June 19, 2010


Mitch Daniels, Genial Jeremiah (Michael Gerson, 6/19/10, Washington Post)

Daniels' clarification on Mexico City shows his realism. But his continued insistence on the idea of a truce shows his stubbornness -- a defining characteristic. "If there were a WMD attack, death would come to straights and gays, pro-life and pro-choice," he told me. "If the country goes broke, it would ruin the American dream for everyone. We are in this together. Whatever our honest disagreements on other questions, might we set them aside long enough to do some very difficult things without which we will be a different, lesser country?"

This is the paradox of Mitch Daniels: He is a uniter with an apocalyptic message, a genial Jeremiah. "I start with a premise that not everyone agrees with -- that the republic is threatened as it has not been before, if you don't count the Soviet nuclear threat. ... It is the arithmetic of debt. If unaddressed, it makes national failure a certainty. Beyond some point, you can't come back."

Daniels' appeal is not ideological; it is mathematical. The passions aroused by ideology, in his view, hamper the ability of political adults to deal rationally with disturbing budget numbers. But if Daniels de-emphasizes ideology, he elevates moral virtues such as thrift, realism and humility. The vivid contrast to President Obama's expansive, undisciplined, expensive public ambitions has elevated Daniels to prominence.

This is not a pose. I was a colleague of Daniels when he was director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It was his job to say "no" to splendid policy proposals, which he did with good-humored enthusiasm. Raining on parades was both a profession and a hobby.

There is a reason why OMB is not a typical steppingstone to high political office; the same reason that accountants generally don't become sex symbols. But Daniels became a highly successful Indiana governor, combining a motorcycle-driving, pork-tenderloin-eating populism with courageous budget cutting, a solid record of job creation and a reputation for competence. If responsibility and austerity are now sexy, Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are centerfolds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2010 8:56 AM
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