Thursday night, my husband went with several other family members to the opening of the Indianapolis Indians’ baseball season. As he–and several media outlets–subsequently reported, Governor Pence also attended, and the announcement of his presence generated loud and emphatic boos from the assembled crowd.
That booing underlines a political lesson we might sum up as: live by social issues, die by social issues. (I may be “over-analyzing” this; if so, chalk it up to twenty years of teaching public administration.)
Here’s what I mean: When we elect people to administrative offices–mayor, governor, President–we rarely base our subsequent evaluations of their job performance on the efficiency or effectiveness of the agencies controlled by those offices. Ideally, of course, we would, but most of the time, we aren’t in a position to know whether the city issued improper drainage permits, or the state failed to enforce environmental standards, spent limited resources on frivolous lawsuits, etc.
Unless we are members of a constituency that is directly aware of or affected by administrative incompetence, we are unlikely to recognize it, so we generally don’t base our opinions or cast our votes on the basis of perceived management skills. We don’t even base our votes on candidates’ policy preferences–unless those policies implicate so-called “hot button” issues.
This dichotomy between the mundane, albeit important, administrative skills needed for effective governance and the passions that characterize disputes over social issues poses an under-appreciated danger for culture warriors like Indiana’s Governor.
Run-of-the-mill administrative incompetence is unlikely to motivate widespread passionate opposition, no matter how damaging and/or costly poor governance may be.Over-the-top forays into the culture wars, however–especially when those highly-visible and clearly unconstitutional efforts can be shown to do real damage to the reputation and economy of the state–can generate significant public hostility, as we have recently seen in North Carolina, Mississippi and–of course–Indiana.
Voters and baseball fans don’t boo someone for poor management skills (even though that would warm the cockles of a public management professor’s heart). Voters do, however, feel strongly about arrogant ideologues who feel entitled to tell them how they should conduct their lives.
There’s a reason for all those “Pence Must Go” signs.
And for “boos” at the baseball game.