Mitch Daniels at CPAC

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 12, 2011

His speech, and the coverage of it, is worth noting:

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels Friday summoned frustrated Americans to join together in a broad coalition to set the nation on a healthier fiscal and economic course.

But Daniels, a Republican quietly weighing a presidential candidacy, did so in a cerebral call-to-arms by also asking a select audience of conservatives to welcome non-ideologues into the tent.

“We must be the vanguard of recovery, but we cannot do it alone,” Daniels told about 500 attending a banquet at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

“We have learned in Indiana, big change requires big majorities,” the second-term governor and former Bush administration budget director said. “We will need people who never tune in to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean. Who surf past C-SPAN to get to SportsCenter. Who, if they’d ever heard of CPAC, would assume it was a cruise ship accessory.”

The references were to conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. CPAC is the acronym for the three-day conference sponsored by the American Conservative Union, where several of the prospective 2012 GOP presidential candidates have appeared.

A pity that Daniels did not have the chance to address the full CPAC conference. They would have done well to have heard the following message:

. . . [Daniels] called for a united conservative front, quoting, as many have at the conference, former President Ronald Reagan, for whom he worked as chief political adviser in 1985 .

“When one of us – I confess sometimes it was yours truly – got a little hotheaded, President Reagan would admonish us, ‘Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents,’ ” Daniels said. “Good advice, then and now.”

“With apologies for the banality, I would submit that as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us just a bit.”

Quite so. And Daniels did a good job addressing the key issue in his policy wheelhouse:

The nation’s bloated deficit presents a threat to the American project greater than any it has ever seen before, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said tonight at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. And it is up to conservatives to unite the country in a battle against that menace, he said.

“We cannot deter it. We cannot negotiate with it any more than an iceburg or a great white,” Daniels said. “I refer to the debt – the new red menace, this time consisting of ink.”

[. . .]

He also proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare; for instance, he suggested establishing a Medicare voucher system – or “Medicare 2.0.”

“The true enemies of Social Security and Medicare are those who defend an imploding status quo,” he said.

Abolishing the federal debt is “our generational assignment,” Daniels said. And while “every conflict has its draft dodgers,” he said this fight would require everyone on the front lines.

“If a foreign power advanced an army to the border of our nation, everyone in this room would drop everything and look for a way to help,” he said. “That is what those of us here and every possible ally … are now called to do.”

The full text of Daniels’s speech can be found here. Having read through it, I find it to be excellent. It is cerebral, it is witty, it is informed, it is cogent, and it is properly alarmist about the fiscal threat that we face. A sample from the speech:

Our morbidly obese federal government needs not just behavior modification but bariatric surgery. The perverse presumption that places the burden of proof on the challenger of spending must be inverted, back to the rule that applies elsewhere in life: “Prove to me why we should.”

Lost to history is the fact that, in my OMB assignment, I was the first loud critic of Congressional earmarks. I was also the first to get absolutely nowhere in reducing them: first to rail and first to fail. They are a pernicious practice and should be stopped. But, in the cause of national solvency, they are a trifle. Talking much more about them, or “waste, fraud, and abuse,” trivializes what needs to be done, and misleads our fellow citizens to believe that easy answers are available to us. In this room, we all know how hard the answers are, how much change is required.

And that means nothing, not even the first and most important mission of government, our national defense, can get a free pass. I served in two administrations that practiced and validated the policy of peace through strength. It has served America and the world with irrefutable success. But if our nation goes over a financial Niagara, we won’t have much strength and, eventually, we won’t have peace. We are currently borrowing the entire defense budget from foreign investors. Within a few years, we will be spending more on interest payments than on national security. That is not, as our military friends say, a “robust strategy.”

I personally favor restoring impoundment power to the presidency, at least on an emergency basis. Having had this authority the last six years, and used it shall we say with vigor, I can testify to its effectiveness, and to this finding: You’d be amazed how much government you’ll never miss.

The nation must be summoned to General Quarters in the cause of economic growth. The friends of freedom always favor a growing economy as the wellspring of individual opportunity and a bulwark against a domineering state. But here, doctrinal debates are unnecessary; the arithmetic tells it all. We don’t have a prayer of defeating the Red Threat of our generation without a long boom of almost unprecedented duration. Every other goal, however worthy, must be tested against and often subordinated to actions that spur the faster expansion of the private sector on which all else depends.

And a particularly funny–but apt–statement:

A friend of mine attended a recent meeting of the NBA leadership, at which a small-market owner, whom I won’t name but will mention is also a member of the U.S. Senate, made an impassioned plea for more sharing of revenue by the more successful teams. At a coffee break, Mr. Prokhorov, the new Russian owner of the New Jersey Nets, murmured to my friend, “We tried that, you know. It doesn’t work.”

Herb Kohl could not be reached for comment. This passage is a good one as well (parts of it have been reproduced above):

Purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers. King Pyrrhus is remembered, but his nation disappeared. Winston Churchill set aside his lifetime loathing of Communism in order to fight World War II. Challenged as a hypocrite, he said that when the safety of Britain was at stake, his “conscience became a good girl.” We are at such a moment. I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our Republic saying “I told you so” or “You should’ve done it my way.”

[. . .]

We should distinguish carefully skepticism about Big Government from contempt for all government. After all, it is a new government we hope to form, a government we will ask our fellow citizens to trust to make huge changes.

I urge a similar thoughtfulness about the rhetoric we deploy in the great debate ahead. I suspect everyone here regrets and laments the sad, crude coarsening of our popular culture. It has a counterpart in the venomous, petty, often ad hominem political discourse of the day.
When one of us – I confess sometimes it was yours truly – got a little hotheaded, President Reagan would admonish us, “Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents.” Good advice, then and now.

And besides, our opponents are better at nastiness than we will ever be. It comes naturally. Power to them is everything, so there’s nothing they won’t say to get it. The public is increasingly disgusted with a steady diet of defamation, and prepared to reward those who refrain from it. Am I alone in observing that one of conservatism’s best moments this past year was a massive rally that came and went from Washington without leaving any trash, physical or rhetorical, behind?

A more affirmative, “better angels” approach to voters is really less an aesthetic than a practical one: with apologies for the banality, I submit that, as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit.

[. . .]

I’ve always loved John Adams’ diary entry, written en route to Philadelphia, there to put his life, liberty, and sacred honor all at risk. He wrote that it was all well worth it because, he said, “Great things are wanted to be done.”

When he and his colleagues arrived, and over the years ahead, they practiced the art of the possible. They made compacts and concessions and, yes, compromises. They made deep sectional and other differences secondary in pursuit of the grand prize of freedom. They each argued passionately for the best answers as they saw them, but they never permitted the perfect to be the enemy of the historic good they did for us, and all mankind. They gave us a Republic, citizen Franklin said, if we can keep it.

Keeping the Republic is the great thing that is wanted to be done, now, in our time, by us. In this room are convened freedom’s best friends but, to keep our Republic, freedom needs every friend it can get. Let’s go find them, and befriend them, and welcome them to the great thing that is wanted to be done in our day.

Be sure to watch Daniels’s speech here. And note George Will’s comments about Daniels. Perhaps some of the people who are concerned about Daniels for the wrong reason will take a look, give Daniels a second look, and realize that when it comes to choosing the next President of the United States, we could do a whole lot worse than to choose someone like him.

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