By Krista Kafer (firstname.lastname@example.org) If hypocrisy is “do as I say not as I do” then selective moral outrage is “do as I say not as I do and shame on you!” True moral outrage draws attention to what is wrong and exerts a powerful force for change. Selective moral outrage uses society’s moral expectations as a weapon against specific targets for political gain, while ignoring other comparable ones. Effective in the short run, the tactic’s success will surely wane as the public grows more cynical and apathetic toward moral outrage both real and counterfeit.
If you want to see selective moral outrage in action you have but to open the daily paper or magazine, visit the cinema or go to a political rally. This week the Denver Post is outraged by a government leak revealing that Bill Ritter’s plea bargain of illegal aliens put dangerous people back on the streets.
Let me rephrase, the paper and its Democrat allies are outraged about the leak -- but not about the fact that one of these coddled criminals was later arrested for child molestation. Hmmmm. I don’t recall any outrage last month over the leak revealing portions of the National Intelligence Estimate critical of the Administration. Perhaps the media was too busy hyping the content of the leak and forgot the source.
Consider the case of Mark Foley, the gay Republican congressman who hit on teenage boys in the Congressional Page Program via text messages. Sickening and deplorable, the man left office. Decent people were outraged providing a potential election tool for any opportunist. Democrats attempted to use the scandal to tar the entire Republican Party. Like flipping a switch, they turned on their moral outrage and bemoaned the action that they once condoned for one of their own.
Back in the 1980s, when Massachusetts Democrat Gerry Studds had sexual relations with a 17 year old male page (isn’t that statutory rape?), he kept his committee position, won reelection, and was even publicly applauded by Democrats. His recent death brought new accolades. Studds was lauded by the Washington Post as a gay pioneer who was a “longtime proponent of environmental protection, New England fishermen and human rights…” I don’t recall the Post treating Foley so tenderly.
Liberal politicians aren’t the only ones getting a pass. Where was the outrage when Rosie O’Donnell called Christians terrorists? Would she have kept her job if she’d said the same of Muslims or Jews? Unlikely. Mel Gibson was held to account for the repellent and inexcusable things he said. Why not O’Donnell?
Or how about those wealthy movie stars and politicians who own multiple mansions, fleets of cars, airplanes, and yachts and then chastise ordinary Americans for the energy use? An ordinary consumer like me can get a good browbeating from George Clooney and Al Gore in Vanity Fair’s Green Edition released earlier this year. or I could see the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" if I wanted another serving of shame for the planet’s destruction -- but honestly I don’t think my 1,000 square foot house is the problem, Al. When are reporters going to question the gap between celebrity environmentalists and their lifestyle? I’m not holding my breath.
An example closer to home, the press and school choice foes are quick to point out Hope Online Academy's flaws. The charter school, which recently fired a man with a criminal background, received the Rocky Mountain News’ front page headline Tuesday. A cursory search of the Rocky and the Denver Post also finds articles over the past year about teachers in traditional public schools who molested kids -- these articles are generally tucked away in other parts of the paper. I guess the front page is reserved for charter schools and the church.
In the end, the real trouble with selective moral outrage is that by applying standards unequally it diminishes their legitimacy. Standards need to apply to everyone. Seducing teens, leaking information, smearing religious people, wasting energy, and employing unethical people is wrong -- regardless of who does it.