Consistency or just foolishness?

January 4, 2012


“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, meet Ronald Ernest Paul. He is the very soul of a foolish consistency. Meaning that he is willing, often to a fault, to follow his ideology to its logical and most extreme conclusions.

In this, the congressman differs from other GOP contenders for the White House and, for that matter, from most politicians, period. Your average pol might rail against the intrusion of government into the private lives of its citizens, then turn right around and advocate a law regulating what a gay man does in his bedroom — and see no contradiction. Paul is too intellectually honest for that.

Intellectual honesty is a good thing, if only because it can lead you to reconsider a faulty premise. But in Paul’s take on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 he doubles down on the bad premise instead.

Paul has long argued — and reiterated Sunday on CNN — that the act, which liberated untold millions of African-Americans from the tyranny of Jim Crow, “destroyed the principle of private property and private choices.” In other words, forcing a restaurant to take down a Whites Only sign infringed the rights of the restaurant’s owner. A similar argument was made by segregationists in 1964 — and by slave owners in the 1850s.

Maybe it’s easy to make freedom an issue of “property rights” when you have never been the property.

That said, it is of little importance to wonder, as some are now doing, whether all of this makes Ron Paul a racist. Yes, we’ve recently learned of a newsletter sent out under his name in the 1990s that included racist language. Yes, Paul has won — and declined to disavow — the support of various white supremacist groups.

But yes, too, Paul has (rightly) decried the War on Drugs as a war on African-American men. So take him at his word, that he is just a man for whom government equals tyranny — a view shared by many on the right. Then ask yourself what sort of nation this would be if that view ever prevailed.

Can government be overlarge, overbearing, overwhelming, over restrictive, over intrusive? Of course. And where it is those things, it is the right — and duty — of the electorate to pare it back.

On the other hand, unless you enjoy salmonella in your food and lead in your paint, unless you think it’s OK that your doctor has no medical degree and your lawyer no license, unless you’re fine with breathing sooty air and drinking tainted water and unless you really think a black woman in Mississippi, locked out of public places by threat of violence and force of law, should have been required to wait on market forces to rescue her, you must regard Paul’s moral imbecility with a certain appalled awe.

Heaven help us if the intellectual rigidity he symbolizes is really the only alternative to the intellectual malleability of so many of his colleagues

At its best, government vindicates and defends a people’s noblest ideals. The Civil Rights Act was government at its best. Paul disputes this and styles himself a defender of freedom for so doing. Too bad he can’t spend a day being black in Mississippi in 1964. He might emerge with a better understanding of that word.

As it is, Paul’s extremism only proves this much: Emerson didn’t know the half of it.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


voevoda 5 years, 6 months ago

Ron Paul actually isn't so consistent, as his stance on abortion reveals. In his 1983 short book Abortion and Liberty, Ron Paul called a Constitional amendment to ban abortion "necessary" to defend life and liberty (p. 35) Now he claims that the abortion issue should be left to the states--although he still wants laws to prohibit it. In the same book, Ron Paul argued that the fetus has all the rights, and the woman has only obligations. By the act of having sex, the woman consented to become pregnant and obligated herself to the fetus. Ron Paul saw no reason to permit abortion in case of rape; pregnancy doesn't result from rape. Ron Paul saw no reason to allow abortion to protect the health of the mother, "pregnancy is natural...it’s a delightful period for the mother and she feels better than at any other time in her life." (p. 22) Despite the length of the tract, Ron Paul did not address the issue of birth control failure; in that case, the woman explicitly did not consent to become pregnant and by Ron Paul's logic, she should be fully at liberty to terminate it. As a physician, Ron Paul certainly knew about birth control--how widely it is used and how often it fails. So why leave this out? Logical consistency with his "libertarian" philosophy would then require him to change his stance on the abortion question in order to uphold the rights of women. It's too easy for Ron Paul, a white male, to stake out positions that denies to women and blacks the fundamental freedoms and opportunities he claims for himself. The fact that he needs to go through logical contortions to get to those positions suggests that defending liberty isn't his real goal--it's defending his own prerogatives and catering to his followers.

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