So–I poured a stiff drink and listened to Mike Pence deliver (his version of) the “State of the State.”
The word “smarmy” comes to mind.
There is much that might be said about this particular effort to put lipstick on a pig–the state he described is not one I recognized, nor the state that widely available data describes. (My son, with whom I was watching, asked what grade I would give a student whose assignment was to deliver an accurate assessment of Indiana’s economic and social well-being and utterly failed to do so.)
There were some truly cringeworthy moments. The Governor, you may be surprised to learn, is “honored to be the Commander in Chief” of Indiana’s National Guard. At the conclusion of the forced, wooden speech—a pastiche of talking points and trite adages that met with dutiful but definitely not enthusiastic applause—he declaimed several lines from “On the Banks of the Wabash.”
The part of the speech that the entire state was waiting for—the Governor’s position on extending state civil rights protections to LGBT Hoosiers—came at the end, and the Governor’s discomfort was palpable.
Pence assured everyone that he had “prayed” about the issue. (Clearly he hadn’t thought about it—but then, nothing in the speech gave evidence of much thought.) He reprised his “Hoosiers are good people who don’t discriminate” mantra and then engaged in a rambling discourse about the importance of religious liberty.
Bottom line: he won’t sign a bill that deprives religious folks of their ability to act on their beliefs everywhere—including at work.
There are two rather obvious responses to that declaration, one legal and one political.
First, the Constitution protects citizens’ right to believe anything. Full stop. It does not, however, protect an untrammeled right to act on the basis of religious doctrine. If my sincerely held religious belief requires me to sacrifice my first-born, or take drugs, or murder abortion doctors, or cheat nonbelievers, the government has the right to step in and say “too far.”
People of good will can disagree about the specific rules that are necessary to a fair and functioning society, but the Constitutions of the United States and Indiana have never been interpreted to privilege socially harmful behaviors simply because those behaviors are religiously motivated.
Second—and here, I admit to more than a bit of shadenfreude—Governor Pence has wedged himself firmly between a political rock and hard place.
The religious extremists who have always been his base will desert him in a heartbeat if he signs any bill that, in their eyes, “legitimizes” LGBT Hoosiers. Meanwhile, polls confirm that a solid majority of Indiana voters support adding “four words and a comma” to the state’s civil rights statute. And given this administration’s other blunders—its unremitting war on public education and Glenda Ritz, the proposed “news bureau,” the lack of attention to Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure, etcetera etcetera—Pence simply does not have political capital sufficient to weather widespread disapproval of this particular culture war battle.
The wooden and forced delivery of last night’s platitudes suggests that the reality of his position is beginning to dawn on our “Christian soldier” Governor.