Commentary: A Profession Worth Respecting When Done Well
By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb wisely tapped the brakes just before the July 4 holiday weekend on the state’s plans to reopen during the raging coronavirus pandemic.
“More than recognizing it, we have to accept the fact that this virus is on the prowl, and it’s moving, even within our borders,” Holcomb said in announcing the slowdown. “And we are living on virus time.”
Originally, Indiana was supposed to loosen things up considerably on July 4 and move to Stage 5 of a planned reopening. Bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues could have started doing more business.
Instead, the state will continue operating on a restricted basis.
Holcomb called the move Stage 4.5 – to suggest that Indiana still was moving forward, just a little more slowly and cautiously.
Skeptics pounced on that bit of branding to say that, even when he was doing the right thing, Holcomb had to play politics.
And that’s all right.
One thing we all should hope comes out of this current crisis is a renewed appreciation for the skills that comprise strong political leadership.
Among America’s defining myths is a belief that is egalitarian in spirit. It is an article of faith that asserts that, because everyone has – or should have – equal rights and opportunities, everyone is equal, as if human beings were interchangeable parts in the complicated machinery of self-government.
For much of our history, we articulated this notion by saying that, in America, any boy could grow up to be president.
Now, as our understanding of liberty and its blessings has expanded to meet the promises offered by our founding documents, we say, in America, anyone can grow up to be president.
That’s not true, of course.
Even as we seem to be tearing down some walls that kept a high political office in this nation as a preserve reserved for white males alone, many barricades still exist. The chances that, particularly in this era of free-flowing and dark money, a candidate at even a statewide level who does not have access to both abundant sums of cash and quality education can achieve success are between none and nonexistent.
Such barriers are not just.
But some others are.
Because the fact is that not just anyone can be a successful political leader. To be a good governor or a good legislator or – certainly – a good president requires a rare set of skills.
We’re seeing that now.
One of the arguments Donald Trump and his partisans advanced for making him the president was that he would run government “like a business.”
That idea was flawed in several ways, not the least of which involved the question of whether Trump ever was a good businessman. His track record – multiple bankruptcies and a long history of litigation – suggests the answer would be no.
But the more fundamental problem with that argument is that government isn’t, never has been and shouldn’t be a business.
For instance, the government’s primary purpose isn’t to turn a profit for its shareholders and stakeholders, but instead to protect and advance the interests of the citizens it serves.
All the citizens.
That means, among other things, that government can’t – or shouldn’t – disregard the concerns of any group of citizens on a consistent basis. It isn’t – or shouldn’t be – allowed to write people off.
Businesses don’t have to operate that way. Businesspeople can decide that it isn’t cost-effective to serve one portion of their market and shut down operations designed to provide that service.
This is not to disparage businesspeople.
It takes great skill to be a good business leader.
But it also takes great skill to be a good political leader.
And they aren’t the same skills.
We tend to venerate the successful business leader while disparaging the good politician.
But we shouldn’t.
These past few years should give fresh appreciation for the skills – for conciliation, for balancing disparate interests, for keeping everyone at the table, for finessing difficult situations, for leading while serving – a successful politician must-have.
So, yes, Gov. Eric Holcomb played politics in announcing a delay in Indiana’s reopening.
Good for him.
FOOTNOTE: John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.