ethically bound by decisions one makes as a 16-year-old, and cannot veer from the path established decades ago without being an “evil hypocrite.” The view requires, among other things, the absence of a valid definition of “hypocrite.” The one bal seems to be circling is this: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”

That does not apply to Rep. Ryan by any interpretation of this set of facts. Ryan’s conduct as a teenager cannot retroactively make him hypocritical when he utters beliefs contrary to it years later. Even if it could, even if bal’s Bizarro World, topsy-turvy version of hypocrisy actually existed, Ryan’s acceptance of a benefit and his advocacy of reform of that benefit are not inconsistent and do not amount to hypocrisy. I think the government is going to have to consider eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, but I get that deduction, and will continue to claim it as long as it is the law.  Accepting the deduction does not “contradict” my beliefs in any way. This would contradict my beliefs, making me a hypocrite, if I argued that homeowners had an obligation to reject the deduction if they were eligible for it.

Ryan has never argued that citizens are wrong to accept government entitlements if the entitlements are there to be accepted. If he did, it would be hypocritical for him to personally accept Social security benefits now…by not decades ago.

Bal’s absurd version of hypocrisy would mark as hypocrites….

  • The privileged despot’s son who becomes a leader of a movement to bring democracy to his nation.
  • The college grad who was admitted to an elite college due to his father’s alumnus status, who now opposes legacy admissions as unfair….that is, me.
  • The baseball player who thrived in a segregated league, who becomes an advocate for breaking the color barrier after he retires.
  • The male executive who discovers that he has been promoted through a corporation due to discrimination against female competitors, and becomes a reformer determined to end the very system that brought him to power.
  • An elected official, who became rich and powerful after his legal inheritance of the family fortune, advocating legislation that would establish massive inheritance taxes for the good of the nation.
  • The inner-city single mother who was on Welfare for years, works her way out of poverty, believes that public assistance is a trap, and advocated Welfare reform.
  • The African-American educator who was the beneficiary of affirmative action in college, but who now believes that the program is no longer necessary or productive, and opposes it in academia.

Obviously,  none of these are hypocrites, just as Ryan isn’t a hypocrite.

I left one non-hypocrite out, the classic desperate 15-year old’s hypocrisy argument, in which bal clearly still believes: the parent who opposes his or her son’s use of recreational drugs, though the parent had used similar drugs at the same age. That’s not hypocrisy either, but that is essentially bal’s logic. One is unethical if one is not forever true to one’s decisions as a child. Wisdom is hypocrisy….Knowledge is hypocrisy…Maturity is hypocrisy…Responsibility is hypocrisy.

And what is bal, for calling Paul Ryan an “evil hypocrite” when he is neither?

Why, an Ethics Dunce, of course.

8 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Daily Kos Blogger “bal”

  1. I’m a little bit confused. Ryan didn’t receive Social Security benefits after the age of 18. He (probably his mom) saved some of the money from the monthly benefits during his minority to help fund his college education. His dad paid into the system and Ryan was entitled to those benefits. Prior to the Reagan administration, social security benefits continued through the college years. President Reagan knowing we couldn’t sustain such payments into the future, abolished the college subsidies. After all, even if the parent or parents lived, it didn’t mean they had the ability to pay for college.
    My husband was killed when our son was 11. I continued working but my son received some social security benefits. I made sure a portion of what he received was invested for college. Going from 2 working parents to one is difficult and the benefits from S.S. is nowhere near what the deceased parent earned. My son completed college but still needed college loans.
    One of my aunt’s hated Reagan because of what he did. She took it very personally even though her husband could not have afforded to send his 2 youngest children to college.
    Is it possible people still think SS benefits continue thru college?

  2. Jack,
    Good call. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly even the most enlightened debates can quickly venture into finger-pointing. “This Republican is against gay marriage, yet HE IS GAY!” (which, in a similar fashion, is neither hypocritical). Moreover, even if there IS genuine hypocrisy involved, I’m not sure how it invalidates whatever the original argument was about. If Ted Bundy had told you that killing someone is a bad idea, would that necessarily make it bad advice? It’s one thing to question the validity of a source (as one should), it’s quite another to argue someone is wrong simply because they engage in the very behavior they condemn.


    PS: Some weeks back you wrote a post in which you lauded commenters who posted regularly using their FULL name and mentioned such illustrious contributors like Mr. Fuller among others, but made no mention of me. And even though I’m not actually offended, I’ve chosen to hold a grudge anyways.

    So consider yourself served. Or something.

    • I apologize. You, Tim, Glenn Logan, Debbie Schwartz, Duane, Bob Stone and Steven Pilling are full name champs here among the frequent debaters, and deserve full credit and thanks. Now watch—there’s someone else I left out.

        • Yeah, when are you Dwane, Dwayne, Duane guys going to decide the right spelling of your name? I’m challenged remembering how to spell “receive”, and I can never pick the right one. We Jacks worked it “Jaq,” or “Jak.” or “Jaac”. Get with it.

  3. Ah, the Daily Kos backwards logic. I stopped reading that site after a having row on ACORN (good riddance). The people over at Daily Kos are just as bad as most of the people they hate; they pick a political stance and throw logic and ethics out the window in order to shape evidence and circumstances to support that stance.

    I’d hate to think of what type of world we’d live in if people weren’t able to shift their political stances after years of personal experience. If we were beholden to the decisions and beliefs of our younger years, I’d still be lecturing all my friends on the evils of alcohol and telling them to go straight edge. I’d have no friends.

  4. Fine essay, Jack. These days, it’s easy to find one’s self locked in an ideological box.

    [Some have accused me of this, but I reject those commie pinko quiche eating (pant, pant)… Sorry!]

    Standing for something through honest conviction based on facts is a matter of citizenship. But, as any trained investigator can tell you (and I’ve had that training) the tipping point comes when one becomes so ideologically involved and so narrow in one’s associates that a groupthink mentality arises. When you find yourself warping the facts to a preconceived conclusion, then you have failed both your supporters and yourself. This carries over to your readership if you are a journalist or a blogger.

    This can be found on both sides of the ideological spectrum. I’ve found the equivalent fanaticism on right wing blogs as well. But I have yet to find it so deeply entrenched and pervasive as I have on such sites as the Daily Kos… or so openly avowed by established political interests. That’s a worrisome aspect of our modern times.

    I can also say, as a baby boomer, that I wouldn’t want to be held to things I said or did as a clueless youth, given the times in which I grew up! Learning and maturing is part of the process. Except, apparently, at the Daily Kos.

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