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Mitch Daniels: Bombast From the Past

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Posted on Jan 26, 2012

By Joe Conason

Why the Republicans chose Mitch Daniels—the Indiana governor who once thrilled right-wing pundits as a 2012 hopeful—to deliver a rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address is puzzling. His uninspiring remarks surely killed the Daniels fad, revived lately as Republicans fret over the unappetizing choices available in their primaries.

By shining the spotlight on Daniels, the Republicans risked losing much more than a political rescue fantasy. He isn’t merely a politician who looks like an accountant; he actually was an accountant—or at least he played one during the Bush years, when he served as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Listening to him drone on about fiscal rectitude just might have reminded voters of the true source of our national problems.

“Mitch Daniels ... Isn’t he the former Bush budget director who said the Iraq War would cost $50 billion when it ended up costing $3 trillion? The bureaucrat who promoted the Bush tax cuts when we were fighting two wars? The one whose budget projections were so fraudulent that he predicted federal surpluses in 2004 and 2005? Why the hell should we listen to him criticize Obama?”

That last is a highly pertinent question, although whether most viewers could watch Daniels long enough to ask it may be doubtful. Honest economic analysis shows that the great bulk of the deficits going forward stem from spending and taxation decisions made during the Bush era, which Obama is now doing his best to remedy, by bringing troops home from Iraq and ending the Bush tax cuts.

Daniels came close to admitting that embarrassing truth when he said that the president faced problems not of his making. And during the governor’s speech, there were other brief moments when he sounded as if he might want to return to the hustings as his party’s voice of reason. (That won’t happen, not only because nobody in his party wants to remember George W. Bush, but because his personal life is too peculiar to withstand media exposure.) He made a few bipartisan noises, separating himself from the most extreme anti-Obama rhetoric heard in his party.


On the whole, however, Daniels chose to assault Obama using the familiar language of the Republicans in Congress—and with equal dishonesty. There is no need to dwell at length on what he said when a few examples will suffice.

When he said that the president “cannot claim that the last three years have made matters anything but worse”—and attacked the administration for spending “borrowed money” to counter the recession—he must have known that every reputable economist believes the Obama stimulus saved the country from depression.

Having written Indiana’s budget when the stimulus money arrived in his state capital, he certainly knows that without the Recovery Act, unemployment, deficits and suffering on the state and national levels would have been far worse. He took nearly $2 billion that Obama sent to Indiana—the money he said the president “borrowed and blew”—because it saved his state’s budgets and jobs, and made him look good. And he also knows that the Bush administration’s squandering of the Clinton surplus left Obama with little choice except to borrow when the recession struck.

Daniels promised that Republicans would “level” with us about the hard fiscal facts—but he lacked the courage to admit that raising taxes will eventually be part of any realistic solution. It was certainly part of his own solution to difficulties in Indiana, where he balanced state budgets not only by using federal stimulus money, but by raising the sales tax.

He is far from the worst in his party, but he is no political savior. With nothing to lose, he could have served a real purpose by challenging his own party to confront basic facts about spending and taxes that he could not avoid as governor. He is fortunate that this political moment—and his choice of pander over candor—will be instantly forgotten.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com.

© 2011 Creators.com


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By B-Rye, January 26 at 8:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mitch Daniels is incredibly popular in Indiana.  The state government is smaller than it has been in years but more effective, we have a balanced budget, and Indiana’s ‘rain day’ fund is well stocked.  Indiana is also considered to currently be one of the better states to open a business in.

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By Ray in Bowie MD, January 26 at 8:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Shorter Mitch Daniel’s rebuttal:
I’m Mitch Daniels and as OMB director we returned the
surplus to the people through President Bush’s Tax
Cuts. Oh, then we waged two wars and grew the budget
and paid for it with fairy dust. It’s not my fault
Obama lost the fairy dust.

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By Kn, January 26 at 8:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sorry, this is from the grammar police:  please stop using the word “that” in every
sentence. Do yourself and the readers a favor by listening to how your sentence sounds
without the word “that” before you go about using it.  Mr. Conason, for being an editor-in-
chief, your grammar is awful. Great article by the way!  I’m liberal and I think Mitch Daniels
has done an ok job as governor, especially when you compare Indiana to the rest of the
country…contrary to the above poster, he definitely hasn’t “run this state into the ground.”
Well not yet anyway.  Is he a hypocrite? Sure he is, but who in the republican party
isn’t…can you argue with the way he sold the toll road? Yes again.  Was his response to
the SOTU pathetic, pessimistic and mostly a complete fabrication? No question.  He’ll be
forgotten a year from now because of how bad it was.

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By madwool, January 26 at 7:35 am Link to this comment

The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and
policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish
idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the
two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can
“throw the rascals out” at any election without leading to any profound or
extreme shifts in policy.

-Carrol Quigley, Tragedy and Hope (Clinton’s law professor at Georgetown)

Sorry for the copy and paste, but there is no clearer way to say it except that the
American two-party system has been in a state of free-fall since the days of:

1) Useful Fool, Woodrow Wilson

2) Good Man, But Out-Manuevered, John F. Kennedy (accelerated free-fall)

The Democrat/Republican parties are but two corrupt and co-opted
factions of the same banker/corporate entity. Why should we expect anything to change every four years with a freshly installed puppet?

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By Leefeller, January 26 at 6:55 am Link to this comment

Mitch Daniels is one more crony for the Koch Brothers and ALEC and company, right now he is doing a Wisconsin Walker in his own state, trying to make it a right to work state by getting rid of unions. A look into the right to work states shows higher poverty and unemployment, all one needs to do is get people to hate their own best interests.

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who'syourdebs's avatar

By who'syourdebs, January 26 at 6:49 am Link to this comment

Thanks, Joe, for your insightful words concerning my piece-of-crap governor and his dour, dire, and downbeat SOTU rebuttal. It bears mentioning his current ramrodding of a Right-to-Work (for less) law through the Indiana state legislature. This right-to-freeload bill is being fought by Democratic legislators who have staged a walkout to prevent a quorum, but that effort is currently in the process of breaking down. My home state, like most of the country, has a historical memory of a flea, and consequently does not know that a so-called Right-to-Work law was passed in the late 1950’s. On the next election cycle, all those Republicans who brought it forth were summarily thrown out and the first bills passed in both the State Senate and the House overturned the measure. If this one passes, and it looks like it will, the forces of labor and the Occupy movement are poised to attempt a similar turnaround. Wish us luck—we’ll certainly need it. It should be noted as well that this same Mitch Daniels vowed in 2005 that he had no intention whatsoever of supporting any kind of Right-to-Work law. Lies come so naturally to Republicans.

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By DonSchneider, January 26 at 5:37 am Link to this comment

Are we really looking at the Veep candidate who is supposed to “Balance” the
Willard Romney express ?  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha !

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By Big B, January 26 at 4:47 am Link to this comment

The dim people of Indiana are getting what they voted for, in spades. This man helped run a nation into the ground. What did they think he would do with a smaller state?

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