Tuesday, June 15

Walking Tall, Part 2

Andrew Ferguson, "Ride Along With Mitch: Can the astonishing popularity of Indiana's penny-pinching governor carry him to the White House in 2012?" Six volumes. June 14

IF we're through lying about Daniels' height, it must be time to start lying about his record.

Which, of course, is the point of the exercise, so let's repeat: it's no surprise, and no big deal, that he lied about his Presidential aspirations, nor that he continues to ("reluctantly talked into leaving the door open", like he's fucking Eisenhower or something). What is of note is the way lying about his record has been at the service of the ambitions he denied, and how, ultimately, when the choice came to fuck Hoosiers over or admit the failure of his Magic Economic Formula, well, you can finish that sentence.
North Central gleamed. A glass elevator stood in the polished foyer, and a ramp curved up to a balcony where one wall was devoted to the school’s Alumni Hall of Fame. A picture of Daniels—straight A student, president of the student council, delegate to the national Boys State convention in 1967—has pride of place, next to a photo of BabyFace, the music producer who has evidently been forgiven for discovering Paula Abdul. Later I remarked to Daniels how the schools I’d seen in Indiana all had the same gleam and polish: immaculate athletic fields, vast cafeterias, swimming pools.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s a problem.”

Okay, it's Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, not BabyFace, like he's a website specializing in infant photography, and he probably has some regrets, as we all do, but they don't include "discovering" Paula Abdul or flushing away a billion Hoosier tax dollars in a social services privatization boondoggle.

As for North Central, it's what's known locally as a "county" school, meaning it was built in an area which was outside the city limits at the time, back before the Lugar administration annexed the land and harvested the white votes. It serves the wealthiest district in the city. Its growth was more Post-war Housing Boom than White Flight, but, of course, thanks to Dick Lugar it was allowed to expand unimpeded by any obligation--beyond the ethical, which can be discounted--to share its property-tax receipts with any of the students in other areas of the city it so recently had joined, a situation which still obtains today. Prior to its completion in 1956--just a dozen years before it became part of Indianapolis--its school-aged residents had been educated in the Indianapolis Public School system. Gratis. Just in case you enjoy irony an' stuff.

Ferguson, then, could have travelled ten minutes to the south and had the gleam, and the pool, and the glass elevators, and the mote removed from his eye, by visiting some schools more appropriately reflecting their charges' station in life.
I’d meant to flatter him but he sounded appalled.

“When we were first campaigning, I started to notice, we’d drive through these rural counties, these very poor counties, and we’d drive up over a hill and on the other side you’d see a brand-new high school that looked like Frank Lloyd Wright had just been there.

1) Couldn't have been Wright if they were still standing. 2) Governor, you couldn't pick Frank Lloyd Wright out of a lineup that included Le Corbusier, Sleeping Beauty's Castle, and the Mormon Tabernacle.
Enormous gold-plated buildings. It turned out we had higher capital expenditures for educational construction per square foot than any other state. There’d be a bond issue and then the architects and contractors would run amok, spending money on things that had nothing to do with academics. I understand why it happens. The school board likes it because they get to play designer for a year. But we couldn’t afford it.”

Y'know, at first blush this doesn't seem like the Smaller Government Republican/Randian Snake Oil Pitchman game in a nutshell. There's much to agree with there, even if you suspect, as I do, that that "highest construction costs in the nation" routine comes from the Ronald Wilson Reagan Institute of Tree-Engendered Pollution Statistics. But let's scrape away some of that gold plating.

The main reason one sees these Prairie Palaces standing in the place of the Little Red Schoolhouse of Daniels' imaginary youth is that over the past forty-fifty years rural districts have consolidated. That gold wasn't forcibly extracted from the remaining teeth of Farmer Bob and Trailer Park Tessie by the King's hated publicans. It's spread over a wide area. And this is fucking Indiana, where Republicans have held the purse strings since Oliver P. Morton, interrupted only by the occasional Not Quite Republican, such as Evan Bayh. The expense of those schools was approved by local school boards, whose members were elected and whose meetings were public, and paid for almost exclusively by local property tax levies. That changed when Daniels and his bunch overran the Statehouse in 2004, and took over the bulk of education funding.

Which, again, we're not saying is a Bad Thing of itself, but we'd prefer it be done with an eye to, I dunno, equalizing educational opportunity, not squeezing evil teachers' unions. It's just that RV Mitch wasn't touring vast stretches of Appalachia dotted with Little Xanadus; what he saw, at most, was the sort of local pride that people took in their schools, and the sort of construction projects their elected representatives--who're much more assessable to taxpayers than their six-week-a-year state reps--approved. Even if the lot of 'em did figure all those Negro children in the jungles of Indy didn't really require computers, air conditioning, or textbooks from the current century, just reasonably comfortable footwear.

So this routine is really about Mitch Knows Best, not freedom from tyrannical tribute. And, in the event, the combination of that Bush II economy he'd overseen, and the property tax system he and his Republican legislature refused to fix in advance, then claimed credit for plugging with shredded tires and defaced golf balls, would see to it that by his second term no one had any money to spend on schools at all, vaulting us to 45th in construction costs, or something. I have no idea, but if he can make shit up so can I.
School funding increased every year under Daniels before the recession, and since the downturn, when most areas of state government have seen cuts of 25 percent or more, education has been reduced by only 2 percent.

Fuck it, can we just rename Reagan Intergalactic Airport for him right now? This is pure unbridled fucking malarky. Old enough to remember Reagan? "Revenue enhancement?" "He didn't cut social programs, he just reduced the rate of increase?" There's yer template.

Let's us go back to 2004, and Daniels' Chip on His Shoulder Across the Hinterlands RV Tour. In order to be elected savior, Mitch needed something he could save us from. Enter the Deficit.

The state didn't have a Deficit. Well, it did, but it didn't. It had, Republican and Near-Republican, sometimes balanced its books by shifting accounts one year to the next. In good times it ran a surplus [what, when inherited by the Bush II White House (Mitch Daniels, Big Economic Bureaucratic Brain), was referred to as "taxpayer money ruthlessly seized by Big Government and held for its own purposes", and which, when one could briefly be attributed to Indiana (Mitch Daniels, Big Economic Executive Brain), was referred to by that same group as "proof positive of superior understanding and penny-pinching preparedness"], and in bad it paid it down. Suddenly in 2004 we had a half-billion dollar debt no one--not even the perpetual Republican majority in the state Senate--had bothered to tell us about. We elect The Brain, and after the brief moment it takes to explain to him that his proposed one-year tax surcharge on incomes over $100,000 designed to reduce the Deficit won't be necessary unless he'd like to be found floating in the White River, which, even if you're alive isn't much of a deal, he and the Republican General Assembly meet for two months and the whole thing disappears.

To my knowledge no one has ever explained how this was accomplished. For that matter, no one's ever explained why anyone should believe it was accomplished. One thing, though, is certain: in 2005 the Indiana General Assembly, with the guidance of The Guy Who'd Wrecked the Economy for the Beloved George W. Bush, cut the public education budget for a two year period. Yes, education spending increased, on paper, but it did so while eliminating funding for certain expenditures which had to that point been guaranteed. So that, say, if you've gotten an automatic 5% raise every year for ten years, and suddenly your boss comes to you two months before the increase is due, and says he's not making enough money because he thought the War in Iraq would cost only about sixty bucks, so now your increase will be 2%, he can still claim to have enhanced your revenue. And you can claim he's a lying sack.

The cuts hit the state's largest, urban school districts hardest. After Democrats retook the House in 2006 school funding was increased; but once Daniels was safely reelected he torpedoed the budget process after an agreement in principle had been reached, forcing a Special Session Farmer Zeb and Laid-off Linda were only too happy to foot the gold-plated bill for, whose sole intent was to gut the agreed-upon educational increase.

Reduced only 2%! says our Andrew, without noting--for some reason--there was a 1% increase in 2009, due to an influx of Socialist Obama Bucks.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Senate Permanent Republican Committee on Per Diem Costs While The Legislature Is Not In Session jawboned state universities into reducing the increases in tuition they'd proposed in response to the cuts--more severe for them than secondary education--if, by "jawboning" you mean "threatened to never approve a single building request again times infinity, until the Rapture". Local districts making forced wholesale cuts in education budgets in, really, the only place they can (or so Republicans keep insisting when it's private-sector layoffs)--that is, the labor force, which, by the way, is made up of teachers--has been met by Mitch and his henchdirector of public education, Tony Bennett, shaking their heads sadly and suggesting that administrators be cut first. Like that's the way the Perfect Market works in any other area of life.

This then, friends, is the Penny-Pincher's Miracle: a guy living in a ~$4 million home in a gated community paid for with tax receipts and whatever he found lying around loose, tells you he's cutting your budget to suit his notion of your Place. Then he informs you that where he's cutting it is none of your backwoods, illiterate, last century goddam business. This is known as "conservatism". Hell, it's known in some circles as "the Republicans best hope". To save themselves from Republicans.


stAllio! said...

so how many hoosier schools do you reckon ferguson visited before pronouncing that they all glisten like morning dew? my money is on two, but then again, i'm feeling generous.

Scott C. said...

i wondered, after they closed Show World on 8th Avenue, what would become of all live sex performers. It's nice to see there's still room for a good bottom at the Weekly Standard.

On a side note, I walked past Edmonds Tower (Cahuenga, just below Hollywood Blvd) only yesterday. It's not a particularly tall or impressive tower, but there was an impressively tall tranny out front smoking a clove cigarette and singing "Happy Birthday" into her cell phone.