Tag Archives: Indiana

The Past Is Present

Our family just returned from an all-weekend celebration of my husband’s 90th birthday. Our daughter arranged it all–a party (at which he was surprised by the President of Indianapolis’ City-County Council, who read a Council proclamation issued in his honor), and a weekend trip to New Harmony, Indiana, where our family “took over” an entire, fairly large restored Victorian bed and breakfast.

For those of you unfamiliar with New Harmony, it’s a small historic town tucked into the southwest corner of the state. The entire town is a historic landmark; settled in 1814, it was founded as a “Utopia.”  Twice. It was first a spiritual sanctuary for the Harmonie Society–a German religious order– and then as a haven for international scientists and scholars led by Robert Owen. (Owen’s version might have lasted longer had he included some farmers and folks who could work with their hands along with the intellectual glitterati he assembled..)

Owen’s vision for “a New Moral World” of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity is the better-known of the two experiments. Owen believed that a utopia could be achieved through education, science, technology, and communal living–elements that would foster  a “superior social, intellectual and physical environment” based on his ideals of social reform.  In January 1825 he signed the agreement to purchase the town from the Harmonie Society, renamed it New Harmony, and invited anyone who agreed with his vision to join him.

According to various accounts, the experiment attracted “crackpots, free-loaders, and adventurers” in addition to the scientists, artists and intellectuals Owen recruited. Almost immediately, members began arguing about inequities between workers and non-workers, and the town’s overcrowding. The lack of sufficient housing and the settlement’s inability to produce other needed goods has been attributed to a shortage of skilled craftsmen and laborers.

There’s lots more information about New Harmony and its  utopian history online–if you’re interested, Wikipedia will get you started.

We assembled at the Visitor’s Center on Saturday morning for a tour. The Center is in a world-famous contemporary building designed by Richard Meier sometime in the 1960s. A walking tour took us to several of the original structures, most of which have been carefully restored, and we learned that Robert Owen’s partner in “Utopia II” was a man named William McClure, who was a great proponent of education and the dissemination of knowledge, especially via newspapers. ( Evidently, the contemporary McClures Magazine is named for him. The things you learn…)

McClure was every bit as interesting as Owen, although his name is far less well-known (at least to me). President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia from 1817 to 1840, he came to New Harmony during the winter of 1825–1826, and brought with him a group of artists, educators, and fellow scientists from Philadelphia. They arrived aboard a keelboat that became known as the “Boatload of Knowledge.”

McClure directed the settlement’s schools, which became the first public schools in the United States open to both boys and girls, and established one of the country’s first  trade schools. He also established The Working Men’s Institute, a society for “mutual instruction.” It includes the oldest continuously operating library in Indiana, as well as a small museum.  The terms of his will included a provision bequeathing $500 to any club or society of laborers in the United States that established a reading and lecture room with a library of at least 100 books–and some 160 libraries in Indiana and Illinois took advantage of the bequest.

We visited an exhibit showcasing McClure’s printing operation, which included examples of the newspapers and other materials he produced, and I was especially struck by a placard he’d printed. It was headed: HEAR! and read

JOSEPH SHOWERS, Treasurer of Posey County will divide time with, and reply to, JUDGE J. PITCHER at New Harmony, Wednesday, September 4th, 1872 at 7 o’clock PM at POSEYVILLE, Thursday, September 5th at 7 o’clock PM …

Three other sites and times were also listed. Then below those listings:

Come out citizens and taxpayers and hear a complete and thorough vindication of the honesty and integrity of your County Officers against calumnies now being circulated by unscrupulous politicians for mere partisan effect.

I would say that some things never change, but obviously the grammar and vocabulary of those political “calumnies” has degraded rather significantly.

Political misinformation and mudslinging aren’t new. The methods of their dissemination, however, are. It would be fascinating to know just how many voters of Posey County attended these events that “divided time” and allowed candidates to “reply” to accusations. It would be equally interesting to know just how common these face-to-face debates were.

Most of all, it would be helpful to understand which elements of Robert Owen’s Utopian vision worked, and which ones didn’t, and why.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

A casual conversation following a recent meeting triggered my most recent epiphany. (I think it was an epiphany, although it may have been heartburn…)

We were discussing the comparatively swift change of American popular opinion on the rights of  LGBTQ citizens, and the extent to which “coming out” had accelerated that change. Political scientists have attributed much of the success of the gay rights movement to the profoundly political act of emerging from the closet. As the friend with whom I was talking put it, “Most people knew gay people–they just didn’t know that they knew gay people.”

So true.

When your family realized that Shirley wasn’t just elderly Aunt Gladys’ longtime roommate, but something more–when your doctor introduced you to his significant other–when cousin Johnny explained his lack of interest in finding a girlfriend…attitudes changed. Granted, a lot of people who exited the closet suffered rejection and worse, but their exit changed society dramatically and for the better.

As I was driving home from that meeting. I reflected on something that Joey Mayer told me about her experience going door-to-door in Indiana House District 24. She shared her surprise at the number of people she’d talked to who said something along the lines of  “I thought I was one of the few Democrats in the county.” In a comment to that post, Paul Ogden wrote that he was baffled as to why people would say that.

The Democratic candidate in 2020 got nearly 41.9% of the vote in HD #24, which followed 41.6% in 2018. In 2014 and 2016, the Democrats did not even bother to field a candidate . You’ve seen a dramatic shift to Democratic Party in that district (and Hamilton County as a whole), which trend was accelerated by one Donald J. Trump.

Bottom line: in both cases, there are more of “us” (however defined) than we realize when people stay closeted.

When the first few people muster the courage to “come out,” it gives permission to their more timid compatriots to do the same. And that changes perceptions.

I’ve had emails from people in deep-Red rural areas of Indiana who share their discomfort with what they perceive to be their lonely political affiliation. Unlike residents of America’s obviously changing suburbia, I’m willing to concede that they live in areas where Democrats and pro-choice Republicans are relatively rare–but there’s really no way to tell, because many of the people who actually agree with those correspondents don’t vote. They don’t display yard signs. They don’t speak up. They stay in the closet, because the closet protects them from being criticized, attacked or cold-shouldered.

I can’t believe that “coming out” as a Democrat, or as a disaffected Republican, requires anything like the courage that coming out as gay required 25 years ago. I do believe that–if enough residents of Red areas came out against  MAGA Republicans –it would change the political calculus and generate votes from people who have previously been too dispirited to cast ballots.

I am convinced that there are more people than we realize looking at the GOP’s assaults on democracy and fundamental rights while wringing their hands and asking “what can I do about it?” The usual answer (it has certainly been mine) is: vote. But after the epiphany triggered by my recent conversation, I’ll add: “you can come out.”

Here’s my advice to all of you who–despite tending to agree with the opinions expressed on this blog–have kept quiet out of fear of evoking hostile reactions: Put out an unexpected yard sign. Post support for a Democrat or two on Facebook. Disagree (politely, of course) when your neighbor makes a nasty crack about the “libtards.”

Be authentically who you are. Leave the closet. You won’t just be liberating yourself; you’ll be sending a very important message to more people than you think.

The following paragraph was originally written for LGBTQ folks, but I’ve changed the language so that it applies to political rather than sexual orientation:

Coming out is often an important psychological step for liberal and moderate people. Research has shown that feeling positively about one’s political orientation and integrating it into one’s life fosters greater well-being and mental health. This integration often involves disclosing one’s identity to others; it may also entail participating in Democratic politics.  Being able to discuss one’s politics with others also increases the availability of social support, which is crucial to mental health and psychological well-being.

Come on, you timid Democrats and pro-choice, still-sane Republicans. You can do this! You’ll feel better and–even more significantly– you’ll be offering important encouragement to others!

 

A Bit Far Out…But…

Anyone who follows politics in today’s U.S. of A. is aware that gerrymandering is at the root of much of what ails us. There’s a reason Democrats have a chance to retain Senate control in the upcoming midterms: Senate races cannot be gerrymandered. (Okay, the fact that several GOP candidates are wacko has helped.) If voting majorities decided the composition of the House of Representatives, Democrats would easily hold that chamber–but political scientists tell us that barely a handful of House districts are currently competitive. They’ve been gerrymandered by both parties, but mostly by the GOP.

I’ve written (a lot) about the issues raised by gerrymandering, and I won’t repeat the litany here (although I encourage you to read my academic paper analyzing those issues–and weep…).

Thus far, our highly politicized U.S. Supreme Court has declined to get involved, piously declaring gerrymandering to be “a political question.” So a recent ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court wasn’t just a breath of fresh air–it was a light at the end of a dark tunnel. (Okay, I’ll quit the hokey metaphors, but I really, really loved this court’s conclusion!) Here’s the lede:

In a remarkable decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on Friday that because the state legislature was unconstitutionally gerrymandered, Republican lawmakers may have lacked the power to approve amendments to the state constitution and put them before voters.

The decision, which the court’s 4-3 Democratic majority issued along party lines, stopped short of granting the plaintiffs’ requests to strike down two amendments passed by Republicans in 2018—one to require photo voter ID and another to cap any state income tax at 7%. The justices instead returned the case to the trial court for further findings, though its framing of the dispute indicates that there’s a strong likelihood the state courts will ultimately invalidate the amendments.

The court’s conclusion was buttressed by the fact that a large number of the state’s legislative districts had been struck down in 2017; the federal courts found they had been racially drawn to discriminate against Black voters.

However, Republicans who had been elected under the unconstitutional maps used their supermajorities to place their amendments on the ballot the following year, when they were ultimately approved by voters.

The heart of the argument was the legitimacy of actions taken by illegitimate lawmakers:

The plaintiffs, who are backed by the NAACP, made the unusual—but not unprecedented—argument that the GOP’s widespread illegal gerrymandering rendered the legislature a “usurper” that legally lacked the power to amend North Carolina’s foundational governing document because it had “lost its claim to popular sovereignty.” A lower court agreed in 2019 by striking down the two amendments, but a 2-1 Republican majority on the state Court of Appeals reversed that ruling along party lines in 2020, leading the plaintiffs to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The decision sending the case back to the trial court instructed that court to consider three questions: whether the amendments that were subject to the protest  would “immunize legislators … from democratic accountability,” whether they would “further the exclusion of a particular class of voters from the democratic process,” or whether those amendments were  intended to discriminate against the same type of voters who had been discriminated against by the illegal gerrymandering. If the trial court found the answer to any one of these three questions be “yes,” s/he would be “require[d]” to strike down the amendments.

I was particularly struck by the first question, addressing “democratic accountability.” 

In Indiana, it is a given that our statehouse is occupied by lawmakers lacking that “democratic accountability.” A number of academic studies have ranked the state among the five most gerrymandered in the country. It’s been a long time since I studied Indiana’s Constitution, but I do recall that Part Two, Section 1 declares that  “All elections shall be free and equal.” I also remember the (very strained) decision in Bush v. Gore to the effect that voting must pass an “equal protection” standard.

How equal are the votes of gerrymandered Hoosiers? How “democratically accountable” are the lawmakers who hold their positions thanks to the very denial of that equal protection?

In gerrymandered Indiana, we have plenty of evidence that rural ballots count more than urban ones. The citizens who reside in “blue” cities have less voice in state government than the citizens who live in the “red” exurbs and rural precincts of the state. How is this situation “free and equal”?

Calling on the Hoosier state’s creative lawyers…

Voting One’s Interests

If there is one lament that occurs during virtually every conversation I’ve had about politics, it’s “Why are ‘those people’ voting against their own interests?'” Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the misconception at the base of that complaint: Republicans and Democrats have very different notions of where voters’ interests reside.

One Democratic strategist who clearly does understand that difference is Indiana’s current Democratic Chair, Mike Schmuhl, who was recently profiled in a Washington Post article.

The article was focused on the difficulty of flipping deep-red states–a task Schmuhl described as more difficult than managing the Presidential campaign of an out gay small-town Indiana mayor. What Schmuhl–and far too few others–seems to recognize is the contested nature of the “interests” that impel voters.

Democrats define interests economically; Republicans see interests as cultural. The result is that partisans end up talking past each other.

Democrats cannot–and should not–abandon their emphasis on issues of economic security, but they need to recognize that for many voters–especially the older, White, rural voters who predominate in Indiana and decide statewide elections–economics are less important than the cultural “wedge” issues the GOP has so skillfully deployed.

Schmuhl is clearly aware of the challenge he faces.

Schmuhl sees two possible avenues for Democrats to start to make gains, although neither presents an easy path for success. The first is the possibility that Republicans will swing so far to the right, and so deeply into Donald Trump’s conspiracy politics, that there will be a voter backlash.

That hasn’t yet happened in Indiana or, for that matter, in other red states, where GOP legislatures have pushed the envelope with new laws on voting rights, education, abortion and other cultural issues. Schmuhl holds out hope that things could yet turn. “Republican domination is a double-edged sword,” he said. “You can go so far and so you kind of tip over.”

He pointed out that in Indiana this year, about two dozen incumbent Republican legislators, including some committee chairs, face such primary challenges, many from candidates with a Trumpian agenda. “I think that every day on their side, it’s really kind of divisions between the far-right kind of MAGA crowd and the establishment Republicans.”

Schmuhl also faces the challenge posed by skillful misinformation, otherwise called lies, promulgated by conservative media outlets, including but not limited to Fox News. He has received money from the Democratic National Committee to fund a war room position “for me to look at innovative ways to fight misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news, all of that,” he said.

Media propaganda is especially pervasive–and persuasive–in rural areas populated predominantly by older, non-college-educated White Hoosiers who feel abandoned and resentful. Those folks are enticing targets for the wedge issues deployed by the GOP’s culture warriors. Whether they will continue to “go along”–whether they will accept and endorse the Party’s wholesale embrace of clearly crazy conspiracy theories and overtly racist policies is a question we cannot yet answer.

So far, those in rural precincts have been able to determine the outcome of statewide elections. They are why Indiana has sent two embarrassments to the U.S. Senate, both of whom shamefully mischaracterized her judicial record to justify voting against the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

From where I sit–I don’t know either of them personally–Indiana’s Senators would seem to represent the two remaining elements of a once-respectable political party. Todd Young displays a genuine interest in policy, and might–in other times–have been an effective Senator. He’s intelligent but spineless–clearly in thrall to the crazies who are the remaining Republican base, and unwilling to confront those in his party bent on the destruction of democratic norms.

Braun has no observable redeeming characteristics, and with his recent endorsement of “state’s rights”–i.e., effective repeal of the 14th Amendment–has demonstrated his unfitness for any political office.

As Mike Schmuhl clearly understands, the prospects for turning Indiana purple–let alone blue–depend on Democrats’ ability to convince rural voters that their cultural interests are best served by a party committed to economic and social fair play, and that “fair play” includes concern for their well-being.

That’s not a message that will resonate with voters whose resentments and disappointments have hardened into hatred of the “others” who they believe have “replaced” them. I am unwilling to believe that those folks are a majority, even in rural areas dominated by Fox News and hate radio.

But I guess we’ll see….

 

 

 

Send Money!! But Where??

A reader recently emailed me with a request to address what he called “strategic” giving–advice about where our political donations will have the greatest impact, and will be most likely to help retain Democratic congressional majorities.

He noted that–in the aftermath of yet another extreme gerrymander in Indiana, this state would seem to be a lost cause.  Like most of us who have ever rashly sent a few dollars to a candidate, he receives email requests almost daily for campaign donations from candidates and organizations across the country.

My track record as a political strategist is pathetic (not to mention my track record as a candidate…), so I forwarded his request to friends who are far more politically savvy. The email conversation that ensued left me with responses that were less than helpful, to put it mildly.

Here is the first of those responses. (I am not identifying the authors.)

Well, I would not say it was a waste to give to Dem congressional candidates like Christina Hale.  The next cycle or two in Indiana in the 5th will be a challenge, but we are going to win it before the next decade (provided we have a functioning democracy, which is far from a forgone conclusion.).  As to where to give, it is too early to give any really sound advice until redistricting is completed. But there will be 10-20 swing districts where the majority will hinge and folks who want their money to count should pay attention to that.  And if there is a way to give but avoid the insane email, that would be ideal.

The second response was shorter–and darker.

I would just add that, to the extent there are effective GOTV operations in/around those 10-20 competitive districts, money might be well spent on those efforts as well.

Nobody in IN is going to see a dime of my money, as I think Indiana is lost for my lifetime.

And number three:

I wish I had something of value to add. As I read about reapportionment in many states I find this really disheartening. My question is: how do the Indiana legislative maps look? Will there be enough swing legislative districts that the Republicans can even be denied a supermajority? I simply don’t have any idea about where or whether that is even possible.

My own two cents (see above for an evaluation of my own “savvy”) is that response #2 is too bleak when it comes to Indiana: a colleague who teaches political science offered some analysis a while back that is more in line with opinion #1–the emptying out of Indiana’s rural regions has made it difficult to carve out districts that will continue to be safe for the GOP for more than the next election cycle (and perhaps not even then). Much will depend upon turnout–as I keep reminding folks, gerrymandering is based on turnout data from previous elections, and if Indiana’s Democrats (who are much more numerous than conventional wisdom recognizes) could field a really effective GOTV effort, it would definitely make a difference.

Of course, turning out the vote requires good candidates and good messaging…two elements we don’t yet have the ability to evaluate. (One of the most pernicious effects of gerrymandering is the difficulty in recruiting good candidates–after all, who wants to run on the “sure loser” ticket?)

We also don’t yet know the answer to the question posed in response #3.

Here in Indiana, volunteering for the campaign or for getting out the vote, if that’s possible, would make a big difference in places where the Democrats have a chance.

When the fundraising appeals come from elsewhere, it’s harder to separate out the claims of viability from reality. My own approach is to find a couple of campaigns that seem especially important, research them as best I can–what is the breakdown of Republicans and Democrats in the district? What about the polling? What do the pundits (who are frequently wrong) have to say about the race? Is the candidate’s website well-done? What about the messaging? The fundraising thus far? What about the campaign’s GOTV effort?

My conclusions tell me where to send my $25 or $50 or $100 checks–amounts I understand are unlikely to make much of a difference.

I don’t think my approach is very “strategic,” but it’s the best I can do…