Tag Archives: partisan politics

Recycled Politics

Indiana citizens aren’t making much progress recycling paper and plastic, but we seem to be leading in the reuse of old politicians. Evan Bayh is apparently preparing to run for Governor again, and in the race to replace him, Republicans want us to send Dan Coats back to Washington—a city he is intimately familiar with, having been there as a Representative, Senator, Ambassador and lobbyist.

I don’t know which is worse, listening to Bayh piously declare that he left the Senate because his sensibilities were offended by partisan sniping, or listening to Coats engage in it.

This is the point in the political cycle where it is nearly impossible to avoid 30-second spots in which Candidate A explains that Candidate B is unfit for public office, because—unlike Candidate A—Candidate B lacks “Hoosier Values.” Plenty of politicians employ these tactics and the empty phrases that invariably accompany them, and it may be unfair to pick on Dan Coats, but his ads are especially vacuous.

Here is a man who certainly should know something about policy. He’s been part of the legislature; a member of George W. Bush’s inner circle (he was even tapped by Bush to shepherd a Supreme Court nominee through the confirmation process) and most recently, a high-priced lobbyist. Yet his political ads are absolutely devoid of content; they consist entirely of labeling and name-calling.

The wisdom and adequacy of the new healthcare law is an entirely appropriate issue for debate and discussion. Coats clearly disapproves of the law, but he doesn’t tell us why. He just calls it “Obamacare” and “a bad idea.” What parts of it does he disagree with? Does it go too far? Not far enough?

In one ad, Coats says that support for the economic stimulus was a “vote against Indiana.” There is an overwhelming consensus among economists—conservative and liberal alike—that the economy would be immeasurably worse without that stimulus. If Coats disagrees, he doesn’t tell us why.  We are supposed to know the stimulus was “bad” because it is associated with “Pelosi, Reid and Obama.”  Should voters ask Coats how he reconciles his claim to fiscal conservatism with his support for the profligate Bush administration? These are not arguments; they are guilt-by-association smears.

As long as we’re recycling, I’ll resurrect the famous Wendy’s commercial question: where’s the beef?

The truth is that there isn’t any “beef.” Coats—and Bayh, if he really does run again for Governor—are useful to their respective parties because they have money and name recognition, not because they bring energy or new ideas to the table.  They have name recognition because they’ve been around for a long time—and have thus been part of the problem. They have money because they are old Washington insiders who’ve demonstrated an ability to play nicely with the vested interests. We can assume they have no new ideas, because they aren’t offering any.

I’ll recycle paper and plastic, but I draw the line at recycling old politicians.

The Hunt for Blue November

A few days ago, a politically savvy friend of mine asked if I’d seen the 1990 movie, “The Hunt for Red October.” I hadn’t. “You should rent it,” he said. “It explains the whole CIB situation perfectly.”


Intrigued, I rented the movie. In it, a Soviet submarine captain, played by Sean Connery, plans to defect to the United States with the Soviets’ newest, cutting-edge sub. The plot is discovered, and he is pursued by a significant portion of the Soviet submarine fleet, among whom is a Russian captain who is absolutely determined to blow him out of the water. So determined, in fact, that he risks arming a torpedo sooner than he should have, and ends up destroying his own ship.


It was hard to miss the analogy.


In  2005, Bart Peterson was Mayor of Indianapolis, and the then-conventional wisdom was that he would be easily re-elected. He had just concluded negotiations with the Colts, and was lobbying the General Assembly for the financial assistance needed to build the new stadium. He got his stadium, but—as Matt Tully recounted in a series of contemporaneous articles—not the way he’d wanted. Indiana’s newly elected governor, Mitch Daniels, forced Peterson to make a major concession: Peterson would get his stadium only if Daniels got total control (including the patronage that comes with big construction projects). The Mayor would get to choose only two of the members of the Capital Improvement Board; the rest would be chosen by Daniels and statehouse Republicans.


The Republicans insisted that the shift was necessary because Daniels knew how to run a big project, and the city didn’t. As Tully reported “Bosma said the mayor initially sought $72 million a year for the project. Luke Kenley said the gap made clear to many lawmakers that the state was better equipped to oversee the project. Daniels questioned the ‘financial acumen’ of Peterson’s financial advisors.”


At the time, Peterson’s “naïve” financial advisors protested that the state’s fiscal plan “could leave the city without the money to run or maintain the new venue.” Under the city’s plan, it would “set aside money from the taxes to operate the stadium. Fred Glass, president of the city’s Capital Improvement Board, said the state’s plan does not include money to run the stadium and will ‘bankrupt’ the Board.” [Star, April 27, 2005]


It is possible, of course, that the Daniels Administration simply miscalculated. But none of the players in this particular drama are dumb, so it is equally likely that a new Republican Governor decided to kneecap a popular Democratic mayor who was cruising to re-election and would then be his most likely opponent in 2008.  


Peterson would be faced with a massive deficit, and an array of unattractive options for fixing it.  His problems would confirm GOP accusations of fiscal fecklessness. It was a brilliant plan—except that Peterson lost in 2007, and a Republican won.


The missile was armed and deadly. The problem was, it hit the party that launched it.