Mitch Daniels Does Not Deserve Your Breathless Hopes
A caveat: Like most conservatives, I am extremely glad that Mitch Daniels occupies a (fairly) prominent place on the national stage. The future of the Republican Party and the future of the United States both depend on leaders, as Daniels has, framing in an articulate way the magnitude of the fiscal cliff off of which we are rapidly heading.
But as the latest, umpteenth wave of "Might he reconsider?" buzz breaks around the Indiana Governor, I appear before you today to argue the controversial proposition that conservatives should stop pining for Daniels to lead us to the Promised Land because he either is a liar or lacks a sense of patriotic duty.
Allow me to explain.
Mitch Daniels has made his name in recent years through his propensity to call our debt a much greater threat to America than many politicians are willing to do. Ten days ago, at CPAC 2012, he called reducing the debt "our generational assignment" and compared it to the "red menace" once posed by threatening Soviet communism; he has reportedly called our fiscal irresponsibility "a threat to the whole idea of self-government" (engaging in a level of rhetoric that even strikes me, a committed fiscal conservative, as perhaps mildly hyperbolic); Daniels has told an audience at AEI that debt poses "a survival-level threat to the Amerca we've known." This is totally his shtick.
Now, the complicated personal and family issues that reportedly dissuaded Daniels from throwing his hat in to the ring this cycle have been well documented. Obviously any conservatives that value the family as much as we do must sympathize with a father's reluctance to undertake a course of action that would result in his daughters seeing their mother's prior indiscretions plastered in headlines across the country.
But I do not think Daniels's "Gotta put the wife and girls first!" rationale is charming, or honorable, or even ultimately reconcilable with his apocalyptic proclamations if Daniels holds any reasonable measure of patriotism. It is simply not unfair to ask a man who fashions himself a public servant to own that defending America against an existential threat represents a higher-order duty than does keeping his wife's tabloid past out of a few days' worth of cable news broadcasts.
America only exists today because generation after generation of committed family men did not give their wives or children an absolute veto over their taking up ams to defend our nation. How many fewer of our brave countrymen would today be serving in our all-volunteer military if they, like Daniels, failed to grasp that some obligations transcend not making one's daughters cry?
In that CPAC address from earlier this month, CBS News reports that Gov. Daniels remarked, "while 'every conflict has its draft dodgers,' this fight would require everyone on the front lines."
But Governor Daniels, who seems unable to grasp that the imperative to national service at times of extreme peril should trump considerations of personal convenience, is of course precisely the kind of draft dodger he means to criticize. And if Daniels is not willing to stomach a few media cycles of "What happened to your marriage?" – talk that he could almost certainly dispel, likely to great applause, with an impassioned defense of familial privacy and an exhortation to focus on the real issues – well, then he lacks the virtues necessary to command men and women who are willing to put far, far more on the line to defend the same values that Daniels claims are under siege.
Paul Ryan is the future. Marco Rubio is the future. Susanna Martinez and Mike Pence will be the future. A soft-spoken and personally uninspiring manager whose entire political persona is based upon allusions to a cataclysmic struggle in which he himself does not feel obligated to enlist is not the future.
Either Mitch Daniels does not actually believe that the debt is as threatening as he claims, or he does not think that defending America is worth a spell of embarrassing press.
In either case, I submit, it is hardly clear that Daniels deserves even a fraction of the praise that conservatives heap on his head.
What do you think?