The Outstater: The Real Job of Journalism

September 9, 2018

by Craig Ladwig

Knowing for whom to vote is difficult these days. It won’t be any easier if journalists, whatever their political leaning, muddy the ideological labels.

Economists talk about “rational” ignorance. Average citizens are “rationally ignorant and apathetic,” writes Dr. Eric Schansberg in the current issue of The Indiana Policy Review. “They know little and take little action — and rationally so, since their individual efforts can rarely move the political needle.”

When you confuse them even further by mislabeling politicians, an intelligent vote is impossible.

My local newspaper, the irrepressibly Democratic Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, serves as an example. If we were to survey its readers regarding the place each of the city’s councilmen holds on the political spectrum, we would get something like this: two Democrats, five Republicans and two outlying extremists.

Given that characterization, there is no way, regardless of the electorate’s preference or mood, for better or worse, that the city would ever have anything but a majority eager or at least willing on principle to expand government indefinitely. There will be no check or balance, only the application of varying degrees of administrative control.

However, when we apply a consistent and rational template, i.e., the politician’s voting record on whether government should get smaller or larger especially in regard to its power over the individual, we get something quiet different: two Democrats, five Republicans-in-name-only and two Republicans. Voters could then register a preference on the weight of government they are willing to bear.

Now, it is granted there are good Republicans, especially local ones, who from time to time see a need to enlarge government at least in some limited way. The percentage of their bigger-government votes, however, should be significantly different than that of their Democrat colleagues.

A scoring reported this week by the Journal Gazette of 30 recent issues is illustration of how unaccountable a council can become. The issues were scored on whether individual council members voted to reduce government. It produced these percentages: D-0, D-3, (R-13, R-13, R-20, R-23, R-45) R-80 and R-93 (parenthesis indicates majority bloc).

Others might score the votes differently. Indeed, the editor of the newspaper’s opinion page somewhat predictably implies that this particular scoring system is error-filled and cannot be relied upon to guide voters.

But would her newspaper like to construct its own scorecard of whether councilmen vote for bigger government or not? That is not a flippant question. Many men have shed their blood so that we (at conception, regardless of gender identification, ethnic origin or economic status) have a constitution that places the individual above the state.

There is no better way to construct a political spectrum. Freedom of the individual in relation to king, tyrant, governor or well-meaning zoning board is an absolute going back a thousand years. It cannot be fudged with pretty language or clothed in altruistic vision.

And as such, it makes an excellent marker for the political road on which we are traveling. Our local newspapers are given extraordinary legal status to ensure such markers are well lit and easily read. In coming months we will be especially dependent on them to do that job.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.


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