Linda Hirshman's Pretend Virtue
Have you ever met someone who expressed an undying love for humanity but didn’t get along with his neighbors? Or someone who makes his strong support for blacks known but who hasn’t talked to a black person in years? Or someone grieved over the plight of undocumented residents but whose only interaction with an actual immigrant is underpaying his gardener or maid?
These are all examples of pretend virtue found among those on the political left in this country. They hold the “correct” and “proper” policy positions about an issue, whether welfare, race, or immigration, but don’t care one bit about the actual people their policies are supposed to help but, as they work themselves out across the country, are more likely to hurt or even crush. Of course, while liberals are happy to trumpet their virtue, they are also vigilant in hiding their pretending.
Until Wednesday, when Linda Hirshman wrote an oped in the NYT titled, “I Believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting for Joe Biden Anyway.” In this article, she makes two points. First, that Tara Reade was assaulted by Joe Biden; second, that we should sacrifice her (and others like her) on the altar of the Women’s Movement. A (liberal) woman’s virtue is supporting public policy positions favored by (liberal) women, it’s not in standing with, and fighting for, the actual women abused at the hands of your political allies. Virtue shines when you care for the policy, not for the person.
What Hirshman really wants is to keep pretending that she cares about women while she votes for the men who assault them: “So stop playing gotcha with the female supporters of Mr. Biden or the #MeToo movement, making them lie to the camera -- or perhaps to themselves -- about doubting her to justify their votes.” The women supporting Biden shouldn’t have to pretend they don’t believe Reade just so they can cast their vote. They should be allowed to continue to pretend they care about abused women.
Ms. Hirshman wants us to believe that she’s agonizing over this difficult position, but she reveals that this is a moral calculation she’s come to grips with in the distant past. In her article, she explains why she supported Monica Lewinsky in her complaint against Bill Clinton: “Denigrating Ms. Lewinsky denied all women’s vulnerability to powerful men, and replacing Mr. Clinton with another Democratic centrist, Al Gore, would have been a perfectly acceptable outcome.” Translation: The Women’s Movement wouldn’t have suffered under Gore, so I was willing to support Lewinsky.
This utilitarian moral calculation doesn’t just go back 20 years for Ms. Hirshman. It goes all the way back to 1979, when Ted Kennedy decided to run for president against the weak and unpopular Jimmy Carter in the Democrat primaries. In her book Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment, she recounts how Kennedy lost to Carter because women, in a proto-#MeToo moment, had not forgotten Chappaquiddick and his self-serving excuses and power-brokering escape from any consequences. She writes, “But it was a #MeToo moment with a big cost to women’s other interests. In November the sexually virtuous Carter lost in a landslide to conservative Republican Ronald Reagan. In its nominating convention, the Republican Party had officially repudiated abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment... Had he been the nominee in 1984, Teddy might have beaten Regan. Women seemed stuck between womanizing Democrats and antiwoman Republicans.”
There you have it. For 40 years, Hirshman and other feminists have been pretending to care about women when what they really care about is politics. So what if Mary Jo Kopechne died in Ted Kennedy’s car? He supported the ERA! That’s what passes as a distasteful moral choice to these people. And that’s the same calculation she’s using when she tells us she believes Reade’s story about what Biden did to her but she’s voting for Biden anyway. “The Trump administration, and the Republican Party that he represents, are unassailably the political equivalent of [a] shipwreck. Offering only hatred, rejecting facts, refusing accountability, they represent the wreckage of the American ship of state.” And, she says, “when you are faced with a distasteful moral choice, it can be useful to be reminded of the immensity of the stakes in making that choice.” It also helps if you completely ignore how immense the stakes of Biden’s sexual conduct are for the women he’s touched, sniffed, fondled, and harassed over his career as a powerful Democrat.
Consider how destructive this utilitarian moral preening is to women. First, it tells women who have been abused or harassed by liberal men to keep their mouths shut. Political positions are far more important than your shattered lives so you will have to stand alone. Second, it encourages women to make false accusations against conservative men. Political positions are more important than the truth so you will never have to stand alone. Third, it gives liberal men permission to abuse the women around them. Your political power or generous contributions are more important than whatever happens to the bimbos you fool around with so you will never have to say you’re sorry.
I wonder what the world would look like now if the heralded feminists of our age had rejected the pretend virtue of women’s issues and instead developed the actual virtue of caring about the lives of women. Maybe, if they held powerful sexual predators of all political ideologies accountable for their abuses, better men than the Kennedys, Clintons, and Bidens would lead our country. Maybe, if they had pushed for informed consent laws instead of abortion on demand, fewer women would have suffered the physical and psychological scares of undergoing that dangerous procedure. Maybe, if they had supported all the possible choices women can make in their lives, not just the choices of the career woman, marriage and motherhood would still be revered and honored in our culture as their contributions deserve.
Don’t be fooled by the Left’s pretend virtue. They talk about the greater good, about American values, about moral choices. After expending all the hot air they have pretending they’re good people, their actions all end up the same: grabbing more power for themselves and hurting the people they pretend to be helping.