Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back to the future: Indiana loves the '80s

Posted By on Thu, Sep 4, 2014 at 11:35 AM

click to enlarge David Hoppe
  • David Hoppe

Is that a Cosby sweater lurking in the back of your closet? You know what I mean: one of those knit jobs that look like a cross between an explosion in a noodle factory and a tossed salad.

According to Estately, a national real estate search site, Indiana ranks third among all the states in terms of nostalgia for the 1980s. The only states with a greater love than Hoosiers for all things Madonna, Van Halen and Mr. T are Kentucky and Tennessee.

The 1980s, of course, was the decade that drove a stake through the heart of what remained of the 1960s. Ronald Reagan was elected president. After busting the Air Traffic Controllers’ union, he thought it a bright idea to praise Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Born in the USA,” for what he called its “message of hope.”

Reagan was famous for pretending not to hear reporters’ questions. He seems not to have heard the lyrics to Springsteen’s song, which featured verses like this: “Down in the shadow of the penitentiary/ Out by the gas fires of the refinery/ I’m ten years burning down the road/ Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.”

That was the ‘80s for you. Fantasy was forever trumping facts. People wore shoulder pads to create the illusion of a perfect silhouette. And a movie, Tron, about those newfangled computers, based itself on the analog notion that there were little people having adventures inside the mainframe.

Curiously enough, here in Indiana, the 1980s turned out to be the Robert Orr decade. Orr, a Republican, served as governor from 1981 to ’89. He presided over (get this!) a major reform of the state’s educational system, which included an emphasis on smaller class sizes in early grades, competency testing (that again), and programs for gifted students. He also helped pull the state out of a debilitating recession.

Orr was a well-intentioned problem-solver or, put another way, the kind of Republican that doesn’t really exist anymore. He engineered a state tax increase to help pay for the modernization of our schools. Who would have guessed that this innocuous, rather patrician character would turn out to be the closest thing Indiana’s had to a progressive chief executive between that time and this?

I suppose it’s our ‘80s nostalgia that accounts for our more recent penchant for politicians like Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence. Both of these fellows have been eager to associate themselves with Reagan the Myth. In June, Pence told a crowd his goal was to complete Reagan’s unfinished work of bringing powers back to the states.

Unfinished work is right. Pence conveniently overlooked the fact that Reagan raised taxes seven times during his eight years in office; that the federal budget deficit actually tripled under Reagan’s fitful watch; and that instead of cutting the size of the federal government, Reagan actually added a new department — Veterans’ (ouch) Affairs.

But Pence’s Reagan mythmaking is so ‘80s. And that, it turns out, is so Hoosier. Pac-Man anyone?

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David Hoppe

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