Victor Davis Hanson adapts Plutarch to a review of notable stories of the past year in his column on the parallel lives of Democrats and Republicans. After his comparisons of Richard Fuld with Robert Rubin, Ted Stevens with Charles Rangel, Alberto Gonzales with Eric Holder, and Christopher Dodd with Trent Lott, Hanson concludes:
I could go on and on with these Plutarachean examples of Parallel Lives but you get the picture. Here, the contrast is not the respective virtues of Greece and Rome. Nor is there any regret whatsoever that liberals of good faith thankfully scrutinize the bad judgment and even criminal activity of wayward conservatives. The problem instead is why we continuously consider liberal transgressions as misdemeanors and their conservative counterparts as felonies.
If Plutarch once believed that action, not intention matters (otherwise, as Aristotle noted, we could all be moral in our sleep), we moderns believe the reverse — that proper thinking can often excuse improper acts.
Why so? Perhaps we suspect that a Rubin or Dodd want to do more good things for the poor than do a Fuld or Lott, and so we should interpret their transgressions as atypical lapses rather than characteristic behavior.
Perhaps we think an Attorney-General designate Holder is properly cognizant of our long liberal efforts to force the system to change and therefore deserves some exemption for ethical blindness on the job. Again in contrast, Attorney-General emeritus Gonzales is unduly cynical in not appreciating that progressive thinking is responsible for his job, and therefore he must be held accountable immediately and for the rest of his professional life for supposed character flaws.
Perhaps we think a life-long crusading African-American like Rangel merely fudges a bit here and there in the twilight of a long exemplary career seeking to ensure racial harmony and parity for his nation, and therefore is absent-minded rather than felonious and hypocritical. Yet the sordid behavior of his white male conservative counterparts provides valuable elucidation about their depravity and bigotry — and is proper grounds for their eventual departures not merely from posts of influence, but from the Congress altogether.
Perhaps — as we saw from the asymmetrical media treatment of the two candidates during the recent campaign — in matters of power and politics today, intention, symbolism, and rhetoric are everything; facts essentially nothing.
Or maybe less cynically — in the minds of self-appointed liberal moralists concerned about the greater good — exalted ends at times necessarily entail regrettable means.
Whatever conclusions you might draw on your own from Hanson's "parallel lives," this is a great column. Like Plutarch's Lives, it is entertaining and educational. It could also serve as everyday inspiration for many chapters yet to be written.
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