Mitch Daniels is emerging as the most promising Republican candidate to run president in 2012. Mr. Daniels, Indiana’s popular and successful governor, brings two crucial attributes to the contest. First, he embodies the civility that President Obama so eloquently embraced yesterday in Arizona.
Second, he has a proven record of managing the kinds of fiscal problems that beset our nation. He might, as president, start us down the road of healing our collective wounds – political and financial. That is a powerful platform.
Sparked by the tragic shootings in Arizona, many in our country have decried the vitriol that has come to characterize our political discourse. Even as they bemoaned the repugnant tit for tat of our legislators and opinion makers, many were quick to use our collective outrage over the senseless violence to cudgel political opponents.
Who is surprised? Democrats in Congress spent last week mocking the Republicans for reading the Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives and complaining about GOP rule making which might put them at a disadvantage. Republicans answered in kind, pointing to the disdain with which they were treated by the Democratic majority. News accounts feverishly detail efforts to impose “nuclear options”, change filibuster rules, use questionable “deem-and-pass” procedures, challenge recess appointments; the shenanigans are so widespread they’ve spawned their own vocabulary.
We, the taxpayers, have become accustomed to this incessant quarrelling, which is more suited to playgrounds than the halls of Congress. It doesn’t mean we like it. Approval ratings for Congress are appalling, reflecting America’s disgust with the lack of professionalism in that body, and the reality that little of consequence gets done. The Senate and the House instigate innumerable commissions and studies, which are often ignored when and if completed; follow-up on even truly important undertakings such as the 9/11 Commission is frequently negligible. Many commissions, like the one investigating the Deepwater Horizon accident, are so lopsided that the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
How do incensed citizens turn around this sorry situation? The Tea Party certainly did some heavy lifting, shocking our legislators with the notion that they were, ultimately, accountable to voters. But, as sincere as many of those newly elected to Congress may be, they are unlikely to break through the unholy cycle of contention.
The change, in my view, has to come from the top. President Obama campaigned on the promise to mend the divisions of the country because that is what polling showed the voters wanted. His vows to reach across the aisle appealed to a hopeful electorate; now we know better. Instead of the healer we had hoped for, Mr. Obama has been as divisive as any president in our history, lashing out at political foes, the news media, and business leaders across the spectrum. It has been so very disappointing.
Could Mitch Daniels begin to close these divides? Could he address the country’s ills without resorting to scapegoats? A study of his tenure as governor suggests that he could. His resume is long on accomplishment, short on self-promotion and even shorter on nastiness.
He has shown himself a competent manager – someone who can cut budgets and streamline organizations without name calling and without rancor. He understands how the economy functions, how businesses operate, and what is important to the long-term security of the country.
He is a bit wonky, irritating conservatives by eschewing debates on social issues, but winning their admiration for his embrace of limited government. In an interview with the New York Times, he described the role of government as undertaking “to enable and facilitate flourishing of private life.”
Daniels was re-elected to the governor’s mansion in 2008 by a wide margin even as his state went blue. Voters rewarded him for having eliminated in four short years a $200 million hole in Indiana’s budget (it remains one of the few states with a triple-A credit rating), cut property taxes and possibly for riding the state on his iconic Harley-Davidson motorcyle.
Among his most popular (and typical) accomplishments was to overhaul Indiana’s dysfunctional bureau of motor vehicles – reducing average wait times significantly and raising customer satisfaction to 97%. He is a self-described cheap-skate whose healthy aversion to waste underscores his every move and has rewarded him throughout his career. He has served with distinction in both the private and the public sectors, reenergizing the Hudson Institute, vaulting through the ranks at Eli Lily, directing the Office of Management and Budget in 2000 – his reputation burnished by each posting.
I heard him address a gathering at which he (along with Kent Conrad and Paul Ryan) was given a Fi$cy Award, a new accolade bestowed on a select few who have championed fiscal sobriety. He spoke passionately about the economic problems confronting our country, arguing the need for greater tax revenues and lower spending, but mainly endorsing policies that will promote private sector growth. He cloaks tough measures in terms that everyone can understand, as in “You’ll be amazed at how much government you’ll never miss”. He also delivers a Reagan-esque optimism: “A century of greatness awaits this country.”
Refreshingly, he also exudes modesty.
The negatives about Mr. Daniels are that he is short – surely not a disqualifier in any sensible country – and that he’s not sure he wants to run for president. That diffidence alone should get him elected; what could speak more loudly about the man’s common sense?