Forgetting the Basics

Back when I first became politically active,and especially after I joined the Hudnut Administration as Corporation Counsel, I was schooled by then-County Chairman John Sweezy. John’s favorite admonition was “Good government is good politics.” For someone serving as the City’s chief lawyer, that meant hiring people because they were best qualified, not because the party “owed” them. A lot of people were disbelieving when I told them that party officials never interfered with such decisions, but it was true. That same adage meant that administrators and City-County Councilors alike should act in the public interest, as they saw that interest.

Much of the long run of GOP dominance in Marion County can be attributed to this very basic premise that voters will reward sound stewardship–that good government is good politics.

I thought about that adage, and my own experience, when I read Charles Blow’s column in this morning’s New York Times. Blow reports on recent Pew polling showing that most Americans have negative opinions of the GOP–62% say the party is “out of touch” with the American people; 52% believe the party is too extreme; only 45% think the party is looking out for the country’s long-term future, and even fewer–39%–believe the GOP is open to change.

There are numerous reasons for these dismal ratings, but the most recent is Congressional Republican willingness to allow the sequester to take effect rather than agree to “revenue enhancements” in the form of either tax increases or the closing of tax loopholes.

An insistence on protecting the pocketbooks of the very wealthy no matter what the consequences for the country as a whole (the Director of the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the sequester could cost 750,000 jobs in 2013) has become the primary image of the GOP. That image of fat-cats and influence-peddlers unconcerned with the circumstances of regular folks is not helped by the party’s other image as culture-war politicians hostile to women’s rights and dismissive of the claims of gay Americans, immigrants and minorities.

The Republican party I served in the 1970s and 1980s didn’t do everything right, but it understood that it was neither good government nor good politics to protect donors’ pocketbooks while disregarding the interests of ordinary citizens. While the party had its share of bigots and misogynists, both the Hudnut Administration and the County party rejected the politics of division and the extremism of the culture warriors, and actively recruited women and minorities. From time to time, I run into old friends from those days, and we bemoan the loss of that Republican party and its civic-minded leadership.

If it is sad to see the Grand Old Party devolving into a group of angry old white heterosexual men, it is profoundly dangerous for the country. The United States needs two reality-based parties. Neither the nation nor the Democratic Party are well-served by the absence of intellectually and morally honest conservative opposition.


  1. Amen, Sheila, Amen! Because I began working for the city in 1972 under the Lugar administration I was aware of the vast changes in government through the progressive Hudnut years. Not all was perfect but; the job as Mayor Bill Hudnut saw it was to do what was best for the City of Indianapolis and all of its residents. The improvements within City government throughout his administration were begun early on. Long before Princess Di was known as the “People’s Princess” I referred to Mayor Hudnut as the “People’s Mayor.” I wish people could see the video shown at his roast at the end of 16 years to see what a true leader should be…whatever his party affiliation. Mayor Hudnut and his staff throughout the building were dedicated to serving the people of this city and not lining pockets. I lasted 2 years, 3 months and 11 days under Goldsmith; his administration was a microcosm of the Nixon years and the GOP has continued a downhill slide since that time. Boehner and Congress are holding the government and this nation hostage due to their numbers and their wealth and we are all paying the ransom demand for this.

  2. Mayor Bill was a good one. (I could never stand Lugar except when he was gathering up loose nukes in the Soviet Union and its remains. Unigov seemed like a cheap trick to keep the “R” people in power and make darned sure this city did NOT get one of those BLACK mayors like the other midwest cities were getting.)
    Question: Why did the “R”s and all the people Mayor Bill worked with, drive him out of town after he was out of office? You would think someone would have found a comfy place for him to land. It seemed like Mayor Bill was exiled. Always seemed odd to me. It was good to see him back in town this year.

  3. The young republicans club. A plan of action. Time to stand up and end the useless wars, defense contracts, Savings and Loan Debacle, Iran/Contra, Wallstreet deals, housing crisis, health care crisis, SS, Medicare, Medicaid, and taking education private for the stockholders of those groups. Must we go on….

  4. I came of age when Otis Bowen was governor of Indiana. At the time I couldn’t understand how my very liberal parents supported him. I understand now.

  5. Chuck, please go on and tell us a bit younger what you mean. I do know Otis had the best security ever…a highly regarded expert. Whom also worked with another two Gov’s.

  6. An old memory popped into my mnd this morning for some reason so I decided to share it after rereading this article. I stated earlier I begain working for the city under Mayor Lugar; this was in 1972, my marriage was breaking up and with five children I needed a job. My parents, staunch Republicans, suggested I apply with the city. After my application had been accepted I had to get a letter of approval from my pricinct committeeman – I only got this approval after signing a Loyalty Oath that I would work for and support the Republican party. Being naive, I didn’t really understand what I signed till later. I had unknowingly agreed to work on the Nixon campaign, vote for him and to DONATE 2% of my $64 weekly salary to the Republican party. This donation was given by the end of each payday and in cash. I thought this was an improvement over my mother’s situation a few years earlier working for the state IRS; that 2% was deducted from her paycheck before she got it. I was told which weekend I would work the Nixon campaign but was allowed to pick my hours. Along came Mayor Hudnut whose political opinion on this 2% was this – if you want to give us money, we will gladly accept it but if not, it is your paycheck to do with as you wish. I gladly donated to and worked Bill Hudnut’s campaigns. The GOP in Indiana has long ruled with an iron fist; it is becoming much whiter and with fewer women in positions of authority, reverting to mid-1990’s mind set. What the GOP did to Senator Lugar in the last election is indicitive of that iron fist rule tactic and a primary symptom of no sense of loyalty to their constituents.

  7. For the reader above who wondered how Bill Hudnut got “run out of town” after his terms as Mayor, there were many stories about the C-C Building about what I think of as his “Dan Burton” syndrome. And I don’t mean political stupidity, Hudnut was anything but. But by many accounts, he did have one very major personal failing, as well as some family issues.

    Today, such personal weaknesses would likely have ended Hudnut’s political career earlier. But without the internet, blogs, etc., spreading news like wildfire, Hudnut and others survived things not possible today.

    BTW, I was a (very young) Democratic candidate for CC Council in 1979, and met Mayor Hudnut on several occasions, including campaigning head-to-head on Election Day. He was very personable, people liked him a lot.

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