"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve often tried to make sense of the above phrase, frequently quoted out of context. Without looking up anybody else’s thoughts for this article, I’ve understand it to mean that we should adapt to the context of the situation. For example, a “foolish consistency” would be to work in the garden in a three-piece suit or a ball gown. If one dresses in a certain way for many situations, then one should always dress that way. No! No! One should adapt to the situation.
In reference to political parties, I think the phrase can be turned around to:
“A foolish inconsistency is the work of little minds.”
Rather than a set of general principles, political positions seem to have degenerated into a set of bullet points. I think this started when some Republicans thought that other Republicans were RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). These RINOs did not take seriously every single position that the “True Republicans” did.
I am sure this “conservative”/“liberal” dialog has been going on longer than that, but for some time the Republicans and Democrats were called “big-tent” parties, meaning that they accepted people with a variety of views. The Democrats accepted Southern segregationists and the Republicans accepted those who thought business should be regulated.
For a long time Republicans have been “pro-business” but not every Republican has been “business can do no wrong”. Think Teddy Roosevelt and the trust busters. Think Eisenhower warning of the “military-industrial complex.”
I think in the nineteenth century, liberals were the ones who embraced the change from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy. The conservatives were the one’s who wanted to protect local farmers from the “liberal” large corporations.
Now it seems the roles have reversed. Liberals want to promote and protect local agriculture; conservatives want to protect the rights of large agribusinesses to do as they please.
For the rest of this article, I am going to write mostly about the short-comings of conservatives. It’s not that there are not short-comings of liberals; it’s just that I think the short-comings of conservatives are more dangerous to our democracy than those of liberals.
Conservatives have devolved from those who deliberate carefully to those who want to preserve the power of corporations or of certain religious groups. This is in itself a contradiction. Corporations tout the free market (a “liberal” idea); certain religious groups tout certain moral standards. Interestingly, the “free market” is amoral. According to some “free marketers”, it is perfectly logical to sell fetus parts.
These “free marketers” often ignore two important points of a true free market: buyer and seller have all the information they need to conduct a transaction, and there are no externalities. Can you easily get the cost of a telecommunication service? Is not pollution an externality?
It is interesting that the religious groups allied with conservatives don’t call them on pollution. Isn’t it a basic tenet of almost all religions to “do unto others as you would have then do unto you?” Would these polluters like it if their neighbors burned garbage in their backyards or had malfunctioning chimneys?
Unfortunately, it seems many of these “conservative” religious groups are overly selective in what they quote from scripture. They seem to prefer the punitive verses to the open and generous verses. Stone adulterers and homosexuals, but forget “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” They complain that abortion is murder, but they ally with a party that favors the murder of executions and of war.
In the late twentieth century, many conservatives complained about “activist courts” interpreting the law in such a way to make “new law”. Now, a conservative Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are “persons” and has interpreted “people” (a collective noun) to mean “person” (a singular noun).
Many conservatives are interpreting “freedom of religion” to mean freedom of action instead of freedom of thought. But what happens when one persons “free exercise” interferes with another person’s “free exercise”. Second guessing the writers of the Second Amendment, I would say that they meant “free exercise” meaning one could go to a church of his or her choice.
One violation of the Constitution is even “infecting” “liberals”: the Fourth Amendment seems to be completely forgotten in massive collection of telecommunications data without “probable cause” or “an oath or warrant” “describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” I guess the place is “everywhere” and the persons and things are “everyone and everything.”
I think of the Constitution as an outline of governing ourselves: not some foreign government or self-appointed dictator. Now it seems, that conservative politicians, who gave an oath to protect the Constitution are more interested in selling government to the highest bidder. And they have the gall to call unpatriotic those who question any war that will benefit some large corporations.
“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
- Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland
Have we fallen down “the rabbit hole” into a political “Wonderland”?
Those who believe as Humpty Dumpty should remember “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”
Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2015-09-17 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2015/09/16/5933_conservatives_are_liberals_and_liberals_are.