Details Are Not The Devil

by | Feb 14, 2016 | Politics/Government

Governing requires attention to detail. It has been a rough stretch in Indiana regarding the details, and frankly, I am outraged by it.

The screw ups all belong to Republicans due to their near exclusive control of state government.  But when I pointed out yet another faux pas this week, I was basically told by a Democrat, that the electorate doesn’t care about the “process.”

She may be right, but today I write why she should be wrong.

Gustavo Flaubert, the French novelist, is credited by many for the origin of the old saying, “the devil is in the detail.”  While searching briefly for the source of that great idiom, I found that his original saying was that “God is in the detail.”  And since then, there have been many variations of the proverb, most notably, “governing is in the detail.”  Nearly 150 years since the phrase was coined, every iteration of it are words by which to live.

With that in mind, here are important details that voters may not care about but should.

First, Indiana is replacing its Lt. Governor following a resignation from that office for the first time.  We have known about this expected resignation for almost two months. Governor Mike Pence should have had his team devote some time in January to developing a precedent setting process for the orderly replacement with our legislature.  He hasn’t.

The Indiana Constitution features two sentences on the matter, and our forefathers left the details of how to implement it to the first bunch faced with it. That’s us.  These details seem unimportant given that the Republican governor has supermajorities in both chambers. But governing today will ultimately be very important when the politics aren’t convenient in the future.

What happens when our chambers are split evenly?  What happens when it is an emergency without constitutional guidance?  Leaders rose to that occasion when Governor Frank O’Bannon passed away in 2003 and got the job done respectfully.  But they didn’t create a process that transcends time and politics.  Our leaders should be doing that now, but Governor Pence has chosen not to thus far.

Statesmen choose differently.

The governor’s announced intent to nominate Eric Holcomb to replace Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann, is important because he can’t actually nominate him until there actually is a vacancy.  That much is clear in the constitution, that pesky document that all of our state leaders swear to uphold, protect and defend in their oath of office. The details matter on this one, and the lack respect given them speaks volumes.

Next, the odds on favorite to win the U.S. Senate race, Congressman Todd Young, has apparently come up short in his required petition signatures to be on the ballot this Spring in the Republican primary.  Details, details.  As Matt Tully of the Indianapolis Star opines, objecting to these details is “petty.”  Tell that to newly reelected Mayor Terry Seitz of Jasper, Indiana whose recent reelection quest ended in a tie.  The tie was broken by a disqualified absentee ballot due to a missing signature.

Matt Tully, your wrongness could not be more ironically timed.

I am writing this column a couple of hours after the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  Shortly after his death, Senate leader Mitch McConnell announced that the replacement of Scalia should wait until after the election nine months from now.  Control of the Senate matters on this one as much as the Presidential election, since the Senate must confirm the appointment.

But waiting until at least January would be unprecedented by a mile.  In Presidential election years, fourteen justices have been confirmed. So is the challenge to Todd Young’s placement on the ballot truly “petty” or is it profoundly important?

The fact is that the details are what make us who we are.  There is no arena where that is more true than it is in governing.

Both the Indiana and the U.S. Constitutions define who we are in a broad way.  Generations have passed since these documents were ratified and the details are still being worked out. Respectfully paying attention to those details is how our leaders should base their approach to governing.

That is how we make progress.

I have said “the devil is in the detail” countless times.  And it is true.  But I really enjoyed finding the original quote to instead be about God.   Maybe from that perspective, we will be more likely to agree how important the details truly are.


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