Double Talk About Double Standards: We Live With Immoral Double Standards. Should We?
Professor Stanley Fish recently published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Two Cheers for Double Standards.” Fish begins by explaining that a double standard is “when you condemn an opponent for doing or saying something you would approve or excuse if it were said or done by one of your buddies.” A classic example of a double standard is when a married woman is condemned for having a sexual affair with another man, while her philandering husband is given a free ride—after all, he’s just a man. But this is not the double standard that Fish is cheering for. (Just imagine reading a New York Times op-ed that cheered for that particular double standard!)
No, the double standard Professor Fish has in mind stems from the furor over Rush Limbaugh’s despicable and gratuitous attack on Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Fish notes that “Limbaugh has not had many defenders,” a fact that might be interpreted to the credit of conservatives, who, in this case at least, put public civility above blind partisanship. But Fish draws no such conclusion, since the target of his polemic is those conservatives who, according to Fish, “have cried ‘double standard’ because Ed Schultz was only mildly criticized … for characterizing Laura Ingraham as a ‘right-wing slut,’ and Bill Maher emerged relatively unscathed as he referred to Michele Bachmann as a ‘bimbo’ and labeled Sarah Palin with words I can’t mention in this newspaper.”
Fish observes that “some left-wing commentators have argued that there is a principled way of slamming Limbaugh while letting the other two [Schultz and Maher] off the hook, because he went after a private citizen while they were defaming public figures.” But Fish rejects this feeble attempt by the liberal Left to wiggle out of the charge of a double standard, because the double standard, Fish maintains, is just what our nation needs.
True, as Fish acknowledges, many of us have been brought up to think of double standards as wrong. This is because we “have been schooled in the political philosophy of enlightenment liberalism … Basically this is the transposition into the political realm of the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Don’t give your friends a pass you wouldn’t give to your enemies.”
But not everyone has been schooled in this political philosophy. Fish recounts a scene in the classic Western film The Wild Bunch, in which two outlaws discuss the thorny issue of who deserves your loyalty. The moral of the scene is summed up by Fish as: “What counts is who your friends and allies are. You keep your word to them and not just to anybody. Your loyalty is to particular people, and not to an abstraction.”