Who Cares if John Yoo is a Hypocrite?

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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6 Responses

  1. Ben Barros says:

    Depends on whether we care about Yoo’s character (hypocrisy maybe relevant) or the merits of his arguments (hypocrisy irrelevant). I’d also like to put in a vote for the Diamond Age as The Best Novel Ever, though some of Stephenson’s other books give it a run for its money.

  2. Frank says:

    As Jon Elster says in Political Psychology, hypocrisy is the tribute virtue pays to vice.

    And I’ll nominate Stephenson’s Snow Crash as a fantastic book, though the skewering he got in TNR’s review of his latest stuff suggests that his move into history is ill-advised!

  3. Eh Nonymous says:

    I think comments about Stephenson’s ability as a writer are off-topic, despite being tangentially relevant.

    Dead on, DH.

    It matters not if Yoo was for, against, or ignorant of what we argue is the morally right (or legally right, or politically preferable) stance, during the Clinton years.

    What matters more is that he was morally wrong (and legally wrong, and politically idiotic, and pragmatically foolish, and etc. etc.) when it counted, when the stress hit, when he had a chance to make a difference instead of just complaining.

    I blame him not for his hypocrisy, but for his failure. His failure to be a good lawyer. His failure to be diligent, honest, and self-critical. His failure to be a no-man, instead of a yes-man. That he defends himself today is not wrong. He can and should; maybe others, if not Yoo, will learn something from it.

    But let it not be said that his hypocrisy, or lack thereof, is any defense to his ineptitude and moral failings.

    Shame on him, and shame on those who enabled him.

  4. Kevin Heller says:

    I think Dave’s point is well taken. Stephenson’s delightful passage highlights, for me, that there are two very different forms of hypocrisy: overt and covert.

    Covert hypocrisy is what Yoo preaches: applying a different standard to like things, criticizing one while praising the other, but pretending to the same standard.

    Overt hypocrisy, by contrast, treats like things differently, but does so accompanied by the frank admission that one is not applying the same standard. For example, a person could say (and I’m not defending this!), “yes, both Christianity and Islam have led to much bloodshed, but I am only going to criticize Islam because I think it is a false religion.” Or a person could say (and I’m not defending this, either!), “yes, both women and blacks have been discriminated against in the job market, but I’m not a woman, so I’m not going to worry about gender-discrimination.”

    Personally, because I value consistency, I rarely find double standards compelling, difficult to avoid though they may be. But I find overt hypocrisy far less troubling, perhaps even noble in its way, because at least it makes plain the hypocrite’s axiology of moral values, thereby allowing us to judge those values for ourselves. The covert hypocrite, by contrast, tries to take the moral high ground by claiming to defend a general moral principle (i.e., a principle that applies with equal force in all like cases), even though he is actually using that moral principle as nothing more than a rhetorical tool to promote his partisan agenda — thereby denying us the ability to judge the soundness of the his axiology (Christianity over Islam; blacks over women) for ourselves.

  5. …or like when some tolerate, if not encourage, certain examples of law breaking(illegal immigration?) but see a Constitutional Crisis when THIS President issues a “signing statement”.

    Yoo’s criticism of President Clinton somewhat mirror those of many of us who criticized President Bush for signing McCain-Feingold when he thought it unconstitutonal.

    If President Clinton thought War Powers applied then he should have abided by it. I think Mr. Yoo believes that Mr. Clinton was well within his rights as President to act as he did – Mr. Yoo just wishes Mr. Clinton would have expressed similar thoughts.

    If this makes me an enabler, so be it.

  6. Bart Motes says:

    The irony is that the Republican party is the great beneficiary of this obsession with hypocrisy. Because they are presumed to be straightforward about their general lack of ethics in the political realm, they escape criticism for acts for which the sanctimonious Democrats are pilloried. In the field of legal opinion, I certainly think it is relevant if one somehow views the same acts performed by one administration to be repellant and when performed by another to be somehow OK. The problem is not hypocrisy but holding a view entirely at odds with the foundation of this country: that men cannot be trusted, only law. Placing men above law, like modern Republicans have in creating this expansive and unprecedented power for their President, is a betrayal of the ancient principles on which this country was founded and profoundly unconservative. In that context, I think it is entirely appropriate to point out the hypocrisy involved. The Victorian example is not entirely accurate. One may be a minor hypocrite in advocating a code of behavior for others that one does not follow oneself out of belief that society operates on such fictions and in the realm of sex, we today have many such minor hypocrisies–some rooted in romance, others in more base emotions. In other words, it is ok to do in private what cannot be publicly acknowledged for reasons of discretion. In matters of state, no such defense can be made.