There’s a discussion about character going on right now on “Talk of the Nation:”
We’re often taken aback when a respected governor or political candidate, or our own husband or wife, cheats. But psychologist David DeSteno argues that a growing body of evidence shows that everyone — even the most respected among us — has the capacity to act out of character.
… and I was struck by the fact that the segment started off with Mark Sanford as exhibit A.
Inevitably, talk turned to his “hypocrisy.”
I don’t see him as a “hypocrite.” But then, I didn’t see him as a guy who would so brazenly and spectacularly cheat on his wife (or do so on Father’s Day weekend), so what do I know?
But I still don’t see him as a “hypocrite.”
That’s a word that gets bandied about a good deal in our politics, particularly by social liberals talking about social conservatives who turn out to be human (and, as I said, sometimes spectacularly). It tends to reflect a couple of mutually-reinforcing elements of a world view: People who espouse traditional moral values are not only wrong, but they don’t even mean it! I mean, how could they, really? So it’s relevant to discuss.
Andy Griffith’s character on “A Face In the Crowd” was a hypocrite — a super-folksy alleged populist with a deep contempt for the masses. But Sanford — I think he always believed what he espoused, including “family values.” And still does, in his own weird way.
However, there were OTHER things they were saying on the show that were dead on, with regard to Sanford and the rest of us. Yep, he is a towering monument to rationalization. And yep, human character does tend to be “dynamic.” In spite of the root of the word, character is not stamped on us as indelibly as the image on a coin. It’s something you have to work at every day. And just because you act inconsistently with what you say on Wednesday doesn’t mean you didn’t believe it on Tuesday. Or on Thursday.
What Sanford revealed in my own far-from-omniscient opinion was a startling lack of depth, mixed with narcissism.
The narcissism shouldn’t have been a surprise, given his profoundly Randian (as in Ayn Rand, author of “The Virtue of Selfishness”) political views. Actually, it WAS a surprise, but it shouldn’t have been.
As for the lack of depth — the guy’s analysis of himself and what he openly acknowledged as his sin didn’t even go skin deep. He went around apologizing to everybody, but with an unrepentant blandness that seemed to take it as a matter of course that we were obligated to forgive him, while he blithely went about continuing to consort with this mistress. Because, you know, that’s what he wanted to do.
But “hypocrisy”? That both oversimplifies, and misses the mark…