Jason Chaffetz, False Outrage, and Straw Men

There’s a lot of outrage being circulated in the Bloghive about Jason Chaffetz and his desire to overrule Washington, DC in their decision to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. A lot of this outrage is centered on calling him a hypocrite. The argument centers around the idea that Chaffetz’s professed belief that government should do as little as possible is in direct contradiction to attempting to overrule a decision made by the city council. Unfortunately, most of the people making these accusations have inconsistencies of their own.

The problem with a principle is that it has to cut both ways. You have to adhere to it for both things with which you agree and things with which you disagree. For instance, you can’t proclaim to be a believer in free speech and then demand that some talking head on <insert news network here> lose their job or be shouted down because he or she said something you disagree with. It’s hypocritical to hold that kind of double standard.

When it comes to local control, you either embrace it or you don’t. Selective application will not work and our state legislature has been proven guilty of this a number of times. Unfortunately, the ragers are taking the selective application route on this issue. If the outrage is truly about local control and not about same-sex marriage, then where is the outrage that Congress has been considering shutting down the city’s popular school voucher program? Doesn’t that also thwart local control? Or is that okay because it acheives one of your political aims? That kind of inconsistency and insincere use of a principle is the mark of an opportunist, someone willing to use whatever tool is at their disposal to get what they want.

All I’m asking is that if you’re going to use something as a reason for being upset, try and be a bit more consistent about it. It would otherwise behoove you to shed that shameless pandering to populist sentiment and be honest about why you’re really upset.

Let me also take a moment to knock down the “limited government” straw man that has been built up. You may not have noticed, but the “limited government” tent is rather large. It includes paleo-conservatives, libertarians, minarchists, anarchists, moderates… you name it. None of these groups agrees on all of the points, but there is a general consensus that there are many spending and monetary policies that should not be under the purview of government, particularly at the federal level. For someone not in this camp to try and falsely extend it to include social issues is disingenuous. You cannot be a non-participant in a particular school of thought and attempt to redefine what it means for your own advantage.

Of particular note is that nowhere on Jason Chaffetz’s campaign website does it say anything about what scope of limiting he believes in concerning social issues and the federal government. In other words, attempting to call him a hypocrite on something he never said by fabricating his position is dishonest. You’d get downright cheesed off if it were done to you; stop doing it to someone else.

It’s okay to disagree with Rep. Chaffetz. It’s fine to disagree loudly and nastily. When doing so, however, try to stay honest. Propping up your arguments with fabrications and duplicity does not lend strength to your argument or position.

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6 Responses

  1. In response:

    To profess that you stand for all free speech and then demand that someone steps down after making outrageous statements is not a contradiction. I believe that people should be free to make stupid remarks, and that they should be free to suffer the consequences of those remarks, but I, for one, will always defend that persons right to express their opinion.

    On supporting only the issues that support my political gain. I, for one, have not heard much controversy about the D.C. Voucher program in particular, however I can say that, if it is successful, it should not be removed. My political opposition to vouchers in Utah derived from the manor and policy associated with it. My political viewpoint is based on core ideals and concepts of what I think government should be and do – Vouchers were bad in Utah because they unduly harmed public education and the poor, not because I am opposed to competition in education per se.

    I am not opposed to the concept of “big government” when it means that government is able to accomplish something that smaller governments are not able or willing to accomplish – however those who are opposed to the concept of “big government” tend to state that their opposition stems from a political philosophy wherein local areas always know what is best.

    In short (and in all fairness to use the most extreme case) my philosophy allows for the abolishment of slavery whereas the other allows it to pass. Carry this forward to the Chaffetz situation and his political philosophy prohibits him from interfering with local decisions whereas mine does not. The moment Chaffetz interferes, he becomes a hypocrite – the moment I do, it is because I allow for exceptions to be made on issues.

    True, in this case, I would not choose to interject national politics into local because it supports my political ideologies, but if someone somewhere were to come up with a law I fundamentally disagreed with, I would not be a hypocrite for perusing a national standard against that law.

    In short, Chaffetz is a hypocrite because he does not stick to his ideals. By standing by Regan and his ideals “fully” he implies that he wishes to contract the federal government and the role it plays in our daily lives. It is fair to call him out on his inconsistency.

  2. Jesse says:

    So if I say I believe in “limited government”, I have to meet your definition of “limited” in order to not be a hypocrite? That seems very duplicitous. I think I already explained that “limited” as commonly understood applies mainly to economic and spending policies, not social ones.

  3. jasonthe says:

    I think you have to parse a lot of unspoken intent on Chaffetz’s part to defend him on this. He has said several times that he supports limited FEDERAL government as a means to protect the rights of the states.

    Conveniently betraying that principle on even a single issue where that could be avoided is a hypocrisy.

  4. Reach Upward says:

    Most limited government folks I have met do not have as strict of an interpretation of matters as you do. They believe that it is perfectly fine to use the coercive powers of government to deal with extremely important issues.

    Many of Chaffetz’ supporters (as has been stated publicly) believe that the protection of the sanctity of heterosexual marriage is necessary for the survival of society. To them, this is an issue that warrants the application of group power to prevent future destruction. You can say that this is ridiculous, but they believe otherwise.

    Most folks in the limited government crowd are not purists. This necessarily causes problems with where the cutoff line is. A clear dividing line is much easier to apply than various hues of gray and exceptions. Battles arise over which exceptions are valid. Still, this less clear world is where most people live.

    While this may seem inconsistent to purists, the purist view seems extreme to them.

  5. W says:

    “Most limited government folks I have met do not have as strict of an interpretation of matters as you do. They believe that it is perfectly fine to use the coercive powers of government to deal with extremely important issues.”

    So, in this case, the idea would be “well, yes local control is important, but not when it comes to marriage law?”

    As a person who believes good government balances tension between important principles that are sometimes at odds with one another, I definitely believe in the idea that some inconsistency and even ambiguity can be necessary.

    I get kindof wary, though, when the resolution of those tensions starts to look like an ad-hoc situational construction of a value hierarchy. I think you can’t just say either “well, my philosophy allows for exceptions” or “well, this is an issue that’s more important than local control.” You have to come to grips about what’s important about local control in the first place as well as what’s important about any issue in conflict with it.

    And when I do that, I don’t see hypocrisy as the biggest problem with the assertions Chaffetz has made. Local control is a firewall for socially conservative states on marriage issues. Eroding it as he’s apparently proposed wouldn’t just be a compromise for a greater good in this case, it’s as likely to end up as a double-edged sword.

  1. May 7, 2009

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