Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Future Inconsistency with Present Positions does not (Necessarily) Hypocrisy Make

Today I briefly debated the merits of the "death tax" with a good friend. Of course, I know virtually nothing about it, but that's what makes debating fun, right? Well the point is that he was against it, I was in favor of it. And he was very against it. It was an interesting discussion, and I enjoyed it.

Only afterwards did I find out that someone close to someone he loves died yesterday. Youch.

While I'm certain this friend would be against the death tax no matter his personal circumstances, I'm sure those circumstances also played into the emotions he was expressing during the course of our debate. And it reminded me of something I've thought about now and again: how in certain situations I myself wouldn't agree with my (current) positions--and why that's OK.

I first realized this while thinking about the death penalty. In 1988, Michael Dukakis famously answered a question about the death penalty in a way that a lot of people thought was very cold:

And let's face it, they were probably right. However, I don't think his answer was true. If someone raped and killed his wife, Dukakis almost certainly would be in favor of the death penalty for the bastard. He probably would have strangled the killer with his own hands.

I think a much better answer would have been something that acknowledged the inevitable, perfectly understandable anger and natural desire for vengeance that would occur in such a terrible situation, but which also noted that someone so emotionally involved might not be the best person to decide the issue of ultimate punishment. I think that's what I'd say to anyone who asked me the same question. The family of a victim should not decide a convicted felon's fate. Let's make a rational decision about it; and that involves bringing in a neutral judge who, while certainly appropriately offended by heinous acts, has enough emotional detachment to pass a sentence that is best for everyone.

So today, while I'm rational, I can make the argument against the death penalty--and I don't think I'm being hypocritical to then also say "If my wife/mother/father/brother is raped and killed, don't ask me then to decide what the punishment should be; follow my advice that I'm giving today."

Same thing for a number of issues. I think it's a mature thing to realize ahead of time that you might do something rash in the heat of the moment. If someone close to my loved one died and the deceased's estate was heavily taxed before going to someone I felt didn't deserve to be given less than their full share, I might well disagree with the estate tax then too. But today, I say it's OK.


  1. p.s. Sorry for the title, it's hard to come up with something for this weird of a post

  2. The Ides of March (the George Clooney film) totally stole my idea for how to respond to such a question as a politician running for office! :)