When It REALLY Matters

A few days ago, in a column about Morton Marcus’ recommendations for changes to Indiana’s retrograde legislature, I alluded to a now-forgotten effort–bipartisan, even!–to reduce waste in Indiana’s government.

The Kernan-Shepard Commission, co-chaired by former Democratic Governor Joe Kernan and Republican then-Chief Justice of Indiana’s Supreme Court, Randy Shepard, had issued a report detailing the waste involved in maintaining 1008 townships in the state. The Commission recommended eliminating or consolidating a number of those townships, which–over the years–had been divested of most of the tasks they’d originally been created to perform.

Polling conducted by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce confirmed that a large majority of voters agreed that townships should go–that they wasted tax dollars better used elsewhere.  The problem was that it was a rare individual for whom this was salient–that is, a burning, issue.

It was a burning issue, however, for Township Trustees and the members of their Advisory Boards. Eliminating townships would eliminate the livelihoods of the Trustees (and the relatives too many of them employ). It would eliminate the inflated fees paid to many Advisory Board members for attending three or four meetings a year. The trustees and board members focused like lasers on Indiana’s legislators, bringing in people to testify, hiring lobbyists and calling in political favors.

For them, the issue was critically important–i.e., salient. And so Indiana still has 1008 townships.

In the Indiana Statehouse and in Washington, this same scenario plays out over and over. Most Americans disapprove of a number of decisions our lawmakers make or refuse to make–I consistently see comments disapproving of special tax breaks for the wealthy or fossil fuel companies, and Congressional refusal to even consider Medicare for All. How many of those who complain about the tax code and/or healthcare–or anything else– have written or called their lawmakers about these matters? Spent time or money lobbying for repeal or passage? Very few. On the other hand, the people who benefit from these policies–for whom they are salient– certainly have.

People rally to defend their interests, financial or cultural, and when those with lots of resources focus those resources on derailing or passing a proposed bill, the likely result is that the bill will be derailed or passed. So nothing changes.

On those rare occasions when a legislative issue becomes highly salient to a sizable number of voters, however, it’s possible for the “little guys”–the voters– to win these contests.

And that observation brings me to this year’s elections. For the first time in a long time, several partisan issues are highly salient to large numbers of voters. The most obvious of those is abortion. For many years, when Roe v. Wade protected women’s reproductive autonomy, all the passion–all the salience–was on the (misnamed) “pro-life” side. After Dobbs, that is no longer the case. Reproductive rights are suddenly very important, very salient, to huge numbers of voters, and not all of them are female.

It probably doesn’t rival abortion as a vote motivator, but thanks to the daily drumbeat of gun violence, gun safety is another issue that has become important/salient to large numbers of citizens. Several other issue speak forcefully to specific constituencies: the unremitting GOP attacks on trans children (one-half of one percent of American children, and thus a monumental threat) has raised the salience of those issues not just in the gay community but also among its numerous allies. Republican attacks on public schools and universities are deeply resented by educators and a considerable number of parents. Etc.

These issues aren’t just important to lots of people–they have the added benefit of being clear-cut. Tax policy, energy policy, healthcare–these areas give rise to complex and often arcane arguments. A debate about who should get to make reproductive decisions for an individual woman– the government or the woman whose life will be affected–is  far clearer. Whether a man who has been convicted of spousal abuse should be entitled to buy an assault rifle is equally clear.

Call me a Pollyanna, but I am convinced that the dramatically increased salience of these and other issues–together with widespread loathing of  Donald J.Trump and his lunatic cult– will help activists motivate an unprecedented and necessary turnout in November.

I sure hope I’m right….


  1. A girl can dream. I dream of true equality under the law for all people. I wish I were in a position to make it happen. The one thing I know I can do is VOTE! If I have to crawl to the polls on election day, I will do it.

  2. One other thought on abortion, if I may. Before Dobbs became a reality, I posted on Facebook that my mother would have died in1954, if Dobbs was in effect then. I got responses that assured me that I was wrong, that exceptions would be in place to safeguard women, who had life threatening pregnancies. This is one time when I don’t hate to say it, but ask Kate Cox who got this one right.

  3. No one should be able to buy an assault rifle. Their only purpose is the mass killing of humans.

  4. “Of the people, by the people, for the people.”

    Never before this was said has Democracy been defined so succinctly.

    European immigrants came to America to “settle” it, second to the indigenous, who had settled it centuries before. However, Europeans had a head start on civilization because it was crowded there and then, much more than North America was. North America, though, had resources such as land that were becoming scarce in Europe.

    The “settlers” got spoiled by little government to order them around and enjoyed their first taste of freedom. Thus, when King George got greedy and ordered closer ties and more allegiance to “The Crown,” Americans got their collective backs up.

    Fortunately, leaders on this side of the Atlantic had an answer, but implementing it, clumsily at first, got “The Crown” convinced that he needed to teach those upstarts a permanent lesson in who exactly is entitled.

    The Declaration of Independence.

    The Revolutionary War.

    The Constitution.

    Then: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

    “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”

    Yet again, and again, and again.

    The Entitled hate our freedom, and they simply never go away.

    Freedom requires endless war, and our job is to protect it for our grandchildren and theirs with minimum destruction and bloodshed.

    Revolution needs to come from the bottom up, not from the top down. That is the nature of we, the people, choosing who will govern when.

    Turn off the media advertising and do your job, America. Commit to the Constitution yet again with truth and resolve in your heart. That is the only way. Give up some comfort so our grandchildren can enjoy what is important to them, as we have enjoyed.

  5. The courts made Roe V Wade a safe target for so many year. Republicans could be as pious as they wanted about being Pro-Life because nothing they would do could change things until things changed! During the primaries, I am sure you still hear a lot of Pro-Life rhetoric, because the brainwashed “base” still believes in this and they are the ones that show up in sub-zero weather to “caucus”. Once we’re past the primaries into general election, I think things will get very quiet on this issue, because a large majority of voters don’t agree. This was an issue that worked very well for Republicans as long as nothing changed and not it doesn’t.

    Immigration is being used in the same way. Even when Republicans controlled the White House, Senate, and House, they did nothing to pass any significant immigration reform. If you can issue an executive order to look tough, who cares, you were tough on immigration, plus nobody will remember that the courts overturned your order one to two years later. I am amazed at the number of voters that believe Republicans (when a Democrat is President) that there is “chaos at the border” when the same chaos will still there when a Republican president was in charge. There is no will to change the mis-mash of immigration laws be Republicans because that chaos works well for them when their propaganda machine is so good.

  6. The elite certainly do not wish to become “ordinary” citizens, but, hopefully, ordinary citizens will
    not allow the elite to fully silence and completely subordinate them/us.

  7. Voting these days, with so many other “fun” distractions, requires sometimes/never voters to be motivated by fear or hope. There is more than enough of the former to go around – ginning more of it simply seems MAGA-like. Hope? It takes creating messaging like the song “Imagine”, but with concrete, “kitchen table” results to get folks to the voting booths. DEMs right now are plan old lousy at this right now…

  8. “All politics is local.” People seldom pay attention until it directly impact them or a relative/friend.

    When faced with legal/social/cultural/religious barriers that impacted people face, even if they have great wealth, status or power, the immediate actions are amazement, anger, frustration and then action or surrender. Few actually look around for others like themselves, attempt to organize resistance and take action. Most don’t have the financial resources of tfg and his class.

    Immigration will be the issue that tfg and his minions harp on because common folk become more and more aware of “others” who don’t look, sound or act like themselves as the country becomes more diverse and open. DEI has a lot to do with that change. The fact that the economic health of so many businesses and communities depend on immigrants seems to be ignored or willfully dismissed.
    A cheap, hard working labor force underlies the industrial/agricultural history of this country. The myth of the self-made individual encourages the ignorant rejection of that history.

    Fear and resentment driven by perceptions of lost privilege and status, magnified by the political opportunists who recognize the power of those emotions, keeps the pot simmering until it boils over.

    When reasonable solutions are offered, the powerful and privileged who stand to lose the most, use that power and access to keep things as they are or restore them to conditions most advantageous to themselves. Eventually, revolution results, of one kind or another. We may very well be on the cusp of revolution.

  9. Pete:
    agreed. but today I believe its a silver spoon brat that has decended upon America. seems all that freedom they scream/claim isnt,is,and they cant see it. ,any tell me the goverment intrudes. they believe its thier right to push over anyone,anything to get what they want.free speach is handled like a loose cannon,instead of them,being reminded why they have such a freedom. its become the spoiled child syndrome. everyone who joined that maggot group believe thier crap dont stink. the real threat is the white collar group who increasingly has the funds to keep this possible blowout going. they,the spoiled child wants to believe its all them against the whatever they were told to hate. ignorance,it will be the collapse of democracy at the end of that dark tunnel before they realize,theve been used like a bunch of cheap whores by the rich..once the rich decide their dangerous,they wont have the local cops come for thier ammoless guns,it will be the military.. stand and talk with the blue collar bunch. they listen,the dont debate on facts. thier thinking sphere is being told how to think. no context,no discussion. todays political hacks, they come in spiel thier lies take few if any questions,and close the door to the otherside.
    its all in front of them why they are not included. best wishes bud…

  10. It occurred to me on a recent evening that having a President as old as Biden can be a very good thing. If we have Presidents at or past retirement age they can represent the interests of the middle and poor classes of citizens without worrying about their own political future.

    This idea actually has me wondering if all members of Congress should be at least in their late 50s or even into their 60s before being allowed to run for office. If they would secretly intend to represent corporate and wealthy interests they wouldn’t have nearly as many years to enrich themselves by stealing from the working class to reward those who are already wealthy.

  11. Jack S: many of us respond in our own way about past, present and future lapses in our freedom.

    It’s useful for the folks living off our taxes to keep us divided, or, more accurately, to keep our attention focused on what naturally divides us which are race, religion, ancestry, gender, wealth, locale, any and all cultural things.

    What demoracy offers is pretty simple, freedom for me and all of them. All of those others no matter who they are.

    I resolved way back that I’m willing to settle for that deal (except for those who our legal system has judged to be accountable for breaking our laws.)

    We have a system that promises me that deal.

    Some politicians promise to, and deliver on, that premise. Some promise power instead of freedom. If we get stuck with someone who slips through the filters, our solemn duty is to get rid of them and, for some, also accountability by our justice system.

    I’m a simple guy with simple needs but also passionate about my freedom and yours and everyone’s.

  12. Trump owns the Republican Party. Even republican candidates of sound mind fall in line for fear of getting “primaried” and losing their gravy train. Indiana is horrifically red due to gerrymandering and a loyalty to republican policies that favor wealth and corporations. I’m fearful that a majority of Indiana (for certain) and the Nation will re-elect trump to continue to work against the best interests of their constituents. Gun access and anti-choice and tax cuts for the wealthy is their mantra. As a lifelong democrat I do have concerns about the advanced age of both Biden and trump, however the right choice is clear. In my perfect world incumbency should not equal entitlement to run again. We truly need to let the next generation take the reigns of power.

  13. I haven’t seen any sign of cognitive decline in President Biden although I know his opponents are doing their best to portray him as a drooling dotard. When I do see such evidence from reliable sources, THEN I will support the idea of a younger candidate. In the meantime, I want to keep him in office to take advantage of his knowledge, wisdom, experience and decency.
    I know some people who have said they won’t vote for either Biden or Trump. I guess they think that would send a message. I think it would be a betrayal of their duty act in the best interests of the country. I hope that if they are faced with that choice they will reconsider and vote to preserve our rule of law. That is when it will really, REALLY matter.

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