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Is Terre Haute the Peshawar of the Midwest?

Hoosier Hooey

by WERTHER

Indiana, once deemed by National Lampoon to be the country’s most boring state, is nevertheless the hatchery of two notable American bards, Booth Tarkington and Theodore Dreiser. Based on recent news reports, a third Hoosier spinner of tales is poised to join their august ranks.

As spring slipped into the summer before the mid-term elections, this formerly Constitutional Republic began, like clockwork, to experience the predictable drumbeat of terror alerts, terror plots foiled (including year-old rehashings of internet cafe babble), and bogus miracles (e.g., the killing of Zarqawi). Just as predictable, the miasma of fear, like a vague but persistent toothache, crept up in the public consciousness while the President’s approval ratings coincidentally began their gradual ascent from the cellar.

How fortunate, then, for the national sense of humor that the Department of Homeland Security, that paragon of bad management and cronyism, has just provided the public with a bit of security-related comic relief.

On 11 July, the Department’s inspector general released a report on the so-called National Asset Database, a list of critical national infrastructure deemed to be potential terrorist targets.

Amid a catalogue of petting zoos and flea markets, one sovereign state stood out. Indiana, which styles itself the "crossroads of America," seems to conceive of itself as a crossroads of terrorist activity, as if Terre Haute were Peshawar Province and Indianapolis were Ramadi. The functionaries of Indiana’s government submitted in January a list to DHS containing 8,591 potential terrorist targets, making it the most target-rich environment of the 50 states by far.

The question arises: why was Indiana so extravagantly willing to list its strategic popcorn factories when other states were more reticent? Granted, the entire national list seems heavily tilted towards backwater "Red States," [1] leading some cynics to opine that the entire exercise of cutting the homeland security funding of New York and Washington D.C., and increasing that of, say, Omaha, was a transparent election-year attempt to reward friends and punish enemies. Yet still, Indiana stands proud like a lighthouse in a bowling alley. Why?

Could it have anything to do with the composition of its current government? Behold the incumbent governor, Mitchell Elias Daniels, Jr.

Daniels is described in a recent critical article [2] as "of Bush’s most loyal shills — the guy who, with a straight face, overstated the budget deficit in order to make increasingly inflated claims about his boss’s ability to reduce it; the guy who, contrary to most serious economists, gave his agency’s approval to administration tax cuts; the guy who oversaw the dismantling of countless workplace and safety regulations at the behest of industry-backed right-wing think tanks." He was also heartily disliked on Capitol Hill for his inflexible arrogance and machine-like capacity for stating falsehoods in the rote manner of reciting the names in the telephone directory.

Despite the fact that during his tenure as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget the deficit grew like a metastasizing cancer, he gained a reputation as a pinched, cheese-paring cheapskate — a sort of Ebeneezer Scrooge in a Brooks Brothers suit. Given this reputation, why, among all the governors of the 50 states, should his administration submit the most outrageously inflated list of supposed targets in hopes of snaring federal dollars?

Here we see demonstrated, for the umpteenth time, the essential secret of pseudo-conservatism. It is not about fiscal responsibility, it is about rewarding friends in industry under the guise of "cutting government." Daniels evidently saw a gold mine in the Homeland Security grants residing in the U.S. Treasury. What better way to pad the coffers of the State of Indiana (and have some of it flow to local contractors) without raising taxes on the local peasantry, who might object?

Daniel’s previous position as OMB director equipped him with considerable knowledge of how to game the system. OMB is in charge of compiling and categorizing homeland security funding across the federal government; he would be intimately familiar with sources and availability of funds. And, given the present administration’s rampant cronyism, an alumnus would be better positioned to siphon federal tax dollars in any case.

In 1925, Dreiser penned An American Tragedy. Anno 2006, his successor Hoosier fabulist has written An American Farce.

WERTHER is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.

[1]The present writer confesses his bafflement at the "red states/blue states" meme. Since the French Revolution, red has been the unvarying symbol of leftism and revolution. Blue was just as surely conservatism and tradition. Any competent psychologist would aver the colors suited the concepts. How was this stasis reversed so rapidly by the 2000 elections and the mere media selection of colors to designate states on a tote-board? Why does the (self-described) most conservative administration since Coolidge proudly proclaim itself "red?" Perhaps the Trotskyite infiltration of the neo-cons has had more effect than just on the foreign policy front.

[2] "The Decline of the MBA Presidency," by Clay Risen, The New Republic, 11 July 2006,