Entry from October 30, 2015

It’s unlikely to make much difference in the long run, but the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s characterization of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by her husband as President back in the days when the Defense of Marriage was politically popular and therefore not the act of a bigot, tells us something interesting about what seems to me to be the central contradiction of progressivism. "I think what my husband believed," said Mrs Clinton, "is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America and that there had to be some way to stop that. . .In a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further."

Lots of people, from Bernie Sanders to Ramesh Ponnuru, have pointed out that this is patently false and that no one was talking about a Constitutional Amendment until much later. The Washington Free Beacon claims to have a tape-recording of Bill Clinton, in conversation with Taylor Branch in 1999, saying, "You know I signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and I thought it was right at the time, but I’m not sure that it is." Not sure! It took him until 2013 to be sure that it wasn’t. But what, I wonder, caused him to change his mind? Could it have been the same thing that caused President Obama’s views on the same subject to "evolve" and change at, remarkably enough, more or less the same time?

As I pointed out in the May number of The New Criterion, progressivism depends for its success on the moralization of politics, as a natural consequence of which those who disagree politically with the progs inevitably become their "enemies" — as Hillary called the Republicans in the Democratic debate — and bad people. Haters and bigots. On the other hand, they also depend on gradualism, or the kind of "evolution" in public opinion that both Presidents Clinton and Obama claim to have undergone with respect to gay marriage. Unfortunately, this reliance on evolution according to changes in intellectual fashion means that people who are good and decent folks today, because they agree with the progressive views of today, may become evil enemies by tomorrow if their views do not evolve in time with the progressive consensus. Hence the progs are forever having to find some retrospective excuse, as Mrs Clinton did in the case of DOMA, for previous opinions that didn’t evolve quite quickly enough.

Yet this kind of overnight transformation of people from good to bad doesn’t fit with what we have always known, or at least thought we knew, about good and evil, which is that they don’t and can’t change with the fashions. What is right today cannot be wrong tomorrow, or else it can’t really have been right in the first place. And if we didn’t know what was right then, what makes us think we know what’s right now? In the same way, the dilemma now faced by progressive churchmen over gay marriage, assuming they are honest enough to face it, is this: how can they expect to be taken seriously in the future if what they told us was a sin yesterday has become a sacrament today? Any good prosecutor would ask: are you lying now or were you lying then?

The great advantage of post-modern politics, like that of post-modern religion, is that it obviates the need for such honesty. Because the po-mo politician’s view of reality is fluid and politically determined, she has no need to submit herself to the demands of logical consistency over time. In the same way Mrs Clinton was said by the Democrats, the media consensus and even many Republicans to have escaped, woundless, from her appearance before the House Benghazi committee last week, even though her saying that the attack on our consulate there had been a spontaneous reaction to an obscure anti-Muslim video was exposed as a flat-out lie, and one which she knew at the time to have been a lie. But when reality, like morality, can only be defined politically, the accusation of lying or hypocrisy can only be a partisan act — and so can be dismissed as such, as Hillary dismissed the Republican committee members — even when accurate. It’s the politics that matter now, not the truth.

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