Increasingly, we hear politicians and economists liken the current economic hard times to the Great Depression. Things aren't that bad yet, thank goodness, but there are plenty of historical analogies. The collapse of a stock market boom, rising income disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us, millions of people losing their jobs. In Indiana, we routinely lead the country in home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies, and welfare applications are way up. The state has lost over 112,000 jobs in the last two years.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office and took charge. Through the New Deal, he created jobs, built the country's infrastructure and set up a safety net for the elderly and disabled. Famously declaring that "All we have to fear is fear itself," FDR was himself not afraid to use the power of government to temper the harshness of the free market. He didn't consult a poll to make sure he couldn't be labeled "anti-business" or a "liberal" in the next election. Instead, he defined the Democrat Party as the friend of the working class and the poor.
Sadly, our current Indiana Democrat leadership has more in common with Herbert Hoover.
Sen. Evan Bayh appears to be on a quest to define himself as a loyal lieutenant of President Bush. A Congressional Quarterly analysis showed that last year, Bayh voted with Bush 79 percent of the time, more often than he joined in with his fellow Senate Democrats. While Hoosiers are getting laid off in record numbers, Bayh uses his Senate influence to increase the burden on unemployed parents applying for welfare. While middle-class Hoosiers suffer a nation-leading number of home foreclosures, Bayh responds by leading the charge to eliminate taxes for wealthy heirs. When President Bush proposed a federal budget that would sharply reduce taxes for the richest Americans while jeopardizing the future of Head Start and Medicaid, Bayh responded positively.
Not that this is a surprise coming from a former governor who built a state budget surplus on the backs of the poor, denying medical care to the disabled and leading the nation in cutting off low-income families from assistance. Hoosiers paying attention have long known that if you take away this senator's birth name, he is about as much a Democrat as Trent Lott is.
Not exactly "Profiles in Courage"
Gov. Frank O'Bannon, also rumored to be a Democrat, has successfully pushed to cut taxes for businesses in exchange for raising regressive burdens like sales and gasoline taxes. Where FDR created new laws to help the poor, our governor won't even obey existing laws designed to protect them. There has been an alarmingly long string of successful lawsuits against O'Bannon, including recent findings that he illegally docked families' food stamps and refused to provide mandated care for mentally ill children. Already this year, O'Bannon has been cited for illegally forcing severely disabled people to wait many months before deciding if they were eligible for medical help.
(After this most recent lawsuit was resolved, a friend who is a welfare caseworker suggested our state motto should be "Indiana: Taking Care of our Citizens Pursuant to Court Order.")
Those Indiana poor who can't find a judge to protect them had better look out. After putting parents of 6,700 children off of childcare assistance last fall, the most recent O'Bannon budget innovation is to cut off the entire Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) monthly grant - and also seize any collected child support - for children whose parents have broken a program rule. Snatching away the last dime from blameless children sounds like a Scrooge-like joke, but it is a quite real policy. O'Bannon calls it "full family sanctions."
The state is $850 million in the red, and our governor is unwilling to issue a fiscal challenge to anyone except hungry kids living in homeless shelters. Not exactly Profiles in Courage material, is it?
Some of our local Democrat leaders aren't doing much better. So far, Mayor Bart Peterson's "Blueprint to End Homelessness" has produced more press conferences than housing for the poor. Trying to change that, Concerned Clergy and a few local officials last year proposed raising property tax revenue for a low-income housing trust fund. Peterson refused to support them, as did most of the Democrat caucus of the City-County Council. Nor did they back the ordinance to have Indianapolis follow the 102 American cities that have enacted a living wage law. Compare that to the millions of dollars in city money promised to make sure the Colts stay in town, and the city revenue pledged to the developers of a luxury Conrad Hilton Hotel.
There are many local Democrat office-holders worthy of the FDR legacy of standing up for the poor in hard times, including Congresswoman Julia Carson, state Rep. Bill Crawford, state Rep. John Day and City-County Councilor Joanne Sanders. So maybe alleged Democrats Bayh, O'Bannon and others should look elsewhere for political allies better suited to their approach to economic hard times.
I'm sure the party of Herbert Hoover would be proud to have them.
Fran Quigley is a contributing editor to NUVO, where this article originally appeared - www.nuvo.net.