On much of the left, the reaction is gleeful delight: See! He is no better than anybody else!
Pssst. Dave. Anyone to the left of Amy Sullivan already thought that, assuming they feel like being generous, and anyone to the right, and religious, is supposed to think that, too.
Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse.
One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives.
The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution.
Which man is leading the more moral life? It seems to me that the answer is the first one. Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue - or at least as a mitigation of his offense?
After all, the first man may well see his family and church life as his "real" life; and regard his other life as an occasional uncontrollable deviation, sin, and error, which he condemns in his judgment and for which he sincerely seeks to atone by his prayer, preaching, and Christian works.
Yet it is the first man who will if exposed be held up to the execration of the media, while the second can become a noted public character - and can even hope to get away with presenting himself as an exemplar of ethics and morality.
How does this make moral sense?
Here's a tale for you, David.
I used to be a semi-regular viewer of Bill Buckley's Firing Line, but somewhere in the first Reagan administration I began to feel that either Buckley was losing it, or the strain of defending a supposed purist Conservative administration which was proving to be among the most venal and least competent in US history was becoming too much. The last show I remember watching was a program on or around the '84 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, and Buckley jocularly posed a moral conundrum for the panel: "Could one construct a conceivable moral universe in which the moral force of Mother Teresa was subservient to that of Sister Boom-Boom?"
Older readers may recall that Sister Boom Boom had gained a measure of fame by 1984 for having run for mayor of San Francisco, and that her fifteen minutes were extended by the Democratic Convention by the Bay. A quick Googling of "William Buckley" and "Sister Boom Boom" reveals, unexpectedly, that Bill was still milking the former head of the Nun of the Above ticket for the Roman Catholic snicker quotient at least as late as 1998, or fourteen years after anyone outside of San Fran had given her another thought. Make of that what you will.
Anyway, Buckley's mock question was met with derisive laughter, and I seem to remember uttering three words as I walked over and snapped the teevee off (remotes weren't that big in those days, kids):
"Alan Turing, motherfuckers!"
Because, of course, the answer to this "absurd" moral equivalence is so sophmoric that anyone reduced to laughter at the very thought is either an illiterate or a hopeless bigot. I didn't even have Christopher Hitchens' book on Ol' Agnes in my arsenal in those days. If you couldn't imagine a possible moral universe made better because homosexuals lived a life free of persecution, shame, psychiatric intervention, or tax-free religious denunciation, and if, conversely, you couldn't imagine a possible universe in which promulgation of a false and antiquated belief system was responsible for any number of historical ills, then you weren't paying attention to the real universe you were hypothetically moving through.
So that's the simple answer, David, not that it couldn't have occurred to you if you'd tried, not that it would change that brain-dead commentary of yours if it did. The question needs to be put the other way: what, other than your claims of moral superiority, would possibly make the dishonest man the exemplar in your example? Nothing. Which side can be demonstrated to have done real harm to real individuals? Yours. And isn't courage still a moral virtue, or did that one dive down the rabbit hole right after honesty and integrity?
We don't know what more Alan Turing might have accomplished had he not been driven to suicide by the forces of law and "morality". We don't know if the proverbial cure for cancer might have been lost along with some kid imprisoned, lobotomized, or hounded to an early grave somewhere. We don't know the cost of treating people as pariahs for no good reason, the costs of leaving children in foster care, or worse, rather that letting Those People adopt, just as we'll never know the full costs of slavery and racial discrimination. But we do know that sometime, somewhere, some imbecile former speechwriter will be sure to praise a hypothetical white Southerner for recognizing his mistake while ignoring the people who suffered at his hands.
We know something else. We know the morally superior preacher of Frum's invention wasn't working as a male prostitute to earn enough money to spread the Word of God; he was living in tax-free splendor while hiring man meat on the side. How convenient. How moral. How Republican.