Commentary: Principles matter, until we’re affected

By Janet Williams

I am a homeowner in Indianapolis and I followed the debate over whether my local government or the state should have the final say on Airbnb-style rentals in my neighborhood with interest. 

Janet Williams, editor,

On one hand, I have a great set-up in my basement — quiet room, sleeper sofa, cable and internet connections, and a private bath — to make a few extra dollars by renting it out. So it’s great that the Indiana General Assembly is about to stop locals from exercising much control over these kinds of rentals.  

On the other, maybe I’m not so happy with the idea that one of my neighbors might turn their homes into the equivalent of a Motel 6 by renting out one of their spare rooms or even the whole house. I like my quiet neighborhood with my nice, respectful neighbors and I don’t know what kind of disruptions the folks passing through might bring. 

What we think of the bill might depend on what side of the fence we’re on. 

For many of us personally, the issue really isn’t about whether we believe in local control or big centralized government, my unfettered property rights or the rights of my neighbors. It’s about how much this legislation affects us in our homes in our neat little neighborhoods. 

If you think this is only about Airbnb and the power of state lawmakers to override local control, it’s not. This controversy mirrors so many of the debates we have, whether we are blasting an airfield in Syria or changing Senate rules so your guy gets a seat on the Supreme Court.  

Too often, the side we’re on depends little on principles we claim to hold dear but on how we, our friends and our political allies are affected. 

Remember when Congress impeached a president over lies he told about his relationship with a White House intern? Then it was all about values and the leader of the free world failing to live up to them. 

Guess who said this:

“More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville wisely observed that ‘man rarely retains his customary level in very critical circumstances; he rises above or sinks below his usual condition, and the same thing is true of nations.’

“So what will we do this day? Will we rise above or will we sink below? Will we condone this President’s conduct or will we condemn it? Will we change our standards or will we change our President?”

That was Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and leader of the Senate who voted to convict President Bill Clinton during his impeachment two decades ago.

But now? He has brushed aside the lies and behavior of the current occupant of the White House. His party currently runs the show and he’s perfectly content to change his standards.

This year he railed against Democrats for attempting to block the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court because the high court needs a full complement of nine justices.

The tune was different a year ago when McConnell and his fellow party members refused to even consider nominee Merrick Garland. What’s the difference? It’s McConnell’s guy in the White House who made the nomination this year.

What most of us think about the big events of the day in Washington and the world or here at the Indiana Statehouse depends less on the principles we claim to uphold and more on how it affects me and my team.

Truth matters, until it’s your guy who lies. Values are important, until someone on your side steps over the line.

Principles matter, until they don’t.

Local control might be an important principle for you until someone decides that hey, maybe it’s not so critical if it means a business like Airbnb has to contend a bunch of pesky local zoning ordinances across the state.

If you believe that the best government is your local government where you as a voter and taxpayer have the biggest voice, then what the legislature is about to do with the Airbnb bill should alarm you. And if you believe in the power of big government, then the Airbnb bill is just fine. 

It shouldn’t matter what side of the fence we’re on.  

Janet Williams is editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She can be reached at



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