Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Sept. 10, 2014, during the Senate Aging Committee hearing to examine older Americans and student loan debt.
Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

What hypocrisy is (and what it isn’t)

A couple of years ago, President Obama attended a fundraiser with some wealthy donors. The Republican National Committee said it was “the definition of hypocrisy” for the president to “run against” the wealthy while seeking campaign contributions from wealthy contributors.
 
The trouble, of course, is that this isn’t the “the definition of hypocrisy” at all. Having a policy agenda that focuses on lifting up working families, while asking more from the very wealthy, does not preclude seeking contributions from those who also support that agenda.
 
This week, Hillary Clinton was accused of being “hypocritical” for criticizing the existing campaign-finance system, even while raising money within that system. But again, that’s not what “hypocrisy” means – there is no contradiction when a candidate plays by the rules while hoping to someday change those rules.
 
And today, it’s apparently Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mas.) turn. Politico reported:
Elizabeth Warren is trying to kill President Barack Obama’s trade agenda by raising the specter that foreign companies could use an investor-friendly arbitration system to circumvent the U.S. court system.
 
But she hasn’t discussed her own role 15 years ago in the arbitration system she opposes – as a paid expert witness earning as much as $90,000 from the U.S. government.
Once again, this isn’t what hypocrisy what means. Vox’s Matt Yglesias explained:
Imagine that we were debating drug legalization, and one Senator is running around talking about how it’s appalling that we are sending people to trial over possession of drugs. Now someone writes a story saying Senator X didn’t seem to think drug trials were so appalling back when he was working as a defense lawyer for people accused of drug possession.
 
Nobody would write that, of course, because it doesn’t make any sense.
 
Even if Warren had been on the pro-business, anti-government side of that old case I wouldn’t see much hypocrisy here. We all live in the legal system that actually exists and it’s not unreasonable for someone to offer their services as an expert in one situation even as their larger policy convictions might point them in another direction. But that’s not even what Warren did. She worked to help the government try to beat back an ISDS claim, and now she wants to make new ISDS claims impossible. It’s the very model of consistency.
Hypocrisy in politics is not uncommon, and it’s worth calling out once uncovered. But can we try to separate legitimate instances of genuine hypocrisy and stuff that looks kind of funny on the surface? They’re just not the same thing.
 

Elizabeth Warren and Hypocrisy

What hypocrisy is (and what it isn't)