"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. Mr. 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 Mr. Paul's take on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he doubles down on the bad premise instead.
Mr. 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, Mr. Paul has won — and declined to disavow — the support of various white supremacist groups.
But yes, too, Mr. 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 Mr. 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. Mr. 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, Mr. Paul's extremism only proves this much: Emerson didn't know the half of it.
Leonard Pitts is a syndicated columnist. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.