Two recent political studies hit the news recently, seeming to point us in different directions. One, from Princeton University, suggested that average Americans are powerless over the political process. The other, from CNN International, found that only 13 percent of us trust the government to do what is right always or most of the time.
You should bet that last will dictate the politics of the future — in Indiana, at least.
Why? Because every couple of generations going back, say, to Richard II of England, we catch up with the political elite — we figure out which walnut shell covers the pea. It is neither guesswork nor any particular genius, merely the same trick being played one too many times on an intelligent and watchful mark.
Let’s begin with a short list of knowledgeable but independent-minded average Hoosiers who are anything but powerless against a detached government, whether it be at the state or municipal level:
Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle, two everyday mothers who founded Hoosiers Against Common Core, utterly destroyed the most carefully crafted story about how the educrats in Indianapolis and Washington could decide best what children should learn — better even than their district teachers and educators or even their parents.
David Penticuff, an Indiana editor of the old school, and Tom Heller, a retired systems analyst in Columbus, have untangled TIF funding schemes. Their well-researched articles demonstrate once again that there is no free lunch, especially when it comes to economic development.
Aaron Smith, a retired executive who is Watchdog Indiana, continues his decade-long pressure on the legislative processes by simply showing up at proceedings with his notebook in hand and his brain engaged. Legislators have come to fear the very sight of him.
Joy Pullmann, editor of The Federalist, applies world-class journalistic talent to local issues that the Statehouse and governor might wish would just go away. Pullmann, working from her Indiana home, recently turned her attention to the question of whether that 12 percent of the Indiana education budget coming from Washington doesn’t cost more than it’s worth.
That last is the sort of citizen awareness that can bring down even the clever and the quick. If worst suspicions are confirmed, it means Indianapolis makes education decisions in part on whether they would offend federal overseers rather than whether they serve the interests of Hoosier classrooms.
Yes, that would be malfeasance, but it gets worse. Our Cecil Bohanon and Eric Schansberg, economist of the Public Choice school, have explained articulately and with authority how human incentives even in a democracy can be misaligned to favor the political elite. The math is simple, and so is the political thinking:
Making sure it is cast in terms of the common good, it would help build my re-election coffer to vote for a new tax of a penny or so on 6 million Hoosiers if the money could be funneled into the special-interest causes of a 100 political contributors or soon-to-be contributors. Even if the individuals taxed get wise, it hardly pays to march to the Statehouse and complain; it’s only a penny after all. The preferred 100, though, can be expected to be hugely grateful.
And this one is not just another shell game. It ratchets us backward toward a system in which kings (governments), parliaments or judges decide year by year what is legal, regardless of constitution or case law. It is the default setting of history and rules most every other democracy.
The solution, the counter to what the Princeton study described as helplessness, will require moxie; but we’ve got plenty. A friend of this foundation, the author and director Dinesh D’Souza, has described our situation perfectly: “George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan — we don’t have them, but we have us.”
The “us” in this case are the Crossins, the Tuttles, the Penticuffs, the Hellers, the Smiths, the Pullmanns, the Bohanons and the Schansbergs. Lend them your support, and keep your eye on that pea.
Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.