November 26, 2008


Obama's Perfect Foil (Reihan Salam 11.24.08, Forbes)

[Mitch] Daniels has done much more than make the case against bailing out the rich and famous. He has also managed to keep Indiana's state budget in the black despite the downturn, thanks in large part to aggressive budget cutting in his first term. In fact, Daniels is known for his personal stinginess as well. Even as a successful business executive, rumor has it that he kept his own family on a tight allowance. He took a number of controversial steps to secure Indiana's fiscal future, among them a decision to lease the Indiana Toll Road to raise revenue for infrastructure improvements throughout the state. Though he was attacked for this measure early on, he's won the grudging respect of voters in the state, Republican and Democrat. It's worth noting Daniels won reelection with the help of thousands of voters who also voted for Obama.

Indiana has benefited from a long line of sober Republican pragmatists. Richard Lugar, the state's senior senator, is known for his broad-minded internationalism. But he also rescued Indianapolis from the spiral of decline that hit dozens of other Rustbelt cities by embracing business-friendly policies as mayor in the 1970s. Years later, Stephen Goldsmith, possibly the best mayor the country has ever seen, built on the Lugar legacy by introducing competition in public services. Daniels, a Lugar protégé, has taken the Indianapolis model statewide. Every state agency has been pushed to offer a higher quality of service to the public at lower cost. Faced with the real possibility of outsourcing, once-slothful bureaucracies like the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles have become as customer-friendly as the best top-performing companies.

Having spent most of his career poring over budgets, first in Indiana and later in Washington as President Bush's first OMB director, Daniels has a deep understanding of what it takes to get value for money. In fact, it's easy to see Daniels' tenure as governor of Indiana as a kind of penance for the Bush White House's reckless approach to taxes and spending. Shortly after coming into office in 2005, Daniels dared to propose a small tax hike on Indiana's highest earners, a stark contrast to the ingenious Bush policy of shifting the tax burden from today's rich to tomorrow's not-so-rich.

More broadly, Daniels has applied market solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing families of modest means, including access to high-quality health care, sky-high property taxes, and the need for more and better childcare.

Though it is far too early to know what the world will look like in 2012, I can't help but think that a common-sense conservative like Daniels would be the perfect match for Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2008 7:33 AM
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