Michael Leppert: Don’t count on the ostriches to save us


Michael LeppertEven the ostrich does not actually bury its head in the sand when it senses danger and is trying to hide—let alone when it simply wants to ignore something. But the metaphor is used so often, I assumed some version of it must be true. Nope.

There are logical reasons the old saying developed though. Maybe it is the appearance created when the giant bird is tending to its nests or scanning the ground for vegetation to eat that makes its head look buried from afar. Or maybe it is when it lays flat on the ground as a defense mechanism and its head and neck blend into the color of the sandy ground in its natural habitat. Again, from a distance, its head might look buried in the sand.

But it never really is.

I have traveled to Washington the last two years for conferences after several years away from the Capitol. Some would say I had been lucky to stay away for all of those years, but I wouldn’t. I love it there and I missed it. Though I noticed almost immediately that it really has changed.

Nothing is happening there. Nothing is getting done. And the only time action appears to even be under consideration is when there is a crisis. Of course, crises are in the eye of the beholder.

A client told me last year that investing time, energy and resources into policy change at the federal level is such a bad investment that his company has decided to no longer do it at all. A colleague in the communications business told me earlier this year that he moved back home for the same reason. In describing D.C., he simply said, “There just isn’t anything going on there anymore.”

Congress returned this week following its August recess. You might ask, recess from what? One would think that the members return to their home states and districts should provide them an opportunity to hear from Americans who expect action of some kind on any list of things. I wonder what they heard.

While they were gone, there have been several mass shootings, prompting an apparent “crisis” on gun violence issues. This crisis is not new though, and that there has been a spate of high-profile incidents in the last month was statistically predictable. Will action on gun violence happen this time?

Hurricane Dorian created a crisis in the Caribbean Sea and the southeastern U.S.. Even though President Trump has “never heard” of a Category 5 hurricane for the fifth time during his presidency, this crisis was also predictable. Will climate change rise on the to-do list?

New American tariffs went into effect on Chinese goods on Sept. 1, further highlighting a trade war that is straining the world economy. Some might argue that this escalation was not predictable, but those who would do so would be wrong. This economic crisis is real, will impact all of us and was of our own making. Will Congress keep ignoring it?

In Indianapolis, transit is a challenge. Our state’s roads and transportation infrastructure has deteriorated to an embarrassing state. If this were D.C., we could expect to still be arguing about whether or not there is a problem, followed by who it is our politicians want to blame for it.

But instead, Indy rolled out the Red Line this month. And two years ago, Indiana passed a $1 billion infrastructure plan that is being implemented all over the state. Like these choices or not, at least our state and local politicians are doing their jobs.

Our federal government has its head buried in the sand. Out of fairness to ostriches, it is time to admit that the old metaphor is really all about us, not them.•


Leppert is an author and governmental affairs consultant in Indianapolis. He writes at MichaelLeppert.com. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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