A competing set of standards

The right-wing Family Research Council this week honored Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) for his “unwavering support of the family,” despite the fact that the far-right lawmaker has refused to pay child support to his ex-wife, and appears to have lied about his personal finances.

Conservatives prefer not to notice the contradiction.

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain faced allegations of sexual harassment in the 1990s from two of his female employees. Cain now offers contradictory explanations, and says anyone who takes note of the accusations is engaging in racism.

Conservatives seem entirely comfortable with all of this, and even started donating to Cain’s campaign in larger numbers this week.

Paul Krugman is trying to wrap his head around developments like these.

Here’s how it goes: if a liberal politician is caught behaving badly — enriching himself while preaching the need to help the poor, or just in general showing himself less than admirable by having an affair, visiting call girls, whatever — his career is over.

But if a conservative politician who preaches stern traditional morality is caught engaging in actions that are at odds with what he preaches — buying sex, taking wide stances in restrooms, or, in this case, stiffing his family even while preaching family values — he may well ride right through the scandal. Witness what’s going on now with Herman Cain.

How can this be? Here’s what I understand: on the right, “moral values” are considered to be, literally, God-given principles. And a politician is well-regarded for advocating those values, no matter what he does personally. Instead of his personal behavior devaluing his political position, his political position excuses his personal behavior; a philandering politician who preaches the sacred bond of marriage is considered a good man because of what he says, no matter what he does.

The left obviously operates very differently. A tolerance for, say, politicians guilty of infidelity is not uncommon, but once personal misconduct expands into crimes and/or serious ethical lapses — deadbeat dads and sexual harassers, for example — the tolerance generally disappears.

What explains the ideological disconnect? Some of this has to do with an appreciation for reality and facts — conservatives are convinced news they don’t like is probably the result of a media conspiracy to promote liberalism — but there’s probably more to it than this.

So I thought I’d open the floor to some discussion. What drives this competing set of standards?