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Victim of a sting in a men's room at the airport, Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, pleaded guilty of disorderly conduct. There must have been more to it to justify his plea.

Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter was "straight," but still his name appeared in the book kept by the "D.C. Madam."

Neither activity is all that rare today. But how they were handled says a lot about them and our society. In each case the Senator had a record of voting against the very behavior he was charged with.

"Hypocrisy" screamed the media. Of course. And these are not the first politicians to be exposed as hypocrites by being caught red-handed. Even well-known religious leaders have found themselves in similar boats. And yes only Craig was arrested, but that is small difference. The D.C. Madam was selling illegal services.

In American culture it is more fashionable to punish females, whether employed in, or employing others in, the world's oldest profession. Males by and large get off. Not just individuals are involved. Society is, too.

Here are our dual problems:

  • The usual result, arresting only female, or gay, participants smacks of bigotry. Women still are not treated equally.
  • Our other problem has to do with the hypocrisy. It too permeates American culture and the above is only the tip of the iceberg. Hypocrisy, the word, while correct, misses the basic problem--the Hang-up behind it--reaction formation.

According to Anna Freud, reaction formation is a defense mechanism, also known as a hang-up, that reduces anxiety. That is its purpose. There are many types. But both Craig and Vitter, acting they did, illustrate reaction formation. In each case, they voted for legislation in opposition to their own individual strong inclinations.

Why did they behave these ways? To protect their fragile egos. They had something to hide, but it was soothing to their egos to publicly deny their true feelings. Reaction formation is a defense mechanism that hides true feelings from oneself (and others of course) by behaving in the exact opposite manner. We say hiding from oneself because true defense mechanisms are buried so deeply in the subconscious that one's owner usually is unaware of the reason or reasons for his/her actions.

Since most people harbor hang-ups, it is up to the electorate to recognize hang-ups that introduce bias into public actions by elected officials. Bias differs from reasoned preferences and beliefs. Since hang-ups arise from denial, they introduce bias into the actions by their owners. Bias, by definition, is never rational. Hang-ups, again by definition, are in the unconscious, not realized, and are all too rarely, not rational.

Unfortunately, some hang-ups motivate or activate dominant behavior. Reaction formation can be a result. One's owner subconsciously thinks to him- or herself: "I am not that bad" or "I will show the world," or both. One result is to run for high office. It therefore becomes a given that some will in fact achieve high office to the possible detriment of their society and those in it. While they may feel better about themselves as winner, they too often leave wreckage in their wakes. The "smaller" the world, the more dangerous they become.


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