My respect for Mitch Daniels is well known to readers, as it has been discussed a number of times on this blog, with the most substantial post being this one. Governor Daniels is making yet another spate of appearances in the news, which merits yet more coverage from me.
First off, we have this profile by David Leonhardt, in which Daniels’s virtues are sung:
Of all the Republicans talking about the deficit these days, Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, has arguably the most credibility.
Congressional Republicans have spent much of the last decade voting for tax cuts and spending increases, all the while giving speeches decrying the deficit. Mr. Daniels, who took office in 2005, has reduced the number of state workers by 18 percent and held spending growth below inflation. He has raised the sales tax to help make up for a property tax cut. Largely as a result, Indiana finds itself in better fiscal shape than many other states.
Which is why Mr. Daniels is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, despite — as just about every profile notes — not looking much like a president (5 foot 7, with a comb-over) and seeming genuinely torn about the rigors of a national campaign.
That’s just the teaser, so you ought to read the whole thing. As a follow-up, Leonhardt has this blog post on Daniels (note that it mistakenly says that Daniels “has mentioned the possibility that the federal government may need to adopt a national sales tax to close the deficit.” This is wrong; Daniels has argued in favor of a value-added tax (VAT), and a VAT is not a sales tax. A VAT collects revenue at each point of production for a particular product, while a sales tax only collects revenue at the point of sale.) In his blog post, Leonhardt describes Daniels’s appeal thusly:
Mr. Daniels often talks a lot like a libertarian. And it does not appear to be an act. He genuinely seems to believe that government should be kept as small as possible (even if he does not oppose every single tax increase to close a deficit).
“I believe that there’s zero-sum relationship between government growth and freedom,” he said in an interview. “I think that the promotion and protection of liberty is the center of our project in this country. My preference is for confining government to those things it clearly must do.”
I asked him whether he really believed that the relationship was zero-sum — that more government always led to less freedom. Knowing that the police are keeping the streets safe would seem to make people feel more free. So might knowing that they can take economic risks and still have a safety net to protect them from destitution.
“It’s too broad a statement, I guess,” Mr. Daniels said, adding that he said it without thinking it fully through. “But I would hope you’d agree that an enormous amount of what government does now — it may not limit freedom directly, but it doesn’t promote it in any meaningful way,” he said. “Each time we take a tax dollar from a free citizen, we do diminish their freedom.”
Wow, a potential Presidential candidate who actually seems to believe what he’s saying. Presumably this means he could never be elected, but at least it’s nice to know such a creature exists.
I have long believed that the Republican party could do worse than to nominate Mitch Daniels for President in 2012. I fear that it probably will do worse, but I would very much like to believe that I am wrong.