So, Socrates and Glenda Ritz walk into a bar…
Only philosophy nerds might think that is the beginning of a funny joke. And maybe a blogger. If I had the chance to have a conversation with the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz, it would almost certainly sound like I was using the Socratic Method on her. Since I do not envision such a conversation occurring any time soon, I will do my best at describing a hypothetical example of that conversation here. Additionally, since my kids might read this, I want to explain the method and its creator for context and more importantly so I can claim that this week’s edition is in fact, educational. (Just in case Superintendent Ritz actually reads this.)
Socrates was a Greek philosopher who, despite being considered one of the greatest and most important philosophers who ever lived, left no writings at all. Most of what we know about his life’s work came from the writings of his disciples, Xenophon and Plato. He lived during a period of great transition in the Greek empire, and after the Peloponnesian War, he was tried, convicted, and executed for corrupting the young.* Wouldn’t that be an interesting “crime” in modern time.
He engaged in questioning of his students in an unending search for truth. He sought to get to the foundation of his students’ and colleagues’ views by asking continual questions until a contradiction was exposed, thus proving the fallacy of the initial assumption. This became known as the Socratic Method, and may be Socrates’ most enduring contribution to philosophy.*
So here we go.
Socrates: Superintendent Ritz, why did you decide to run for Governor?
Ritz: I think I can beat incumbent Governor Mike Pence. You know, I got more votes than he did in 2012.
Socrates: so is that WHY you are running?
Ritz: well, not just that. I think Indiana can do a better job connecting our education policies to our economic policies, and this is the key to moving Indiana forward.
Socrates: so your current office, doesn’t provide the opportunity to successfully move this connection forward?
Ritz: well, it might if Governor Pence and Republicans in the legislature would let me do the job to which I was elected. But since they haven’t, becoming Governor is the next logical step.
Socrates: so if you win the Gubernatorial election next year, you will be able to implement all of your education-to-economy policy connections?
Ritz: I hope so.
Socrates: won’t a ‘Governor’ Ritz still have to work with Republicans, particularly in the legislature, to implement real change in this arena?
Ritz: of course, but at least I will have a majority of appointments I can make to the Board of Education and the ability to veto bad education legislation.
Socrates: who do you expect to replace you as the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and what happens if he or she is a Republican?
Ritz: I hadn’t thought of that yet. However, the authority of the office has been reduced to the point that it no longer sets education policy as it once did.
Socrates: would you “partner” with your replacement the way you believe Pence and Republicans should have partnered with you?
Ritz: of course, to the extent that matters.
Socrates: even if the replacement wants to implement all of the agenda items that you have been fighting?
Ritz: when I am Governor, the new superintendent is just going to need to work with me, like I have with…, I mean maybe if I am Governor I should appoint the superintendent.
I think you get part of my point. For two and half years, Ritz has been the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana. For almost that entire time, she has been embroiled in a partisan fight to do that job. Republicans have gone way too far in a long list of ways to block her effectiveness, to the point that one Republican told me, that they have “martyred” her. Shame on the Republicans for that.
However, has her performance under these circumstances been impressive to those of us who are independent voters in the middle of the political spectrum? Hardly. Quite the contrary actually. It would seem to me that gridlock and stand offs should be expected in a Governor Ritz scenario more than progress.
Which leads me to rest of my point. Governor Pence’s approval rating has suffered this year because pro business, socially moderate Republicans were alienated by the RFRA debacle. He needs those voters next year. So do Democrats. The fight next year is not a fight between which union groups support which Democrat candidate, it is about engaging a more progressive agenda for Indiana. I emphasize the word “engaging.”
We are eleven months from next year’s primary and seventeen away from the election. Which of the announced candidates will inspire that engagement? This week’s announcement from Ritz, while politically logical, does not signify progress. Is she qualified to be Governor? Of course she is. Many are.
Socrates could “prove the fallacy” of virtually any political campaign. When using his method, it’s the political campaign that survives the proving of the fallacy the longest that I am most interested in supporting. As things stand right now, all of his conversations around here would be far too brief.
*The University of Chicago, The Law School