Every year at this time, the state Legislature meets to deal with what's been called "the people's business." Men and women from towns and cities around Indiana make their way to the Statehouse in Indianapolis. Under that grand old building's towering dome, they debate the issues of the day in what amounts to a kind of civic theater.
Last week it was theater of the absurd.
Sen. Marlin Stutzman, a Republican who lives on a 3,500-acre farm up in Howe, a proud member of the National Rife Association, managed to get his picture in the paper by coming up with a resolution calling on President Obama not to send any of the suspected terrorists being held in the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute.
It wasn't long before Stutzman managed to get several of his Republican colleagues, including Jim Buck of Kokomo, Greg Walker of Columbus and Carlin Yoder of Middlebury, to join his not-in-my-backyard chorus.
You'll recall that one of the first things President Obama did upon taking office was to order that the Guantanamo facility be closed in the next year and the prisoners held there be dealt with according to recognized legal standards.
This news was apparently enough to curdle Stutzman's tenderloin. "These are extreme Muslim terrorists, ruthless terrorists housed at Guantanamo Bay for a reason," the senator said. "If they are brought on to our soil ... are they bringing us that much closer to becoming a target?"
On his Indiana government Web page, Stutzman says he serves his community "as a farmer, small businessman, family man and senator." With an upstanding background like this, you would think Stutzman would probably, if nudged, gladly call himself a patriot.
But it's a strange kind of patriotism that, when faced with an unpleasant and, yes, perhaps even dangerous, assignment, says, er, no thanks. "Obviously, I trust our prison personnel, but let's not take the risk," Stutzman said.
Perhaps Stutzman didn't get the memo, but a certain Republican president declared War of Terror. This was an easy concept to accept so long as all the American people were asked to do was go shopping and the dirty business of torture (I mean enhanced interrogation techniques), extraordinary rendition and the wholesale sacking of the Geneva Conventions regarding war crimes were kept offshore. Out of sight, out of mind.
The cost of this approach has been steep. By most accounts it has isolated the U.S. in the world community, strained our alliances and, worst of all, helped swell the ranks of those that would do us harm.
Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo, as it is called, is a symbol of everything that has backfired about American policy. That's why candidate Obama pledged to close it and why President Obama has followed through on that pledge. It is a necessary first step in rebuilding our country's commitment to the rule of law.
It is also going to be complicated and difficult to deal with. Patriotism would help.
So what do Stutzman and his playground buddies -none of whom, by the way, live in or near Terre Haute - do? Apparently a few have been heard to snicker that the prisoners should be shipped to blue states. Reopen Alcatraz was reportedly somebody's idea of a punch line.
But what these yokels say won't make any difference. The Big House in Terre Haute is a federal prison. Stutzman and Co. have little say over whatever happens there.
No, these boy-men in the state Senate probably think they're being clever, sticking it to the new president. They'll take the billions he sends their way in an economic recovery package, but they want him to know whatever else he stands for, well, he can shove it. Now you know why the mayors of big cities are afraid of what will happen to that federal money if spending it is left up to governors and legislators like Stutzman.
"Others are brave out of ignorance; and when they stop to think, they begin to fear," said Pericles, the ancient Greek. "But the man who can most truly be accounted brave is he who best knows the meaning of what is sweet in life and of what is terrible, and then goes out undeterred to meet what is to come."
Pericles was talking about courage and consequences, the quiet strength that real patriotism requires. Stutzman and his ilk could do worse than to acquaint themselves with his burial speech to the Athenians during their war with Sparta.
But if Pericles is beyond his ken, Stutzman might remember this, more recent, admonition: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."