A Once-Good Name

In High School, we all learned those famous lines from Shakespeare’s Othello–“Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands: But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”

Sometimes, a political attempt to “filch” another person’s good name ends up dishonoring the name of the “filcher.”

I was a Republican when the party included principled statesmen like Richard Lugar, William Hudnut, and William Ruckelshaus. I’ve watched with sadness as that party has steadily degenerated, elevating truly evil people like Mitch McConnell, incompetent would-be dictators like Donald Trump, and the racists and spineless hangers-on they control.

In the Indiana legislature, the GOP’s super-majority is split between members of the lunatic caucus and obedient servants of the party’s ever-more reactionary base, but until very recently, I thought one Republican Senator was a refreshing throwback to the party of his uncle, Bill Ruckelshaus. (Granted, John Ruckelshaus has been consistently anti-choice and has just as consistently voted the party line, but he wasn’t obnoxious about it, and he worked across the aisle on things like recycling.)

Bill and his wife Jill were a bit older than I am. They were from Indianapolis, and I knew both of them slightly. Bill served as the first Administrator of the  EPA (Republicans believed in science back then). He later served as acting Director of the FBI and as US Deputy Attorney General. Famously, in 1973 (in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,”) Ruckelshaus and then-US Attorney General Elliot Richardson both resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor. Bill was a man of integrity.

John Ruckelshaus is his nephew, and the incumbent Republican state senator in Indiana Senate district 30. His reputation–until now–has been that of a civil, occasionally bipartisan, legislator. (They’re rare in our state.) This year, he is opposed by Democrat Fady Qaddoura, who must be mounting an effective challenge, because Ruckelshaus’ campaign has started issuing inexcusably vile and thoroughly dishonest television ads and mailers. The mailers have characterized Fady as formerly homeless–an accusation that is neither relevant nor a character flaw but is especially repugnant since Fady, his wife and young daughter were living in New Orleans when they lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. 

Fady picked himself up and relocated his family–now with a newborn– to Indianapolis, where he enrolled in graduate school at IUPUI. That is where I came to know him well. He was both a student and a “mentee” of mine, and I was honored to serve on his dissertation committee when he completed his PhD in Philanthropic Studies. I know him to be hard working, intellectually gifted and a person of unquestioned integrity.

In addition to the mailers, Ruckelshaus’ campaign is airing grainy, ugly TV ads accusing Fady of using his position as the Controller of the City of Indianapolis–a position he held during the first term of the Hogsett Administration–to “award a consulting contract to a firm that later employed him” and cutting funds for an educational program and thus causing “children to suffer. “

Rather than asking Fady what this was all about, I did a bit of research. It turns out that Fady “awarded” exactly zero city contracts–although as City Controller, he was obliged to sign contracts awarded by the various city departments–and his current employer never had one, although an unconnected firm with a similar name evidently did. The “children suffering” references a non-renewable education grant that ran out--no one cut it.

If my cursory research was enough to find the real story, Ruckelshaus’ campaign certainly could have–and probably did.

The accusations are an invention by a SuperPAC hired by Ruckelshaus– America Rising, which got its start with  Trump’s 2016 campaign, and which describes its mission as defeating Democrats and brags about its “relentless pursuit of original and effective hits against Democrats.” 

 “Original and effective,” evidently doesn’t include “true.”

Friends in the local Democratic Party tell me the GOP has put a half-million dollars into the effort to defeat Fady and protect Ruckelshaus –an absolutely stunning amount for a state senate seat in a state that is very likely to stay in Republican hands. (Given the number of times I’ve seen the grainy commercial with the phony charges, I believe it. Television is expensive.)

Evidently, the polling shows Fady ahead, and I’m sure his recent receipt of an endorsement from Jennifer McCormick–Indiana’s Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction–was unwelcome  (Ruckelshaus has made education one focus of his campaign, despite poor marks from educators). 

Whatever has  prompted these sleazy ads, and whatever their effect on the election, they have certainly accomplished one thing: by engaging in a  despicably dishonest effort to smear his opponent,  these attacks have besmirched a once-storied Hoosier name, and confirmed that this generation’s Ruckelshaus is a true member of today’s disgraceful GOP.