The Morality of Legality and Other Hobgoblins

Inconsistency Is The Hobgoblin Of Little Lives

The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

May I humbly suggest that as far as the hobgoblins of little statesmen go, inconsistency trumps.

The story of the day that won’t go away is the building of a mosque/Islamic Center just a few blocks away from ground zero.  This story was given additional legs, as if it needed it, by the politically-inept comments of the President in support of its construction some ten days ago.  These comments were followed the next day by supposedly clarifying but conspicuously contradictory comments.  So accustomed are we to such backflips that most of the country could easily grab forty-winks during the finale of Cirque du Soleil.

Yet, let us take a moment to examine the themes of two conflicting statements and try to move beyond the blatant.  In his original comments on the matter, the President championed the obvious and stood up for the largely uncontested position that Muslims have a legal right to build mosques.  Of course, the real issue was not the legality, but the wisdom and morality of such a project.  In the President’s view, it seems, if it is legal therefore it is moral.

As it turns out, the President’s position is consistent with his take on the gran-daddy of all hot button issues—abortion.  In Obama’s view, abortion is legal (via the preferred method of judicial fiat), therefore it is moral.  Case closed.  Law of the land and all that.  Any other questions are, as he infamously stated, above his pay grade.  Or are they?

Let’s look at his follow-up statements.  On the Saturday after his Friday night comments in support of the legal right to build on private property, Obama said that he was not commenting and would never comment on the wisdom of doing so.

I am sure this should come as extremely welcome news to the Israelis as Obama and his administration have made it their favorite pastime to comment on Israel’s legal, but supposedly unwise policy of building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  The Secretary of State recently said that such construction “undermines trust”, makes the “peace process more difficult,” and “such activity complicates other U.S. goals in the region.”

That sure sounds like commentary on the wisdom of otherwise legal construction to me.  Couldn’t many of the same things be said about the ground zero mosque?

So one would have to assume that Israel is now off the hook and is free to commence the housing boom in the West Bank OR that the President is glibly unconcerned about that ol’ consistency hobgoblin.

So why is it that the President, his administration, and his party can question the wisdom and morality of a legal right in one case, but when it comes to abortion—legality always trumps morality? Always.

In this sad case, inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little lives.