Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column

A Wise Consistency for Liberty

Anyone who follows events in Washington quickly understands that there is no guiding philosophy behind the actions of Congress.  New laws are made in a haphazard manner; new regulations are imposed on an ad hoc basis; trillions of dollars are spent without regard to whether the programs and agencies funded do any good whatsoever.  Both political parties blame each other for the resulting mess, but both are guilty of an egregious lack of principle in virtually everything they do.  Both parties cite the Constitution when it suits their purposes, but both regularly violate it-- particularly through legislation that exceeds the enumerated powers of Congress and tramples on states’ rights.  Both support various actions by their party or president, yet strenuously oppose the same actions if taken by the other party.  In short, there is no consistent guiding philosophy on Capitol Hill except political expediency.  The battle in Washington is about political spoils, not ideology.

Consistency is sorely needed in Washington.  A guiding philosophy of liberty, based on constitutional restraints, should be followed consistently.  Without philosophical consistency, the rule of law becomes nothing more than the imperial whims of the latest gang in Congress.

Those who reject principle in favor of expediency often cite the famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  My own colleagues have rebuked me with this quote for my refusal to vote for some seemingly innocuous yet unconstitutional bill.  But Emerson didn’t criticize consistency, he criticized foolish consistency.  A wise consistency is the foundation of free society.

To Emerson, foolish consistency meant being unwilling to admit errors and consistently defending a mistaken idea, regardless of facts. His quote referred a character trait, not to sound logical thinking.  So it’s quite a distortion of Emerson’s views to use them to justify the incoherent and nonsensical policies coming out of Washington today. The political benefits of not being philosophically consistent are so overwhelming that politicians scarcely need to explain their votes.  It’s simply assumed that members of Congress will vote based on pure self-interest.  They are free to support whatever seems best for the moment.  Adherence to any guiding philosophy would hamper their ability to please the parties, donors, lobbyists, and special interests that keep them in office.  It’s advantageous to cling to the false notion that consistency is a hobgoblin, so they can dismiss any uncomfortable criticism. 

“Statesmanship” in Washington has come to mean one’s willingness to abandon any personal beliefs or principles to serve the greater good-- whatever that is. But it is not possible to preserve the rule of law or individual liberty if our convictions are no stronger than this.  The more we abandon consistency and a guiding philosophy of liberty, the more we abandon the republic so carefully designed by the Founders.  Without a wise consistency, our faltering republic will be replaced by something far less desirable.

The truth is Emerson must be misquoted to be used against those who consistently defend a free society, cherish and promote diverse opinions, and encourage nonconformity. A wise and consistent defense of liberty is more desperately needed today than any time in our history. Our foolish and inconsistent policies of the last 100 years have brought us to a critical junction, with the American way of life at stake. It is the foolish inconsistencies that we must condemn and abandon.