Do as I say, not as I do

04/11/2014 12:33 PM

04/11/2014 12:33 PM

Like many people, I have a book-writing fantasy. I’ve picked out a title: “Hypocrisy, an American Story.”

Saying one thing but doing another is embedded in America’s DNA. The nation’s founding document, the one that says all men are created equal, was written by a slave owner. “The Scarlet Letter,” a study of the price of hypocrisy, is taught in American schools. Congress makes laws it doesn’t have to follow.

Exposing hypocrisy is always good for a laugh. But understanding it is more important because it can help us appreciate how complex most issues really are.

This week we figured out the average wages paid to men and women in our area’s congressional offices. As it turned out, on average, Sen. Claire McCaskill paid her male staffers more than her female staffers last year.

Does that make McCaskill a pay equity hypocrite? No, her staff argued — pay averages are misleading. The real measure is equal pay for equal work, and on that score the Democrat practices what she preaches.

But that reaction actually shows us something significant: Figuring out what is and isn’t fair pay in the workplace is more complicated than either side admits — a tangle of job experience, education, workplace politics and more.

Most Americans understand this. Our political culture does not.

Senate candidate Milton Wolf, a strong critic of Obamacare, got $100,000 in Medicare reimbursements in 2012. A hypocrite? No, supporters say. He’s a doctor, and some of his patients rely on the federal health insurance program.

At the same time, Wolf has never fully explained why single-payer Medicare is acceptable but the Affordable Care Act is a socialist menace. That $100,000 actually shows us health coverage is a much more complex issue than he or the tea party admit.

A congressman from Wichita introduced a bill this week giving most food labeling rights to the Food and Drug Administration to overcome a “50-state patchwork” of labeling laws.

What? I thought Republicans opposed one-size-fits-all federal regulations.

It turns out, though, that protecting the food supply is difficult and complex — and something we should talk about.

Sometimes hypocrisy

is

hypocrisy. When a bishop lives in a mansion and a family-first congressman makes out with a married staffer, they invite the laughter and scorn they provoke.

Most of the time, though, what we see as hypocrisy is actually complexity, crammed into sound bite politics.

I’m not immune. I think college athletes are mistreated, but I watched the basketball tournament.

It’s complicated. It might take a book to sort out.

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