03/21/2012 08:16 pm ET Updated May 21, 2012

Hobnobbing With Hobgoblins

As a board member of the ACLU of Massachusetts, I was privy to the results from a local survey the organization conducted recently. At a large focus group in which most participants considered themselves conservative voters, more viewed "invasions of personal privacy" to be a major problem than "government surveillance on individuals" (54% to 41%). Most of these participants just did not believe the government would bother spying on them, but they just didn't want anyone nosing around and telling them what to do.

In short, they exhibited a disconnect between the words "privacy" and "surveillance."

So, let me understand this. Conservatives essentially want government out of their lives but they want government to say who should marry whom, what you can or cannot do with your own body, when life begins and whether or not you should have health care.

This reveals a national trait. Americans have a love-hate relationship with consistency.

People think they're tossing off a famous quote when they say: "Consistency is the hobgoblins of little minds," as their way of endorsing their own inconsistent behavior. What Ralph Waldo Emerson actually said was: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Not the same, folks.

A foolish consistency is the inability to open or change your mind. Of course, when our little statesmen show the opposite of that behavior, we condemn that as flip-flopping or waffling. We want our leaders to be consistent, at all costs.

People see leadership as the ability to hold firm, show strength of character and core principles, eschew compromise, look out at the horizon and boldly go forward. Just like General Custer and the captain of the Titanic.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with smart thinking. They love street smarts, savviness, intelligence. They hate intellectualism, scholarship, elitism. They want a leader who has experience, vision, strategies and values. Yet they want a leader that they can hoist a beer with, someone who is a possible buddy, someone who smiles out of context, likes a good joke and does not show he's smarter than they are, who in fact is just like them.

We have a real fear of education. We're now being whipped up into thinking maybe we should stop paying for public education. After all, education is just another form of alienation. You send your kids off to school, they become smarter than you, they move away because they can no longer communicate with you, they travel in circles with other educated ones who can lord it over you. Just like Santorum says, colleges are indoctrination mills that train young people to become socialists. So now we live in fear of a leader with Harvard in his background. We don't want another FDR. We want another Truman.

Of course, the same people who jump on Obama's Harvard law degree conveniently forget George W. Bush's Harvard MBA.

Maybe if they valued education a little more, these conservatives would understand that surveillance is an invasion of privacy.

Mississippi voted for Santorum, who wants smaller government and an end to federally funded earmarks. Yet Mississippi receives more tax money from the feds than it gives to them. Without federal funds, Mississippi would cease to exist.

So, we blindly go on inconsistently. We say we seek the spiritual but then pursue the material. My business is not your business, but your business is my business. I'm driving fast because I'm late for my meeting. You're driving fast because you're a reckless idiot.

We seem to be a nation with multiple personality disorder. The motto on our currency should be E Pluribus Pluribus. Or In Gods We Trust.

If this continues, we will soon crash into ourselves and the mediocre will inherit the earth. Would we really feel secure if our lives were in the hands of the mediocre? We're heading there.

Let me remind you of Roman Hruska. Back in 1970, President Nixon nominated Florida Circuit Court of Appeals Judge G. Harold Carswell to the US Supreme Court. Democrats mounted a strong campaign against Carswell, contending he was too ''mediocre'' to deserve a seat on the nation's highest court.

When Senator Hruska, the conservative Republican from Nebraska, addressed the Senate, speaking on the judge's behalf, he asked why mediocrity should be a disqualification for high office.

''Even if he were mediocre,'' Hruska declared, ''there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.''

Although Carswell did not get confirmed, the mediocre have triumphed. Today, they have teamed up with the stupid and taken over state legislatures where they are now preparing and passing bills that dehumanize women, humanize single-cell organisms, codify medical quackery, promote religious intolerance and declare the earth is flat.