Leo Morris: Indiana legislators cross the hypocrisy line


I’ve mentioned this in passing in a couple of columns, but I think it bears some elaboration: Hypocrisy is a very boring subject.

It’s the cheapest sort of complaint to make against somebody; reflexive and shallow. Very high schoolish.

When we first understand the power of logic and the beauty of destroying somebody with a superior argument — along about the 10th grade — we also discover people often say one thing and do another. It offends our sense of justice, especially when the hypocrites are our teachers and other adults who set the limits of our existence.

Holden Caufield, if you remember “Catcher in the Rye,” railed against all the phonies in the world. That’s about as deep as his thinking goes, so he never reaches the level of self-awareness that tells him he, too, is often a phony, as indeed we all are.

Hypocrisy is a tribute that vice pays to virtue, said Francois De La Rochefoucauld. If we say the right thing, it’s at least an acknowledgment that we know what it is, even if we can’t bring ourselves to do it.

It is especially pointless to rail against the phoniness of politicians, whose job descriptions require them to say whatever an audience wants to hear before doing whatever they please, however contradictory, secure in the knowledge they can get away with it.

Since we tend to see faults in our enemies we overlook in our friends, calling out a public official for hypocrisy solves exactly nothing except to reveal our own political leanings. Liberals are good at spotting conservative phonies, and conservatives always call out the liberal phonies.

So, I try to avoid the subject. I follow the Taoist principle of accepting the essential nature of things, so I don’t berate politicians for behaving like politicians.


Some of them abuse the privilege.

Hypocrisy can be so rank — despicable to the point of depravity — that it must be called out. And nothing is so rank as COVID-19 hypocrisy.

There is the governor who bans indoor dining, then attends a fancy meal at an exclusive restaurant at which no one is wearing a mask.

There is the mayor who tells people to stay home for Thanksgiving then boards a plane to visit relatives in another city.

There is the powerful Washington politician who, maskless, gets her hair done in her home city in contradiction of the local rules for small businesses.

And there is the Indiana General Assembly.

All Hoosiers are under a mask mandate extended again and again by the governor. Go to your favorite restaurant, if it is open, if its limited seating capacity can accommodate you, and you will not get in if you are not wearing a mask.

And if you have reason to visit the Statehouse, if you are a lobbyist or a legislative assistant or a representative of the media or just an ordinary citizen, you must wear a mask. Everyone at the Statehouse must wear a mask.

Except, of course, the lawmakers.

At their organizational meeting in mid-November, members of the General Assembly’s Republican supermajority voted down a measure to require legislators to wear masks while conducting official business at the Statehouse. That’s because the separation-of-powers doctrine forbids the governor from setting requirements for the legislative branch. The legislators, in the words of the governor, “rule their roost.”

I don’t care. They’re still hypocrites. They’re the ones, after all, who gave the governor the power to mandate masks for the rest of us, a constitutionally suspect act, by the way. And they have the power to subject themselves to the same rule they have allowed for the rest of us.

But, ah, legislators might say, we know the wisdom of wearing masks. In fact, all but two of us at the organizational meeting wore masks, and we socially distanced ourselves as well.

That’s the point, though. They know masks should be worn and will wear them. The just don’t want to be told they must wear them. They rule their roost.

Well, I rule my roost, too. Or at least I like to pretend I do. And I think most Hoosiers would like the same ability to know and do the right thing without the morally suspect nanny state — the one that says we must wear seatbelts but don’t have to wear motorcycle helmets — making it a mandate.

Guess I have mixed feelings here.

On the one hand, I want the lawmakers to live by the same rules they put us under. But on the other, I like them unmasked, so I can put faces to the names of all the pettifogging tyrants who keep invading my roost.

Holden Caufield may be shallow and lacking in self-awareness. That doesn’t make him wrong.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is a winner of the Hoosier State Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].

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