Who’s in charge here?

In a constitutional republic, the answer should be obvious. The people are. We have inalienable rights merely by our existence as human beings, and to protect them we create a limited government, and those who inhabit its hallowed halls are there to represent us, not dictate to us.

But that is the civics answer, which is barely even taught in schools anymore, let alone used as a touchstone by the officious functionaries who take such delight in hectoring the commoners.

Such as Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, who recently made the shocking-to-some, common-sense-to-others announcement that people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks outdoors and can mostly avoid wearing them indoors.

“What we’re really doing,” she said, “is empowering individuals to make decisions about their own health.”

Oh, my. They are empowering us. I would have thought it’s supposed to be the other way around, but never mind. I am pleased to learn that I am in charge of my own health. Neither Adam Smith nor Friedrich Hayek will be rolling over in their graves for a change.

But, wait.

Faced with a storm of anguished howls from those quite comfortable professing their allegiance to the collective, Walensky felt compelled to go on all the Sunday talk shows to defend the CDC’s decision.

“. . . [T]his is not permission for widespread removal of masks,” she said on one of them.

Whew. Thank goodness she cleared that up. Wouldn’t want a hunger for freedom and autonomy to seep into the public consciousness. Let’s not go around believing we have permission to live our lives.

While this national drama is playing out, Indiana has been wrestling with how to fit its COVID response into its convoluted Home Rule protocols.

Home Rule is just the official name for local control, sensibly giving communities the authority to deal with local issues using all their available resources. State officials always preach Home Rule but usually take away more local control than they grant.

This past session, for example, the General Assembly set statewide rules for communities trying to establish wind and solar energy and told all Hoosier police departments how they must deal with transparency and accountability. It even forbade Indianapolis from expanding its bus service, despite the project passing a voter referendum.

But it did approve measures – then overrode Gov. Holcomb’s vetoes of them – allowing the General Assembly to call itself into special session if needed to check the governor’s emergency orders and permitting city and county councils to override overly zealous edicts by appointive health officials.

The novelty of it. The decisions directly affecting citizens will ultimately be in the hands of legislators, the elected officials closest to the people and the most subject to their control

Such audaciousness cannot stand, so naturally the issue will go the Indiana Supreme Court, and the final decision will be based on the will of five justices who were not elected and answer only to their own consciences.

On one of those Sunday talk shows, the host harangued Walensky about the anarchy about to be unleashed on the hapless citizenry. What about the poor, beleaguered business owners who have to decide whether to drop mask requirements or to demand proof of vaccination for those who try to enter maskless?

The unthinkable alternative, the host suggested, would be to rely on an honor system, and do we really trust each other enough to make that work?

Heaven help us that such a question would even be asked.

If we can’t trust each other – our businesses to decide how to operate, our local officials to set reasonable rules, our friends and neighbors to look our for us and care about each other – there is no point to it all.

It wouldn’t matter who’s in charge, because there would be nothing to be in charge of.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.