What's old is newDavid Hoppe

Mitch Daniels and the Republican majority in the state Legislature have gotten a lot of mileage out of talking about the need for change in Indiana's government. But that's kind of like saying we need to obey traffic signs. Failure to recognize the obvious equals a wreck.

Talk about a blast from the past: What else can you call picking up the Sunday Star and finding a column by Indy's own wunderkind in the wilderness, Stephen Goldsmith.

The arrival of the Republicans would be more invigorating if they were actually bringing something new to the table. But over the past couple of weeks what they appear to have in store is something more along the lines of an oldies package, or, as Yogi Berra said, déjà vu all over again.

Talk about a blast from the past: What else can you call picking up the Sunday Star and finding a column by Indy's own wunderkind in the wilderness, Stephen Goldsmith. You remember Steve Goldsmith. Used to be mayor of Indianapolis. Ran for governor claiming that he was CEO of the state's biggest city and wanted to be CEO of the entire state. Got clobbered in the election, and took a particular pasting in Marion County where his "customers" (or were we supposed to be "the help"?) closed his account.

Well, now Goldsmith is a professor at Harvard University. Which puts the lie to the right-wing saw that American universities are bastions of ill-conceived, subversive poppycock - or, on second thought, maybe not.

Anyway, Goldsmith writes, "Government itself is being transformed into a fundamentally different model, 'governing by network,' in which executives redefine their core responsibilities from managing people and programs to coordinating resources for producing public value."

It turns out Goldsmith has written a book called Governing By Network: The New Face of the Public Sector. He goes on to say that "governing by network" represents the confluence of four trends, the first of which is "the use of private firms and nonprofits to do government's work."

Why is it that when Steve Goldsmith says "governing by network" I immediately think "crony capitalism"?

Maybe it has something to do with how he ran this city's public transit system into the ground by trying to privatize it. Or the way he cut city employees by half and then made a mess of parks maintenance by channeling contracts to a big campaign contributor.

And isn't "governing by network" what the Bush Administration had in mind when Dick Cheney gathered his oil industry friends behind closed doors to draft the country's energy policy? I suppose when Halliburton received billions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts to help make Iraq such a great success, that was governing by network at its best.

"By using outside partners to deliver a service or accomplish a task, managers can hire, fire, assign and reassign on short notice," Goldsmith writes. Public employees take note. Private contractors, with your high-priced administrative fees and your lobbyists, get out your wallets.

Talk about déjà vu ...

In that same issue of The Star was a below-the-fold story by Michelle McNeil that ran under the headline "GOP isn't giving gay marriage same sense of urgency now."

Oh, really?

"We have some exceptional business before us right now," said Brian Bosma, the Republican House speaker from Indianapolis. "We have the economic development package. We have the ethics package. We have to deal with the budget."

I applaud Mr. Bosma for getting his priorities ... straight. But anyone with a memory might be forgiven for wondering what it was the Republicans were up to in last year's session when they were practically falling all over each other with righteous indignation that Democrats wouldn't debate a constitutional amendment that would forbid gay people from marrying one another. Never mind that there's already a law on the books that takes care of this. Republicans walked off the House floor for a week when legislation bearing on the state's financial crisis was up for consideration.

Republican fervor about keeping people of the same sex from marrying one another was used in at least three races to unseat Democrat incumbents. The issue gave the Republicans a majority in the House. Now Bosma says the issue won't even come up until the second half of the session.

There's nothing new in this. It's the same game Republicans have been playing with great success for the past 25 years. What's bizarre is that their Christian fundamentalist fans keep falling for it.

In election after election, Republicans woo and win a certain base constituency by raving on about issues like gay marriage, abortion, school prayer and the immoral dreck that passes for popular culture. For a small but intense minority of citizens, these issues are more important than war, the economy, health care or even whether or not politicians lie about their intentions.

Republican politicians know this. They also know that if they ever actually do anything about these things they will have to talk about the war, the economy and health care. So they flog what the media calls "values" when they want to rally the troops and look the other way after they get elected. Abortion is still legal, you can't demand that kids pray in public school and TV is worse than ever. In Indiana, we may be forced to consider an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage, but don't count on it. As someone else once said:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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