From pork tenderloins to Jim Nabors singing every year at the 500 race, Indianapolis loves its traditions. Paranoid-style politics is another of our favorite pastimes.
Back in the 1920s, Indianapolis embraced the Ku Klux Klan. In those days, Klan members didn't just hate African-Americans; Catholics and Jews were also on their list. If you were an outsider of any kind, the Klan viewed you with suspicion. It is estimated that as many as 40 percent of Indianapolis men belonged to the Klan between 1922 and 1928. These so-called Knights controlled the city council and the school board, as well as the state's Republican Party.
The John Birch Society was founded here in 1958. Birchers believe that the federal government is out to get us. They see Washington as being engaged in a massive effort to do away with local sovereignty that's ultimately aimed at creating a totalitarian one-world government. Birchers can't abide the United Nations; they opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act because they thought such rights should be decided by individual states. And, like the Klan, Birchers have never been crazy about immigrants.
Though never as popular as the Klan was in its day, the John Birch Society has had a certain staying power over the years. In fact, it's making a comeback.
Last week, Republicans in the Indiana State Senate approved a resolution aimed at "protecting Hoosier taxpayers from Obamacare." Senate Current Resolution 39 was written by Republican State Sen. Scott Schneider of, where else? Indianapolis. It urges Attorney General Greg Zoeller to explore all options available to Indiana if federal health-care reform is passed.
Schneider foresees a fiscal apocalypse for the state of Indiana if health coverage is extended to 30 million more Americans and insurance companies have to allow for pre-existing conditions. He believes that new regulations "would essentially convert private insurance companies into public utilities."
"By passing this resolution," Schneider said, "we are attempting to protect the taxpayers of Indiana. We need to explore all the options available, legal and otherwise."
Schneider didn't elaborate on that "otherwise" part. Maybe he and his fellow Republicans are thinking of taking a page from South Carolina's 1860 playbook. The South Carolinians didn't want anybody in Washington suggesting that slavery was a bad idea, so they seceded from the Union. We know how that worked out.
Schneider and his cohorts are riding a bandwagon being pushed by the John Birch Society. It's called the Tenth Amendment Movement. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Tenth Amendment folks believe this gives any state the right to reject federal legislation it doesn't like. Tenth Amendment initiatives started popping up in state legislatures in February 2009, when the Oklahoma legislature passed a resolution calling on the federal government to mind its own business. Apparently that didn't apply to the $31 million Oklahoma received in federal stimulus money for clean water projects, the $17 million they got for dams, or that $1.3 million Tulsa was granted to hire new cops.
There are three Tenth Amendment initiatives being considered now in Virginia. One is a "resolution of state sovereignty" like Oklahoma's, another, similar to the Indiana Senate's handiwork, challenges federal health care reform, and a third rejects federal gun regulations.
While Tenth Amendment advocates claim the authority of a constitutional amendment, their impulse to cherry pick among federal laws that suit them and leave the rest should be recognizable to any kid who has ever visited a playground and found a game not to her liking.
States rights insisters like Sen. Schneider also have a convenient way of forgetting that, more often than not, our reliance on federal solutions to problems is not a preference so much as a last resort. If many of us support federal lawmaking, it's because we find our local politicians either unwilling or unable to do things that need to be done, like insuring that every citizen can vote, regardless of the color of their skin, their gender, or how much money is in their bank account.
Sen. Schneider seems to miss the point that federal legislation, as intrusive as he may find it, actually gives a state like Indiana the opportunity to compete with other states on a more level national playing field. But maybe he thinks that not offering health benefits available in most other states, or having dirtier air and water, will actually attract more people here.
At almost the same time that Sen. Schneider and his Republican pals in the state senate were paying homage to Indy's tradition of political flat headedness, city leaders were celebrating a $20.5 million federal stimulus grant paying for completion of the Cultural Trail and allowing for needed repairs to existing urban infrastructure. These projects are touted to create as many as 10,000 jobs.
When the Trail's finally done, someone should put a sign up alongside it in honor of Sen. Schneider and his friends: Don't Tread on Me.