Why “Wife Swap” Works As A Reality TV Show

And how that applies to Attorney General Bill Barr today…

Attorney General Bill Barr speaking before the Federalist Society. (From the organization’s own Twitter feed. They like things in black and white.)

It’s been 15-years since the U.S. version of what was originally a British series premiered on ABC. (And believe it or not, new episodes are currently being made!) For those of you who’ve maybe never watched it (too bad, it’s great!) “Wife Swap” was exactly what it sounds like: a wife from a family of vegan health food store owners, for instance, would be sent to live for a bit with a family of meat eating cattle ranchers or whatever, and would earnestly try to remake their lives. As would the BBQ-crazy cattle rancher’s wife, now stuck with a gaggle of quinoa eaters.

We always wonder while watching it why anyone would subject themselves to the ridicule and humiliation implicit in being on that show. (Some of it might be that a lot of the show is probably staged, cleverly edited, and/or fake. Which is fine: because it’s a reality show, not a news show).

Yet after watching just a few episodes another reason becomes crystal clear: the participating families all believe the lifestyles they’ve developed or chosen are so superior to anyone else’s, it’s their mission to share it with — -no, to impose it on — the world. By definition that also means the way anybody else lives is dead wrong, and not worthy of respect.

Now read what Attorney General Bill Barr said in a speech to the Conservative (and currently super-powerful because federal judges do not get nominated these days without their blessing) Federalist Society. And while you’re reading this, remember it’s not some kind of thought exercise or rhetorical calisthenics. Barr is the Attorney General. Right now.

Most coverage we’ve seen zeroes in on a different part of Barr’s speech, where he identifies “the resistance” as an enemy to Democracy, and directly mocks faint-hearted Liberals who apparently can’t take his brand of President worship. But we believe the real crux of the speech is here (this comes from the official transcript on the justice Department website):

In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides.

Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise. We are interested in preserving over the long run the proper balance of freedom and order necessary for healthy development of natural civil society and individual human flourishing. This means that we naturally test the propriety and wisdom of action under a “rule of law” standard. The essence of this standard is to ask what the overall impact on society over the long run if the action we are taking, or principle we are applying, in a given circumstance was universalized — that is, would it be good for society over the long haul if this was done in all like circumstances?

For these reasons, conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means. And this is as it should be, but there is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy far, especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.”

“Wife Swap”, right? The other “family’s” way is so wrong, so misguided, so bad, so evil, so outrageously profane, they do not deserve any regard at all. Because they’re doing such a bad job at “running their household” and “rearing their children”. And his way is so much fairer, better, more high-minded, that it must be forced upon society, or society will suffer.

Only in modern-day America are things this black and white. We’ve often written about how we agree the federal government over-regulates many things, but that also doesn’t mean all regulation is over-regulation, as the current administration seems to want it to. But that also means listening to people you don’t agree with am assessing where there might be common ground. Barr seems to be saying there’s no possibility for that (when it comes to dealing with Liberals, that is).

He instead argues essentially that Liberals are so wrong not only because they’re convinced they’re so right, but because they’re so pig-headed about it. And then argues that his way is empirically so right. Yet he doesn’t see himself being equally or more pig-headed about it as ridiculously hypocritical, because he’s too busy being right.

This isn’t “love thy neighbor”. It’s “feel superior to your neighbor” because you have “scruples”, as he puts it, while they’re off seeking an “earthly paradise”, as he also puts it.

Which amounts to “despise thy neighbor unless they come around to my way of seeing things”. Partly because they’re so obviously wrong simply by not seeing things your “perfect” way, but also just because you say so.