(Above: Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts…for now)
Of all the insults to intelligence that form the foundation of right-wing politics, none is more disingenuous than the ad nauseam lip service to economic self-reliance. The government handout, according to today’s on-camera Republicans, is mortal sin. To mess with the almighty free market’s apportionment of haves and have-nots only creates mobs of panhandlers and welfare cheats in cahoots with Big Government. Conservatives alone, we are assured, posses the altruism and moral courage to protect hard-working taxpayers from these outrageous takings.
While most lies thrive in the dark, the genius of right-wing lies is in the fact that like algae, they do better under hot lights. Certainly the minute the cameras are turned off and the imagined crumb-elbowed stew bum clawing at the public purse is replaced by a real well-heeled business owner – perhaps one who owns a sports team – the Republican will always eagerly offer up the uterus of the body politic to the gentleman caller. Conservatives, so named for the myriad cons they serve, see the stigma of hated government dependency marked only upon those who seek help a few hundred bucks at a time. Those who forego their own bootstraps in pursuit of something more ambitious than food and shelter – say a nine-figure grab for public lucre – receive very different treatment. Far from contempt, these handout solicitations are met by the right with applause and parted legs.
In tomorrow’s NFL season opener, the Indianapolis Colts will host the Chicago Bears in their new $717 million dollar, 63,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts are understandably proud of their project. It will host the 2012 Super Bowl. It has the world’s largest sliding glass wall. It has a rare and appealing red-brick architecture inspired by the classic 1920s-era park field house. Its look serves both as a signifier of midwestern athleticism and a nearly-dead national notion of public space.
It may as well recall the public sphere, because 87% – $612 million dollars – of the bill for this 1.8 million square-foot private building’s construction is being footed by the Indiana taxpayers through state bonds. The securities are unofficially named “Peyton Manning Bonds” mainly because “Jeff Saturday Bonds” just wouldn’t have the same cachet.
That Colts owner Jim Irsay and Indiana Republican Governor Mitch Daniels managed to come to an agreement as to which ankle each would hold while shaking down the Indiana public should be no surprise. Daniels is the former director of President George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, bagman for an administration that never found a public dollar it couldn’t privatize.
And Irsay is the son of Bob Irsay, who infamously settled the team’s last stadium squabble by moving the Colts from Baltimore to Indy under the cover of darkness one night in 1984.
2002 was the year Irsay the younger, known for his boomer-bohemian pretensions, shelled out $2.54 million for the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”. That he did this while simultaneously pleading poormouth to the team’s city and state and threatened to put the Colts on Route 66 to California betrayed a family resemblance that the locals took seriously.
It’s already cost Indy plenty that Irsay never made good on his threats, but it won’t be until tomorrow that Colts fans will have the chance to tally up the real bottom line. And once the tickets, beer, hot dogs and foam rubber fingers are added up, it won’t be Irsay who took any risk. It doesn’t make Indianapolis particularly special among NFL franchise cities faced with similar solicitation, but in an election year, it’s worth remembering that Republicans don’t hate all handouts. Just the ones that put food on the table.