Pop Ethics Quiz: Is This Hypocrisy?

"Do as I said, not how I wished they would have done before I said it, and definitely not to me now. Got that?"

“Do as I said, not how I wished they would have done before I said it, and definitely not to me now. Got that?”

In 2003, Dennis Hastert, then Speaker of the House and as yet unmasked as a child molester in his days as a High School wrestling coach,  said

But it is equally important to stop those predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail for the rest of their lives and to help law enforcement with the tools they need to get the job done.”

The news media has labeled this statement hypocrisy. Is it?

It is not.

Hypocrisy is a statement of moral or ethical standards that an individual proves by his own actions that he does not believe. The actions that supposedly mark Hastert as a hypocrite had already taken place when he made that statement in 2003. There is no reason to assume that he did not believe that sexual predators should be stopped and prevented from doing harm to others, even though he had been one, and indeed even if he was still inclined to molest young men in 2003.

This is another version of the flawed argument that a parent who smoked pot as a youth cannot credibly demand that his or her own child not do the same. What makes a hypocritical statement is insincerity and pretense at the time it is made, demonstrated by conduct in close temporal proximity to that statement. Continue reading