Principles–and foolish consistencies

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” Emerson said. No need to worry then about the size of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s mind. Back in 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died and President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace him on the Supreme Court, McConnell, the Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate and his Republican compatriots in the Senate, argued that with an election coming up the outgoing President shouldn’t be allowed to fill the vacancy.

McConnell suggested that the American people deserved the chance to declare their preference before a successor was appointed.

Never mind that McConnell also suggested that if Hillary Clinton won the election, her appointment to fill the vacancy would never get a vote.

Regardless, McConnell now says if a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court before the next election, Trump’s appointment will get a vote.

One might argue, as McConnell did back in 2016, that as a matter of principle, a vacancy on the Supreme Court should not be filled less than a year before the election so that voters should have a chance to express a presidential preference bearing on the vacancy. But then what is the principle that would allow a vote before the next election?

Principles are important, and politicians invoke principles a lot, usually when attacking something that someone in the opposing party has done or is advocating. When Obama was president we heard a lot from Republicans about the Constitution, the Rule of Law and blah blah blah.

Now, with the shoe on the other foot, not so much.

Principles—which is to say fundamental truths or values that we hold—are important. Among other things, principles are the basis for our laws. Laws reflect our values and what we hold to be true. America, we are told over and over again, is a nation of laws and not men. In America, the Rule of Law prevails—supposedly.

The Rule of Law is just another way of saying that rules should be consistent, not random or arbitrary, not one way under a set of circumstances for one person, and another way under the same set of circumstances for another.

That, anyway, is what we supposedly believe. But we have all these not little minds, poobahs that write our laws, who call balls strikes and strikes balls depending upon which team is batting or who is at the plate.

Obama going to a baseball game with Raul Castro, president of Cuba, is an outrage. Trump “falling in love” with the murderous dictator of North Korea, holding two summit conferences with him (something that Kim Jong Un desperately wanted to give him legitimacy and stature) and getting nothing in return—that isn’t worthy of comment.

So much for principles.

Senators say one thing in public and reportedly something entirely different in private. The attorney general disregards his oath of office to serve a President who has no regard for the truth, for principles, for tradition or for anything else that stands in the way of what serves his personal desires and interests.

Imagine if William Barr had been attorney general rather than Elliott Richardson when Spiro Agnew was being investigated for bribery, corruption and tax evasion. Agnew, a crook of the first order, might have gotten away with it (including accepting bribes in his White House office while he was Vice President) and become President when Richard Nixon resigned.

But Richardson stood on principle, on the Rule of Law, believing that no one, no matter how high his or her station in life, was above the law.

Now, expediency is the order of the day. Do what you need to today, and take a different position tomorrow if it serves your interest. Invoke the Constitution as though it were revealed natural law when it helps, but disregard it when it doesn’t. Attack “activist” liberal judges when you oppose their rulings, but don’t worry about activist conservative judges when you agree with them.

Principles, then, in our present day politics are apparently just an orange crate you stand on when your position needs a little lift. You can always discard the crate when it’s served its purpose.



  1. Susan Friedman on June 1, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Right on!

  2. patty Abramson on June 2, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    You are speaking to the choir here. Well said.

  3. Bunny Lorch Kolodner on June 25, 2019 at 10:05 am

    Third it

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