David Hoppe

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:: Indiana in The New York Times

Finding real valueThe crossroads of America - really

By David Hoppe

They call Indiana "flyover country," a part of the nation where the action isn't. Truth be told, many Hoosiers like it this way. A fair number of us take pride in saying that we wait for people in other places to work the kinks out of new ideas before we try anything new ourselves.

So it was a bit of a shock to pick up a recent copy of the Sunday New York Times and find Indiana featured prominently on the front pages of not one, but three different sections - four if you counted a mention of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Travel.

On the paper's front page was a story (with picture) about how Richard Lugar is facing his first primary challenge since 1976, "Running on Moderation in Immoderate Times."

In the Week in Review section there was a color shot of Cheri Daniels and her husband, Mitch (as in our governor), called "Marital Matters of 2012," dealing with how the complexities of the Daniels' and other candidates' marriages might play into upcoming political campaigns.

Finally, when you turned to Arts & Leisure, you found a large composite image of an upside-down army tank with a treadmill on top, a work of art called "Track and Field" by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. The picture showed the piece being installed outside the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Italy. In this case, the Indiana connection accounted for that upside-down tank's being in Venice, since the Indianapolis Museum of Art and its senior curator of contemporary art, Lisa Freiman, were selected by the U.S. State Department to represent this country at what amounts to the art world's Olympics. Featuring Allora and Calzadilla at this year's Biennale was Freiman's idea; the story was titled, "War Machines (With Gymnasts)."

It's important to remember, of course, that The New York Times is the same paper that reported, with certainty, the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. That said, there is no question but that The Times remains our country's paper of record, no matter how scratched or smudged that record may be.

What, then, accounts for this convergence of Indiana-related stories?

You might say, with no pun intended, it's the times. Although many here in Indiana take stubborn pride in a heedlessness to whatever is going on in the rest of the country we seem, nevertheless, to have followed our noses into the nation's vortex.

Thus we have the dismaying spectacle of the 79 year-old Richard Lugar, a man long considered a sage of the U.S. Senate, jousting for his political life with Richard Mourdock, a reactionary opportunist who appears to be making the most of the Republican party's current rage for purity. Right-wingers, who for years sneered at what they considered liberal political correctness have adopted a political correctness of their own. Republican candidates have to be for gutting the government, cutting taxes and, above all, against anything having to do with Obama. Lugar, who has based his career on being a party loyalist, while maintaining a pragmatic approach to policy questions, must be wondering what's hit him.

The same might be said of Mitch Daniels, an Indiana politician who, until last Sunday, was considered by many to be the Republican party's best hope to defeat President Obama in 2012. Until he signed a law defunding Planned Parenthood, Daniels' dilemma had been his reluctance to make social issues part of his platform. It turns out that part of the reason for this could be the social issues in Daniels' own life. His wife, Cheri, left him in 1993 for a man in California - the kind of place usually featured in The Times . But that didn't work out and the Daniels remarried in 1997.

For most people, the Daniels' story is, as Mitch has said, about a happy ending. But most people aren't Republicans. For a significant number of Republicans, marriage - a particular kind of marriage, no gays allowed, for instance - is an important part of the presidential package. They want their candidates straight and uncomplicated by the sorts of experiences that might suggest a nuanced view of right and wrong. It's ironic that something that actually makes Daniels interesting could be considered a liability in his party.

Which brings us to Venice and the Indianapolis Museum of Art's vision for the American pavilion. Thanks to Lisa Freiman, the IMA is proving there's more than a rightwing identity crisis in Indiana. Given the chance, we can also do avant-garde audacity. Don't let the glitz of the Biennale fool you, Freiman and her chosen artists have taken this international stage to raise searching questions about what's become of America that are no less disturbing for their being elaborately satirical. Allora and Calzadilla's imagery juxtaposes military and corporate imagery with athletic exertion to ask what happens in a culture where winning, as Vince Lombardi so famously said, isn't everything, it's the only thing.

Americans are trying hard to keep up appearances of normalcy. But as that treadmill on the tank suggests, these are desperate times. Maybe that's why Indiana's making news. You can call this flyover country - it really is the country's crossroads.