A campaign autobiography without a campaign.
Bored with the actual Republican presidential field, pundits have spent the last few weeks dreaming up new candidates. Rick Perry was in hot demand, until he actually got in and failed to display the eloquence of Churchill. Now it is on to Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, and countless others who are likely to remain interesting only insofar as they stay out of the race.
Mitch Daniels is one who stayed out. The two-term governor of Indiana was Ronald Reagan’s political director, George W. Bush’s budget director, a senior executive at Eli Lilly, and the head of the Hudson Institute, among other things. More recently, he’s been showing us what might have been, hitting the talk show circuit and promoting the kind of book a presidential candidate would write.
Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans is unusual precisely because it is a campaign autobiography without a campaign. Before even the table of contents, the book lists nine tributes to what a good president Daniels would be. Nowhere, however, does the volume suggest he is willing to do the kinds of things that get people elected president in our media age.
Almost immediately, we are confronted with the paradox of Daniels. In his chapter on the national debt (characteristically dubbed the new “Red Menace”), he repeats Perry’s argument that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” Except Daniels doesn’t attract the same establishment scorn because he doesn’t use those exact words.
“For seventy years,” Daniels writes, “Americans were misled to believe that they had been putting aside money for their own retirement, that there were actual assets being held somewhere that would provide for them in their Golden Years.” Daniels continues, “The system worked for years because there were far more workers than retirees.” The ratio is declining to a point that threatens Social Security’s solvency. Ponzi scheme, anyone?
“The most nakedly political of Social Security’s design flaws is that every American collects from it, no matter how wealthy they are or how little they need retirement help,” writes Daniels. The only reason for this “absurdity,” he claims, is “the cold calculation that putting everyone in the system would protect it politically over the years.” This calculation and the IOUs in the trust fund are the monstrous lies.
This is very typical of Daniels. He has a way of achieving conservative results while making liberals feel like they have in some sense won. This formula worked very well for him in Indiana, but the flip side came back to haunt him when he contemplated a Republican presidential bid: when liberals feel like they have won, conservatives tend to feel like they lost.
Consider that when Daniels became governor, he went further in revoking the public sector employees’ collective bargaining power than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (by executive order, no less). Yet he did not experience a comparable backlash from Democrats and unions. But when Daniels decided later in his administration to work with Democrats in the state legislature rather than promote a right-to-work law for which he didn’t have the votes, the consensus in conservative circles was that Daniels was a wuss compared to Walker.
On his book tour, Daniels has stepped into one of these controversies again. He told an interviewer that, unlike the Republican presidential candidates at a recent debate, if he could get a real grand bargain on the federal budget that included $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases, he would take it. Most Republicans on that stage would take it too, but none would ever say it. The past 30 years are full of examples of Republicans taking worse deals in which there were real tax increases and imaginary spending cuts.
That’s not to say that conservative qualms about Daniels are entirely unwarranted. For example, he doesn’t see what the fuss is about the cigarette tax increase he used to pay for his Indiana health care reforms.
“I referred those Republicans who treat any tax, anytime, for any purpose as a hersey to the words of my former boss Ronald Reagan, who said, ‘If you want more of something tax it less; less of something tax it more,’” he writes. “I wanted less smoking in Indiana, and would be curious to hear the contrary case.”
The case for individual freedom, perhaps?
Daniels undertakes to explain his social issues “truce” comment, which he describes as an “innocent, modest, and offhand suggestion in an interview in mid-2010.” He professes to not have been talking solely about social issues when saying that Americans will have to put some differences aside to tackle the Red Menace. He emphasizes his record opposing abortion and supporting traditional marriage, especially instituting pro-life policies in Indiana.
It’s the paradox of Daniels again: his effort to disarm social liberals who might be open to fiscal conservatism served mainly to inflame social conservatives, with whom he substantially agrees even if he does not share (or even seem to completely understand) their level of commitment.
On immigration, Daniels has something to offend everyone. He suggests increased legal immigration levels, even though we are already taking in more than 1 million new immigrants a year while millions of Americans remain stubbornly unemployed. But if he is serious when he writes “we need to admit many more immigrants who create the most jobs and economic value” rather than “those who merely happen to live next door or who are related to those who are already here,” we would have to reduce the kind of immigration we are currently getting.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online