Most of us are familiar with this pithy quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essays, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."
Most of us are familiar with this pithy quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
As an editorialist, I will confess to having used this idea to critique doggedly predictable public leaders and their dreary policies. Like my hound dog with a rope knot, sometimes we keep hold of an idea until we’ve shaken the life out of it. Begrudgingly, this brings to mind another memorable line from Nietzsche, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
Maybe I’ve just looked down into the hole too long, but I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that there exists a group of Conservatives with whom I agree more often than not. That group is Right on Crime (http://www.rightoncrime.com). The masthead of their website states, “The Conservative Case for Reform: Fighting Crime, Prioritizing Victims and Protecting Taxpayers.”
I’m all for each of these things, but I get a sense that the ordering of their core values isn’t quite reflected in the language of their masthead logo. Moreover, I’m not in absolute agreement with every scintilla of their “Statement of Principles,” but then again, I’ve yet to meet another liberal Democrat with whom I had perfect correspondence. Call it politics by hand grenade… close enough. For those keeping score, this makes the second time Ralph Reed and I have had an overlapping association. The first was a campus organization at the University of Georgia. Even so, I find it difficult to embrace some of my Right on Crime company: Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, William Bennett, Ed Meese… I’m not happy about it, but good ideas are good ideas — no matter their source.
Before anyone troubles to point out the obvious, I recognize that this affinity for ROC, has a tincture of “some of my black friends” about it. Try as I might, I’m not one of “them” and this tentative embrace likely comes off flat. Wolves modeling shearling coats are still wolves… got it. Polemical differences aside, the ROC folks have a perspective I find appealing. They appear to have stepped back from the rhetoric, taken a good look at the present course and declared it broken. They assent we can’t afford to lock up everyone for whom it is technically possible. (TheY) acknowledge prisons don’t do much in the way of reformation or rehabilitation. They correctly identify waste, the dysfunction of some draconian policies and the need to assail crime with a more sophisticated approach.
In particular, they espouse a number of beliefs that represent an agreeable middle ground. They are couched in the language of Conservatism, but they are arguably broader. The first regards victims’ rights, “The criminal justice system should be structured to ensure that victims are treated with dignity and respect and with the choice to participate, receive restitution, and even be reconciled with offenders.”
The second addresses the nexus of public safety and efficient government, “Taxpayers know that public safety is the core function of government, and they are willing to pay what it takes to keep communities safe. In return for their tax dollars, citizens are entitled to a system that works.”
The third speaks to the American addiction to mass incarceration and its inability to engender positive personal transformation, “Incarceration is a significant and necessary factor in public safety, but conservatives understand that there are also other factors… Reducing recidivism should be a central focus of conservative efforts to reform criminal justice.”
It’s hard to disagree with this body of thought. As citizens, we want and deserve a government that protects us, deals effectively with law-breakers and does so with justice, efficiency and economy. Regular readers may recall my recent use of Groucho Marx’s, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” I’m not sure ROC would have me. I’m not sure I’d join, but I am willing to think about it.
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Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org