Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Pursuit of Hypocrisy 

Atrios posts about Santorum's latest salvo against the "pursuit of happiness," prompting a lot frankly predictable posturing from our side about the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers.

First of all, the conservative lament about its presence in the DoI is nothing new. Malcolm Muggeridge was bleating about it at least as far back as 1979 ("There is something ridiculous and even quite indecent in an individual claiming to be happy. Still more a people or a nation making such a claim. The pursuit of happiness... is without any question the most fatuous which could possibly be undertaken. This lamentable phrase the pursuit of happiness is responsible for a good part of the ills and miseries of the modern world."), and for all I know it's been a bete noir of theirs going back even further. Santorum is just riffing on a golden oldie as far as his base is concerned.

Nor is the complaint entirely ill-founded. In one episode of the Sopranos, the one-legged Russian mistress Svetlana lectures Tony about how Americans, unique among their fellows, expect their lives to be happy, and as a result are chronically disappointed--a statement well supported by social statistics regarding alcohol and drug use, divorce, crime rates, homicide, abortion, etc, nearly all of which rank the United States at or near the bottom. Even Tocqueville saw that problem coming.

Rather than wrap ourselves in the flag, it might be more interesting to ask conservatives just what happiness they resist pursuing, if self-restraint is so good. Because, when I look around for examples of conservative self-sacrifice, I don't see a whole lot. Is it recognizing the necessity of long-term fiscal sanity by keeping government spending from exceeding income? Serving themselves in wars they ask others to die for? Supporting sustainable environmental policies that provide a livable world for future generations?

Hell, let's set more modest goals. How about not cheating on your wife? I think there was a commandment about that one--though maybe Tom Delay is having one of his goons have reverse that regulation. Or how about not bearing false witness? How about not unjustly enriching oneself at others' expense?

Here's a question: has any prominent conservative, anywhere, ever urged self-restraint on himself or other conservatives, as opposed to using it as a political weapon against unmarried pregnant women, drug addicts (Rush Limbaugh excepted) or gays? And if self-restraint is a social good, how come liberals who legislate against smoking in restaurants, or harrassing members of the opposite sex onthe workplace, labeled "scolds" and "PC fascists"?

[Update: Fixed meaning-reversing typo.]

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