Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

I think I first read that expression in high school and I figured it meant we shouldn't overvalue consistency. Well, I never understood much Emerson when I read him in high school but in today's politics, consistency should at least be a standard by which we judge which political party is being more hypocritical at any particular time on any particular issue.

On the issue of fiscal responsibility and a commitment to balanced budgets, the hypocrisy award has to go to the Republicans, at least this week.

First, we all recall Vice President Cheney and other leading so-called conservatives saying deficits don't matter. They believed it was consistent for a fiscal conservative to claim to be a fiscal conservative while freely using credit cards and spending money we didn't have to finance tax cuts, pork barrels, earmarks, and bridges to nowhere. The answer we heard for why deficits were suddenly OK was something about the deficit being only a small percentage of GDP — which never quite explained why deficits used to be bad for fiscal conservatives, even when they were a small percentage of GDP, but now they didn't matter.

When Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden is thinking about building that wall — and that's a good thing Boehner on Clinton impeachment: 'I regret that I didn't fight against it' 'Matt Gaetz wants to date your child' billboard appears in Florida MORE became president in 1992, with Robert Rubin driving home the message that only fiscal responsibility would restore sustained economic growth, it was true role-reversal time.

Recall that not a single Republican supported President Clinton's courageous budget bill of 1993 — the one that defied the left by cutting spending and defied the right by raising taxes. Recall the multiple predictions by Newt Gingrich and other Republican congressional leaders that the increased taxes would trigger a recession. Recall that, instead, after the passage of the 1993 budget, America enjoyed a historic period of economic growth, record job creation, and the switch from record deficits inherited by President Clinton to a trillion-dollar surplus when he left office in January 2001.

But then came the Bush administration’s huge across-the-board tax cuts, which meant inevitably that wealthier Americans who paid more taxes received more tax-cut money than middle-class and poor people.

The result was that the tax cuts in large measure caused the record surplus left by President Clinton to become record deficits in just a few years' time (but, to be fair, those deficits were impacted also by the economic downturn that began in the last months of the Clinton administration as well as the devastating economic impact of Sept. 11).

Yes, it is legitimate for supporters of the tax cuts to point to healthy economic growth in the last several years. But that sounds like traditional Keynesian liberal economics to me — use the credit card to put more money into the economy and the results will be more spending, more growth and — inevitably when you are using credit cards — higher deficits. So which party is the party of fiscal conservatism and which that of Keynesian liberals?

The worst inconsistency of all was, in my judgment, the concept of cutting taxes on the wealthy and the super-wealthy during wartime — when the president has repeatedly asked for a national commitment and sacrifice to defeat the terrorists.

Nor have conservative Republicans explained why — whether the deficits accumulated under a Republican administration are a small percentage of GDP or not — it's fair to our children and grandchildren to require their being responsible to repay their parents' debts and to pay billions of dollars in increased interest payments every year to foreign holders of US treasury bonds — instead of that money being used for new schools, cheaper student college loans, health insurance care coverage, and energy independence.

So now it's up to President Bush, in his last two years, to restore to his historically fiscal conservative Republican Party a fiscally conservative policy; to admit that his party has been inconsistent on the issue of the value of balanced budgets and pay-as-you go spending; and to challenge the now-fiscal conservative Clintonian-dominated congressional Democrats to step up to the line and make real progress towards reducing the deficit.

But we all know there is no way that can be done — while still making the necessary new spending commitments that are minimally necessary — without BOTH cutting spending in programs liberals hate to cut and raising taxes at least on upper-income taxpayers, which conservatives will not concede is ever necessary.

But we all know neither can be done without a bipartisan non-recrimination pact between the fiscal conservatives and social and responsible moderates in both parties.

Who jumps in the pool first to restore fiscal responsibility through reduced spending and higher taxes and new investments in our country's future?

Neither party.

Then how to get it done?

Jump in together.