IBJOpinion

MADISON: Getting on the right side of history

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

James H. MadisonWe sometimes hear the advice to “get on the right side of history.”

It’s good advice, but what does it mean?

Historians have examples.

That small minority of Hoosiers who thought slavery was evil and needed to be eradicated immediately were on the right side of history.

In Wayne County, Catherine and Levi Coffin broke the law to help runaway slaves. They earned a place on the right side of history.

Indiana Sen. Jesse Bright continued to own slaves (in Kentucky). Bright earned his place on the wrong side of history.

There are lots of other examples.

Those uppity Victorian women who asserted a right to vote were on the right side.

So were those Progressive-era reformers who pushed through pure food and drug laws.

The founders of Social Security and Medicare were on the right side of history; critics who cried socialism and communism were on the wrong side.

Indianapolis hotels that denied a room to an African-American guest were on the wrong side.

Businesses that opened management positions to women were on the right side.

The problem with getting on the right side of history is that it can take a long backward analysis to know which side was which.

Historians have an advantage denied policymakers struggling with today’s issues.

But a sense of history can open a dialogue between past, present and future.

And attention to that dialogue can widen and deepen our perspectives and move us closer to seeing the right side.

Long-term thinking would surely serve us better than emotional, superficial and knee-jerk reactions to the swirl of events around us.

Some on the wrong side of history rely on traditional wisdom; my parents always taught me to think this way, they say.

Some focus on the “optics.” Will it look good?

Some attach to a single authority for guidance, whether its tarot cards, Ayn Rand or the Farmer’s Almanac.

It’s hard. Times change and the right side is always moving.

Often, there are more than two sides and lots of fog and ambiguity.

Still, thinking about our place in history can offer a glimpse of a North Star pointing toward the right side.

It’s a good bet that on the right side of history today, for example, are those who focus on kids and support good health care and pre-K education even if their parents are ne’er–do–wells.

On the right side are those who see the necessity of impartial, rationally drawn voting districts to replace our wickedly gerrymandered boundaries.

Those opposed to single-sex marriages are on the wrong side of history—and not just because opinion polls are moving against them.

Proponents of health care and education for kids, gay marriage and democratically drawn voting districts are on the right side of history because they stand for freedom and justice for all.

Sooner or later, our American ideals sort out right and wrong, even if the process is slow and contentious.

As our General Assembly gears up for a new session, we can hope that members will take the long view and move toward the right side of history.

Some may need to vote against their own personal views, against their own pocketbooks, against the wisdom of their parents to get on the right side of history.

We have to hope that, in the end, America’s ideals will keep us, as Lincoln said, “the last best hope of earth.”

It’s those ideals that guide us to the right side of history.•

__________

Madison, an Indiana University historian, is author of the forthcoming book “Hoosiers: A History of Indiana.” Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Aaron is my fav!

  2. Let's see... $25M construction cost, they get $7.5M back from federal taxpayers, they're exempt from business property tax and use tax so that's about $2.5M PER YEAR they don't have to pay, permitting fees are cut in half for such projects, IPL will give them $4K under an incentive program, and under IPL's VFIT they'll be selling the power to IPL at 20 cents / kwh, nearly triple what a gas plant gets, about $6M / year for the 150-acre combined farms, and all of which is passed on to IPL customers. No jobs will be created either other than an handful of installers for a few weeks. Now here's the fun part...the panels (from CHINA) only cost about $5M on Alibaba, so where's the rest of the $25M going? Are they marking up the price to drive up the federal rebate? Indy Airport Solar Partners II LLC is owned by local firms Johnson-Melloh Solutions and Telemon Corp. They'll gross $6M / year in triple-rate power revenue, get another $12M next year from taxpayers for this new farm, on top of the $12M they got from taxpayers this year for the first farm, and have only laid out about $10-12M in materials plus installation labor for both farms combined, and $500K / year in annual land lease for both farms (est.). Over 15 years, that's over $70M net profit on a $12M investment, all from our wallets. What a boondoggle. It's time to wise up and give Thorium Energy your serious consideration. See http://energyfromthorium.com to learn more.

  3. Markus, I don't think a $2 Billion dollar surplus qualifies as saying we are out of money. Privatization does work. The government should only do what private industry can't or won't. What is proven is that any time the government tries to do something it costs more, comes in late and usually is lower quality.

  4. Some of the licenses that were added during Daniels' administration, such as requiring waiter/waitresses to be licensed to serve alcohol, are simply a way to generate revenue. At $35/server every 3 years, the state is generating millions of dollars on the backs of people who really need/want to work.

  5. I always giggle when I read comments from people complaining that a market is "too saturated" with one thing or another. What does that even mean? If someone is able to open and sustain a new business, whether you think there is room enough for them or not, more power to them. Personally, I love visiting as many of the new local breweries as possible. You do realize that most of these establishments include a dining component and therefore are pretty similar to restaurants, right? When was the last time I heard someone say "You know, I think we have too many locally owned restaurants"? Um, never...

ADVERTISEMENT