The Hobgoblins of Little Minds

Emerson once declared a “foolish consistency” to be “the hobgoblin of little minds.” Depending upon your definition of “foolish,” I guess that means our legislature is populated by mental giants, undeterred by the inconsistencies that baffle us lesser folks.


One the one hand, members of the General Assembly are mightily exercised over supposed abuses of the power of eminent domain. The trigger for this sudden solicitude was a recent Supreme Court ruling, Kelo v. New London, that left the definition of “public use” up to state legislatures. While reactions to that ruling arguably misread it, the ensuing debate has revolved around the issue of protecting property rights against inappropriate exercises of government power. Reasonable people will differ over what is appropriate, but most of us would agree that protecting private property from government overreaching is important.   


On the other hand, the legislature is poised to effect its own “taking,” by issuing regulations that will effectively require abortion clinics to close. They dictate such minutiae as hallway width and room size. Compliance would require clinics to rebuild or relocate, an expense most could not afford. Ignore for the moment another “foolish inconsistency”—i.e., why these “health” regulations, supposedly based on legislative concern for patient safety, are not being applied to other medical facilities, like hospitals or urgent care offices or surgical outpatient clinics. The immediate question that arises is: how can the same lawmakers who have been delivering pious affirmations of private property rights and the sanctity of free enterprise turn around and pass a measure that will put these particular enterprises out of business?


If one were cynical, one might conclude that neither position is principled, and that what we have here is a classic case of pandering to different constituencies, with little regard for the merits or long-term effects of either policy. But I really don’t think that is the explanation. I really think that our lawmakers are oblivious to the inconsistencies in these two positions.


When I was active in the Republican Party, it was the party of limited government. Republicans wanted to keep the government out of your boardroom, your bedroom, and your conscience. Pundits often opine that contemporary Republicans still want government to stay out of the boardroom, but are perfectly happy to regulate your bedroom and your conscience. I don’t think that’s true, either. Today’s GOP is also perfectly willing to infringe your property rights and overrule your business decisions in the interests of morality. Their morality, not yours.


If your moral code says businesses shouldn’t pollute, that is insufficient reason to regulate emissions. If your moral code dictates paying workers a certain minimum wage, that is unwarranted interference with the market. If your moral code says everyone should have access to health care, that’s socialism. But if their moral code says a legal medical procedure is immoral, it is entirely proper to overrule the professional judgment of doctors and nurses, and regulate that business out of existence.


I guess I’m just hung up on “foolish inconsistency.”