If you've ever wondered where the line is between extreme and reasonable in the Indiana political discussion, this gubernatorial election is going to draw it for you. Don't expect, though, to learn much about the issues themselves.
For starters, a recent article by the Indianapolis Star's chief political writer accepted without challenge a candidate's description of the policy positions in a policy guide as “extreme.”
The position of the Star writer, one supposes, is that she herself did not say it, her source did. Well, OK, but there was a time when editors and reporters were restrained from characterization. By that it was meant if an article characterized a position it was expected to include for the reader's consideration material or quotation that supported the characterization. Otherwise, it is mere name-calling, mere pejorative.
A diligent reader, however, could follow the citations in the Star article to a website that listed these examples of “extreme” positions taken from the policy guide, “The Indiana Mandate”:
*The minimum wage and all other attempts at social engineering have diminished rather than enhanced the lives of the greater number of American workers.
*It is more unfair to condemn inner-city youth to a zero wage than to allow them to compete for jobs at a free-market wage.
*It is obvious that the government should stop passing new laws and repeal a lot of old ones.
*A family-leave bill will add several inches of new regulatory paper to the ever-increasing stack on the employers' desks while leaving them to figure out how to keep a business going while various employees disappear for weeks at a time.
I know a lot about the policy guide because I was its editor, and if the Star writer had been curious enough to ask if I thought the material was “extreme” I would have left that judgment open. For the articles in the guide addressed what the authors, some of them economists with doctorates, thought to be extreme political, economic and societal problems. And it is at least arguable that many of their proposed solutions, extreme or not, would have improved the situation of Indiana citizens.
Following that line, the Star could have begun a useful public discussion instead of becoming party to a round of poll-tested name-calling. But it did not, treating the current political campaign as a mere sporting event.
That's sad, because the Star once was a statewide leader of our public discussion. Indeed, when the political guide first was published, its lead editorial had this to say:
“The pocket-sized 150-page book contains tough iconoclastic and highly informative writing by J. Patrick Rooney, Dr. Chad J. Davis, law Professor Douglas W. Kmiec of Notre Dame and other experts who discuss the press, leadership, the major parties, term limitation, regulation, abortion, lobbying, bureaucracy, the litigation explosion, current policies on taxation, the state budget, education, conservation, welfare, government-run versus privatized services, employment, private property, special interests and other vital topics. ... 'Indiana Mandate' is likely to make a lot of people angry. It is certain to make a lot of people think, which is the point. That can spark debate, which, if things go well, can produce healthy change.”
That was the lead editorial in the afternoon edition of May 14, 1992, under the headline “Indiana: Escape Route.” Yes, the issues still viable and unresolved in this gubernatorial election are 20 years old. Now that is extreme — extremely discouraging as a reflection of the civic duty of those in the political parties and the media managing Indiana's public discussion.