Half Past the Month: The Game Is Up

August 8, 2014

TWO POLITICAL STUDIES hit the news this week, seeming to point us in different directions. One, from Princeton University, suggested that average Americans are powerless over the political process. The other, from CNN International, found that only 13 percent of us trust the government to do what is right always or most of the time.

You should bet that last statement will dictate the politics of the future — in Indiana, at least.

Why? Because every couple of generations going back, say, to Richard II of England, we catch up with the political elite — we figure out which walnut shell covers the pea. It is neither guesswork nor any particular genius, merely the same trick being played one too many times on an intelligent and watchful mark.

Let’s begin with a short list of knowledgeable but independent-minded average Hoosiers who are anything but powerless against a detached government, whether it be at the state or municipal level:

That is the sort of citizen awareness that can bring down even the clever and the quick. If worst suspicions are confirmed, it means Indianapolis makes education decisions in part on whether they would offend federal overseers rather than whether they serve the interests of Hoosier classrooms.

Yes, that would be malfeasance, but it gets worse. Our Cecil Bohanon and Eric Schansberg, economist of the Public Choice school, have explained articulately and with authority how human incentives even in a democracy can be misaligned to favor the political elite. The math is simple, and so is the political thinking:

Making sure it is cast in terms of the common good, it would help build my reelection coffer to vote for a new tax of a penny or so on 6 million Hoosiers if the money could be funneled into the special-interest causes of 100 political contributors or soon-to-be contributors. Even if the individuals taxed get wise, it hardly pays to march to the statehouse and complain; it’s only a penny after all. The preferred 100, though, can be expected to be hugely grateful.

And this one is not just another shell game. It ratchets us backward toward a system in which kings (governments), parliaments or judges decide year by year what is legal, regardless of constitution or case law. It is the default setting of history and rules most every other democracy.

The solution, the counter to what the Princeton study described as helplessness, will require moxie. We’ve got plenty. A friend of this foundation, the author and director Dinesh D’Souza, has described our situation perfectly: “George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan — we don’t have them, but we have us.”

The “us” in this case are the Crossins, the Tuttles, the Penticuffs, the Hellers, the Smiths, the Pullmanns, the Bohanons and the Schansbergs. Lend them your support, and keep your eye on that pea. — Craig Ladwig



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