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The President’s Hoosier Friend

Can Baron Hill get reelected by embracing Obamacare?

Nov 1, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 07 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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Young has also made an issue of his opponent’s irascible temperament. Hill is perhaps best known nationally for calling Tea Party activists “political terrorists.” Square-jawed, straight-backed, the congressman has the unpleasant demeanor of a man who might scream “What am I, a map?” if you dared to ask him directions. Young’s most popular TV ad shows Hill berating a questioner at a public forum last year. “This is my town hall meeting and I set the rules,” Hill growls. As the crowd hoots he continues: “Let me repeat that one more time: This is my town hall meeting for you, and you’re not going to tell me how to run my congressional office.” The ad makes Hill’s personal arrogance a symbol of the larger arrogance of the Washington political class.

Beyond that, Young takes refuge in some ideological ambiguity of his own. Though steeped in the conservative movement—he was a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a longtime reader of National Review, and an officer of his law school’s Federalist Society, and (most important) his wife’s uncle is Dan Quayle—he has been understandably dodgy on specific issues like Social Security: “This is a fifty-fifty district,” he says. 

Like many other Republicans this year, he attacks Hill’s vote for Obama-care on the grounds that the bill “cuts $500 billion from our seniors’ Medicare.” During a heated primary campaign that he eventually won by only 2 percentage points, Young made a play for Tea Party support by giving affirmative answers to a loaded questionnaire from a “constitutionalist” group called the Independence Caucus. It revealed a 90 proof conservatism that most voters aren’t ready to swallow, especially in the fifty-fifty 9th.

“Yes or no,” reads one question. “Do you commit to oppose the expansion and/or the perpetuation of any and all EXISTING federal legislation and regulations in areas that are not constitutionally enumerated  …  Education, Energy, Welfare, Labor issues, Non-Interstate roads, farm subsidies, etc.” 

“Do you commit,” reads another, “to support legislation requiring the Federal Government to transfer ownership of all Federal Lands back to the individual states that they are located within?”

Unfairly but hilariously, Hill insists that this last question means Young wants to “eliminate Mount Rushmore.” The other question, he says, suggests Young wants to dismantle the Department of Education—a more plausible accusation, since that pledge was a GOP party plank throughout the 1980s and 1990s and an often-expressed hope of Ronald Reagan, now canonized. 

Young denies it all. “No,” he says with exasperation, “I’m not in favor of eliminating national parks.” And though the questionnaire seems clearly to advocate eliminating the Education Department, along with most other agencies of the federal government, Young says only: “That’s not how I interpret it.”

In the recent past Young has also publicly toyed with partial privatization of Social Security and with the Fair Tax, which would replace the income tax with a 23 percent value added tax. During the campaign he has disowned the second idea and fudges the first, insisting that any specific reforms to Social Security—indeed, any specific steps to cut the deficit and bring down the debt—will have to wait for the report of President Obama’s blue ribbon deficit commission.

Young defends his squeamishness. “People want to know the principles that will guide you,” he said. “And I’ve made those clear: limited government, individual freedom, and responsibility. Ideally you want a campaign in which both candidates can talk in detail about challenges and solutions. But we’re running against a candidate who will distort and demagogue any issue to stay in power.”

However wise Young’s reticence might be, it makes the meaning of any victory less apparent. What’s it mean when the Democrat thinks it’s good politics to boast of his unpopular votes and the Republican thinks it’s good politics to slam the Democrat for cutting spending? The eyes of the country may turn to the 9th on Election Night, as Young says, but it’s not clear who will be doing the bragging—or what the boast will be.  

 

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and the author of Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College.

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