Hypocritical? Moi?

by Kieran Healy on November 15, 2003

Evidence of a new irregular verb courtesy of an interview with Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, full-time Washington lobbyist and mother:

Would you like to see American products like television shows flourish in Baghdad as well?

Oh, no. I hope they don’t show ”The Osbournes” over there … Shows like that wouldn’t exist if mothers stayed home with their kids and supervised what they watched.

But you yourself are a working mother. Do you think you could have been happy as a full-time housewife?

Probably not. Probably it would not have been enough for me. I always had a desire to make a difference. That is why I love the legislative process, where you can make a difference.

Thus we have,

I am out there making a difference;
You should really be at home with the kids;
She is undermining the moral foundations of our society.

Such double standards are nothing new in the world of Ladies Against Women, of course, but the barefaced cheek of it is still irritating.



Ophelia Benson 11.15.03 at 11:51 pm

Wow. And that’s where the interview ends, too, after one more sentence about One Vote making a difference. (Oh yeah? Not with the Supremes on the job; but oh well.) One wonders if the reporter made anything of that brazen Do as I say not as I do-ism. If not, why not? If so, why isn’t it in the article? Spiked? Or what. One of life’s little puzzles.


Invisible Adjunct 11.16.03 at 12:22 am

I read the interview this morning.

As a mother, I was rather surprised but frankly delighted to learn that I hold such power in my hands. But I have to admit I was puzzled by an apparent contradiction: staying home with your children makes all the difference in the world, but if you want to make a difference in the world you will of course not stay home. But perhaps it’s just me: maybe I need to get out more.


bcdm 11.16.03 at 2:47 am

(à la Monty Python)


Why don’t interviewers, media, etc. follow up on stuff like this any more? I don’t think it’s a liberal or conservative bias; I’m just really starting to believe that they’re mostly incompetent. What happened to the press?


Derelict 11.16.03 at 3:00 am

No, it’s not bias. It’s a mixture of fear and stupidity.

As little as 15 years ago, any reporter worth their salt would have followed up with “Don’t you see it as an inherent contradiction that you work full-time away from home, yet admonish other mothers that they must stay home with their children?”

But today’s reporters are too stupid to realize they have been presented with such a contradiction. Or, if they do reallize it, are too afraid of confrontation to make the follow-up. I know this because 1. I was an investigative reporter 15 years ago; 2. I now spend my time hectoring reporters to go follow up on such obvious stuff; and 3. being on the receiving end of interviews these days, I’ve found I can tell a reporter ANYTHING and they’ll just print it without comment or complaint.

Nice, huh?


Nermal 11.16.03 at 3:53 am

And let’s not forget:
“Do you think that the differences between Judeo-Christians and Muslims are reconcilable?

I have a real problem with that because of my love for Christians and Jews. Can we ever all get along when there are terrorists out there? It is doubtful.”

The question was: Jews, Christians, Mustlims. The answer was: Jews, Christians, Terrorists.


What do you think American foreign policy should aim for in Iraq?

In the new country, under the new democracy, why should the official religion be Muslim? I think as Iraq becomes a democracy, there are going to be a lot of churches springing up.

Um, so American foreign policy should be to build churches?


Keith M Ellis 11.16.03 at 3:55 am

There really is a long tradition of female anti-feminist activists taking this position. For some reason (which baffles me a little since anti-feminist activists really really piss me off) I’m inclined to be generous in my jdugment of this apparent hypocrisy.

My sense is that their rationale is that they personally are truly exceptional. I think they’re wrong, but there’s no reason they _must_ be wrong. Maybe they are exceptional. Suppose we accept the validity of their assumptions—i.e., that work and home are different spheres of influence, that men and women are naturally differently drawn to and competent in them, and that the external “work-centric” portion of society (legal, cultural, economic institutions) has imposed an artificial distortion of the natural order that forces women to neglect their natural competency to the detriment of all—then it’s reasonable that exceptional women could be drawn to work rather than home, either because that’s their inborn competency, or because their commitment to the betterment of the domestic sphere compels them to a meta position intended to improve and safeguard it for all, rather than just their own.

As a liberal, I accept the apparent hypocrisy because, to me, regardless of generalized natural inclinations and idealized social order, I value individual choice. (And, as I detail above, as a liberal I’m willing to recognize the validity of arguments of which I disagree with their premises.) As social conservatives, the anti-feminists, however, likley don’t greatly value individual choice—their rationale is deeply dependent upon their personal sense of exceptionalism. Which, it seems to me, is a common conservative trait.


Keith M Ellis 11.16.03 at 4:02 am

Nermal, I don’t think your latter criticism is really fair. A very important American and human rights value is freedom of religion, there are Christians in Iraq, her answer is completely consistent with that. While American foreign policy shouldn’t be to “build churches”, don’t you think it should be the enablement of churches—and other houses of worship—be built?


Nermal 11.16.03 at 5:17 am

Hi, Keith,

I’ll cut to the chase, and then elaborate.

Ms. Combs was asked: What do you think “American foreign policy should aim for” in Iraq?

She said: “In the new country, under the new democracy, why should the official religion be Muslim? I think as Iraq becomes a democracy, there are going to be a lot of churches springing up.”

As you say: A very important American and human rights value is freedom of religion.
So, I object to her answer to the question on the grounds that it was regarding “American foreign policy.” I don’t think our foreign policy should “aim for” the building of churches, temples, synagoges, mosques or other places of worship. The worshipful will take care of that on their own. Always have, always will.

First of all, the new country will still have the same old inhabitants. (at least most of them.) The majority of the people are Muslim. Why does she bring up the question of an “official” religion in a democracy? To the best of my knowledge, democracies don’t have official religions. But I’ve been wrong before.

Iraq has Christian inhabitants, though they are in the minority, and to the best of my knowledge, they have had Christian churches they are able to attend. Here in the U.S.A., Muslims are in the minority, but ‘of course’ they have mosques for their religious services.
I go back to: The question was: Jews, Christians, Mustlims. The answer was: Jews, Christians, Terrorists.
Perhaps Ms. Combs hopes there will be a lot of missionaries converting those Muslim Terrorists to Christians that she can “love”. It doesn’t seem she can “love” them otherwise. I don’t think think she understand that freedom of religion thing you talked about. I don’t know. That’s the way it “sounds” to me.
I recall early on in this war, that the U.S. wanted the new democratic Iraq to “recognize” the state of Israel. What if a democratic Iraq doesn’t WANT to?

Thanks for listening.


Dan the Man 11.16.03 at 5:32 am

To the best of my knowledge, democracies don’t have official religions.

The United Kingdom certainly has an official religion.

By the way the proper answer to the question “In the new country, under
the new democracy, why should the official religion be Muslim?”
would be “give me some reasons why the UK should have its official religion and then I’ll give you the reason why Iraq should have its own official religion also.”


Nermal 11.16.03 at 6:10 am

Dan, I guess you ARE the man — Well, like I said, I’ve been wrong before, — so why should today be any different? Thank you for your response. I hadn’t thought of the U.K. and official religion. I don’t think of religion and country in the same thought. I don’t think we should.

But you have an excellent point. Thanks.


Andrew Boucher 11.16.03 at 9:40 am

I don’t know anything about the group and am too lazy to follow the link, but the snipets in this posting are not contradictory or even hypocritical.

Saying that “The Osbornes” wouldn’t exist if mothers stayed at home, is of course not the same as saying that (some, all?) mothers should stay at home. Making a logical leap of that dimension, usually says more about the person making the leap than anyone else.

Of course, the statement is probably not true, because I don’t think it’s the 5-year-old set watching “The Osbornes” anyway, and I don’t think mothers of any age can control the viewing of 14-year-olds. But I’d plead fallibility on either claim.

Here is the relevant claim which would imply the quoted statement about the Osbornes: “Mothers who stay at home add value.” Again this does not say anything about whether mothers *should* stay at home or not.

Since working mothers also add value (e.g. often bringing in money necessary for putting food on the table, or getting health care,…), then the point under discussion should be, which way adds more value? Are there other ways to add even more value (e.g. participation of fathers…). And are there ways to ensure that people can choose the path which they think adds the most value for them?

But like I said, I don’t know anything aboot Ladies Against Women, and I probably don’t *want* to know either.


David Sucher 11.16.03 at 12:39 pm

Irritating? Yes. But also extremely funny.


PT&S 11.16.03 at 3:21 pm

Irregular verbs, gotta love’em. Who could forget Benjamin Franklin in 1776? Going from memory, but this will be close: “Revolution in the first person is always legal, as in ‘our rebellion.’ It is only in the third person that it is illegal, as in ‘their rebellion’.”


Antoni Jaume 11.16.03 at 8:08 pm

IIRC Iraq under Saddam was not an islamic state, it was only after the GW1 that Saddam tried to sway the muslim opinion beyond his border with religious claims.

Baath was a nationalist party, not a religious one. It aspired to unite all the Arabs, without regard to their religion.



Kynn Bartlett 11.16.03 at 8:10 pm

To the best of my knowledge, democracies don’t have official religions.

I think the Only Democracy In The Middle East favors one particular religion as well.



Keith M Ellis 11.16.03 at 8:50 pm

“Baath was a nationalist party, not a religious one. It aspired to unite all the Arabs, without regard to their religion.”

Hussein is no friend of the fundamentalists. That I’ve been aware of this for longer than I can recall is part of why I’ve never given the speculation about a Hussein-Al Qaeda link much credence.

But, you know, it occurs to me to wonder what percentage of the American public is aware of this very salient fact. 0.5%? Less?



Laura 11.16.03 at 11:09 pm

Maybe Combs’s husband stays at home with the kids or a grandmother is around to provide the role of TV supervisor. Who knows? BTW, the same criticisms have been made about Phyllis Schlafly in the past.

I just want to comment on the “shoulds”. There seems to be a long line of people telling me one of two things: I should work or else I’ll waste my education, all chances at sanity, and the kids will be completely happy at daycare for 60 hours a week. Others say I should stay at home or else my kids will end up mildly retarded and homicidal.

It is troubling that Combs seems to be adding a third “should”. You should stay home with your children for their good, but you’ll be bored as hell and not making a difference in the world.

Pisses me off. I’m trying to find my own balance of work and family. One that doesn’t neglect the kids or my own interests. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I’m working on it, and I don’t outsiders of any political stripe telling me how to do it and implying that it is all so simple.


derrida derider 11.17.03 at 9:33 am

What an amazingly ignorant woman!

FWIW, Iraqi christians and their churches were very much privileged by Saddam – in fact many are Baathists (eg Tariq Aziz, his foreign minister). Not that Saddam believed in freedom of religion. It was more that they were an educated middle class and that they shitted off the mullahs.

There is consequently now resentment against the Christians in Iraq – when the troops leave they will be in a precarious position. The invasion has done them no favours at all.


Keith M Ellis 11.17.03 at 12:49 pm

DD: yes, well, again, there’s this common misconception that Hussein’s Iraq was an Islamic fundamentalist state, rather than something quite different.

However, in the context of this quote, her point isn’t incompatible with resisting the efforts of a new government to more hostile to Christianity than the previous.


pedant 11.17.03 at 4:01 pm

Let’s face it, the real problem wasn’t with the interviewer but with the unbending format she was stuck with: the one-page Q&A, most of whose text is marginalized by the big picture. I blame the Magazine rather than the reporter.


Jon 11.17.03 at 6:24 pm

*Does* the UK have an official religion, or is the name of the church there just a holdover from when it *did* have an official religion?


harry 11.17.03 at 7:15 pm

The UK does have an official religion. The C of E has its own court, automatic membership of the upper house for some of its bishops, tax breaks galore; the head of state is the official head of the church and (officially) appoints the Archbish of Canterbury. Very common too –don’t a bunch of Scandanivian countries have the same arrangement (different church)? On top of this, the State colaborates with the C of E (but also with the RC church) in running schools which it (the state) funds.

The biggest supporters of disestablishment are within the C. of E. — protestant radicals. Among the biggest opponents of dis-establishment are heads of OTHER religions, who believe, rightly, that the C of E gives them an ‘in’ to public debate and policy formation they would otherwise lack. This is largely because the C. of E. heirarchy has played an enormous role in integrating leaders of other religions into the policymaking establishment in the past 30 or so years (much to the chagrin of lots of C. of E. laity).

The UK is a far more secular society and has a far more secular political class than the US, the Establishment clause notwithstanding. For me the principle is secularity, and anything that might disturb the secularity of British society — as disestablishment might — I would view with great caution

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