If I had to name one of the saddest, most useless tactics in the toolbox of Democrats/liberals, it would be those “Gotcha!” moments- pointing out the hypocrisy of their right wing and far right wing opponents. Take a look on Twitter some time and see liberal responses to President Pumpkin-face’s dainty curtsy for the Saudi King to see what I mean:
For the readers that aren’t aware, during his first Middle Eastern trip in 2009, Barack Obama made a shallow respectful bow upon greeting the Saudi monarch. The conservative mediasphere when nuts. Naturally they aren’t doing that now in response to Trump and if you managed to corner any conservative and demand an explanation they’d probably give you a rambling response about how Donald was just making it easier for the King to put the medal over his head before changing the subject to something else entirely.
Knowing this, however, I’m pressed to imagine exactly what liberals think would happen by pointing this out. Are they expecting to see conservatives respond with something like: “You know you liberals have got a point there! We made such a big deal of Obama just trying to show some courtesy to an important ally and friend of the Bush family, and it was all over nothing! I hope you can forgive us for flying off the handle that time! We’ll try to be more consistent with our outrage in the future!”
The point here is that just as basic facts don’t sway opinions for most people, pointing out even the most glaring hypocrisy can be just as useless. Even when that non-scandal with Obama took place in 2009, I predicted that there would have been outrage either way. That is to say if Obama hadn’t made any bow and just greeted the Saudi King as Westerners greet one another, Fox News and the army of conservative pundits would have screamed themselves red in the face about how the President disrespected this “valuable ally” and important partner. I’m sure some of them would have certainly declared the slight so serious as to jeopardize the War on Terror and by extension, America’s security.
These people weren’t genuinely angry about Obama being seen as submissive to a foreign leader (because normal, informed people don’t see the gesture that way at all), the point is that it was Obama, leader of the opposing team, and thus everything he does or doesn’t do is terrible and with malicious intent. And in spite of all that vaunted formal education, liberals totally missed this point and seemingly built an industry of cataloging each and every single time conservatives contradicted themselves, as though any of these people even cared about being consistent. The pundits who produce this manufactured outrage on the right are well-paid to do so. They aren’t so much as representing a coherent ideology as they are serving their purpose, which is getting masses of people to vote for the GOP and, quite often, policies which actually go against their own self-interest. I’m not saying that none of those pundits and columnists have some genuine, sincerely-held beliefs, but rather that they aren’t terribly concerned with being morally or ideologically consistent.
Realistically speaking, most people don’t have any coherent political worldview. The severe limitations on political participation and the pressures of capitalism mean that even in the most developed liberal democracies, the majority of people just “aren’t into politics.” With so many people posting political memes and sharing political stories it might seem that they are, but if you really look at what’s being shared most of it is simply bullshit. It’s clickbait, typically designed to provoke outrage or to stroke the reader’s ego for being on the “right” side. In other words- this isn’t politics but entertainment, in some cases highly-addictive entertainment. As such, it sort of resembles another form of popular entertainment- professional sports.
If you watch professional sports, you’ll notice that even casual fans balk at referees when they call fouls or penalties against their team. Sometimes, after watching the replay, they’ll acknowledge that the call was justified, but more often than not the immediate reaction to a call against a fan’s team is “bullshit!” When you’re rooting for a team, what matters is that they win. I’ve never heard of a sports fan who worries that their team might push the rules or even break them without getting caught. For a more extreme example of this just look at last year’s doping scandal in Russia. There people flat-out broke rules in a big way, and yet a good portion of people just alleged that there was an anti-Russian conspiracy and that Western athletes were getting away with the same thing (they weren’t, actually).
Obviously the world of sports doesn’t translate over to the world of politics very well. Here it’s supposed to be about ideas, values, worldviews. If you’re trying to convince people that your side is morally right (as has been the case for a long time now), you ought to be consistent in regards to your values. Ought to be is the key phrase there. In reality we’ve long passed the point where consistency matters. And yet you still have liberals saying things like “How can you be so opposed to abortion and not want to help poor women who keep the babies as you demand? Sounds like someone’s a hypocrite!” Poor liberals. As a great baseball player once put it- they think it don’t be like it is, but it do.
I must confess that I’m guilty of playing the “Gotcha!” game with hypocrisy. Who isn’t? It’s one of the easiest games to play. It’s not entirely useless either. Part of the reason why it matters to me is that I actually care about having a morally consistent worldview, and that worldview has actually evolved radically over time as a result. Plus pointing out hypocrisy is useful for youth and people who are politically undecided. If you’re not really that involved, you might steer clear of a movement which demands ideological conformity yet openly betrays its own values. In this sense it is like fact-checking, which is still useful and important even if it doesn’t actually help persuade people on a large scale.
But that being said, pointing out hypocrisy can’t really be a winning or even effective strategy, and it certainly can’t be a replacement for having one’s own internally consistent set of values. American Democrats spent years relying on snark and the “Gotcha” approach, trusting that the glaring hypocrisy of the right would attract more people to their side. In the end, it was their own hypocrisy of claiming to care about the working class and the poor while constantly kowtowing to super-rich donors that was one of the most decisive factors in their pathetic defeat.