In­di­ana gover­nor finds you win some, you lose some

Post-Tribune - - Post-Tribune Opinion - DAVID RUT­TER Com­men­tary david.rut­ter@live.com

For Gov. Mike Pence, both the best of times and the worst of times oc­curred on al­most the same day.

It hap­pens. At dawn, the Hin­den­burg was just fine. By night­fall, it was an ex­plod­ing gas­bag.

In vir­tu­ally the same hour he was hail­ing how he had beaten the evil Sith over­lords in Wash­ing­ton and fi­nally taken the $5 bil­lion Med­i­caid money they’ve been forc­ing on him, he was also try­ing to ex­plain how his new “Just IN” pro­gram was not the Hoosier Pravda his crack team of crack pub­li­cists had con­cocted.

For about six hours, Hoosier tax­pay­ers were the proud own­ers of a com­pet­ing news/pro­pa­ganda ser­vice de­signed to make Pence look good just as he was launch­ing a pres­i­den­tial bid.

It was all a gi­ant mis­un­der­stand­ing as most bad ideas are when they are un­cov­ered. “Gi­ant mis­un­der­stood idea” usu­ally runs a close sec­ond to “I was taken out of con­text.”

In the busi­ness of pol­i­tics, there are few more deadly sins than mis­plac­ing your meme.

Con­trol­ling the news cy­cle is the prin­ci­pal art. Don’t let bad news drive your good news off the air­waves.

From the Pence view, the very good news last week was that two years of ne­go­ti­a­tion fi­nally yielded the ex­pan­sion of state Med­i­caid for about 350,000 Hoosiers.

To soothe the crack­pot fringe he needs for po­lit­i­cal ad­vance­ment, Pence won this de­bate by de­mand­ing his Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion be called some­thing else than Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion.

They call it Healthy In­di­ana Plan 2.0 and in­clude pun­ish­ment for mod­er­ately poor peo­ple if they don’t pay up in time. In­di­ana has to pun­ish poor peo­ple when­ever it has the chance, or else how would the Koch broth­ers know it was a Repub­li­can idea?

On one level, get­ting more med­i­cal care into the hands of Hoosier fam­i­lies is no pid­dling achieve­ment. On an­other level, we doubt any­thing in In­di­ana can be HIP, much less HIP 2.0

Med­i­caid by any other name would still smell as sweet to some­one mak­ing $16,000 a year. To be clear, the bil­lions in Med­i­caid care were al­ways there. Pence de­clined the checks be­cause fis­cal chicken hawks need to show friends how tough they are on moms mak­ing min­i­mum wage.

It’s still Med­i­caid, but now we call it some­thing else. Pence con­trolled the meme.

That, in fact, is what the feds had of­fered all states that wished to ex­per­i­ment with Af­ford­able Care Act’s vari­ables. In­di­ana isn’t even the only state that makes poor peo­ple pay for medi­ocre health care. What a lovely achieve­ment.

But the main point is that Wash­ing­ton had given five states a waiver to ex­per­i­ment. So this was not ex­actly a hostage cri­sis that Pence solved with cool, dar­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing skills.

In a state­ment that re­flected min­i­mal hu­man com­pas­sion, Pence noted in­ex­pli­ca­bly, “HIP 2.0 is not in­tended to be a long-term en­ti­tle­ment pro­gram. It’s in­tended to be a safety net that aligns in­cen­tives with hu­man as­pi­ra­tions.”

In Pence’s view, this pro­gram merely gets In­di­ana’s poor through the cloudy days un­til they get rich — prob­a­bly next Mon­day? — and buy their own in­sur­ance.

Some of the poor likely didn’t sur­vive the two years of po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing, but what the heck. Ev­ery war has col­lat­eral dam­age.

As for “Just IN,” the now-aborted “news ser­vice” that Pence’s min­ions al­most launched last week was public re­la­tions play­ing all-dress-up for the gullible.

Pence even hired a for­mer In­di­anapo­lis Star edi­tor to be the “man­ag­ing edi­tor.” The state’s or­ga­nized jour­nal­ism fra­ter­nity was aghast. And even worse for Pence, it was pay­ing at­ten­tion.

The anger it sel­dom ex­pressed over Pence’s treat­ment of poor peo­ple was righ­teously sum­moned for it­self. Main­stream jour­nal­ism gets all cranky when you take its place at the ta­ble and grab for the mash pota­toes.

The gover­nor seemed obliv­i­ous that op­er­at­ing his own faux “news agency” with his own facts and large staff of well-dressed hacks was eerily sim­i­lar to Putin-es­que news man­age­ment.

For the first time in a decade, the In­di­anapo­lis Star ac­tu­ally woke up and was grumpy.

Within the space of 72 hours, “Just IN” mor­phed from a good idea to re­gally dead, with Pence’s deep­est em­bar­rassed apolo­gies. Lopped-off pub­li­cist heads were seen rolling around Mon­u­ment Cir­cle.

Thus, Pence split his man­age­ment dou­ble­header. He’ll have to do bet­ter to woo the cash-filled bovines, but, in fair­ness, Pence did his big­ger as­pi­ra­tions no per­ma­nent dam­age be­cause the bar is low.

The bud­ding GOP pres­i­den­tial herd once again is start­ing to look like Hil­lary Clin­ton and the Seven Lit­tle Peo­ple.

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