Sunday, June 14

And Look, If You Kids Haven't Seen Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed You Really Owe It To Yourselves

IN a frankly uncharacteristic bit of schadenfreude, Scott C. sends along two of NatRev's finest--Rich Lowry and Reihan Salam, which is what passes for finery in those parts--jumping on the Daniels 2012 bandwagon.

I have to admit that, when I was a younger man, this is the sort of thing that would threaten to ruin my breakfast. I honestly feel--have grown to feel--the same visceral revulsion to Indiana's Bonzai governor I once felt towards Ronald Reagan, and for many of the same reasons. They're both professional phonies and calculating little public liars, right down to their hairdos. They're both the beneficiaries of blatant, and shameless, rewrites of the public record by their political supporters. They both married Marie Antoinette.

There are distinctions. Reagan, reputedly, had charm, had a sense of humor (not that we all shared it), and probably was able to have sex with women before he amassed a personal fortune. Reagan, almost alone among 20th century Presidents, appeared to love the Pomp, Circumstance, and glad-handing more than he cared for the actual job; Daniels, if he can be said to enjoy anything beyond full-time ego husbandry, seems to prefer the part about telling other people what to do. Reagan was a fabulist; we cannot really be certain what, in his political persona, was genuine, what manufactured, and what a half-remembered movie he might or might not have appeared in. Daniels is a huckster. If you turned off the money spigot he'd go limp, which is pretty much what he was doing before all this Presidential nonsense started. I've had to watch the man for five years now, and aside from Keeping America A Place Where Rich People Can Get Over, I can't tell you a single thing he stands for. He has the soul of a fucking Account Manager. (The man has a two-day jail stint over marihuana possession in his jacket, and there's no indication whatsoever that he saw Reefer as anything other than a high-mark-up commodity with low advertising costs. At least Clinton acted like he felt he should be embarrassed. Daniels--while playing the Youthful Indiscretion Card--yet gives the impression of a man who thinks he was tripped up by some obscure accounting regulation. I'm telling you, kids, you hear a lot of bullshit about the Sixties, but there is one hard, fast rule: never trust anyone who sold weed just for the money. They're the juvenile animal-torturers of Hippiedom.) There are plenty enough Republican economic ideologues who'd be willing to pave over the state park system if there was money in it; Daniels gives the impression he's anxious to do so, and on spec. If you ever hear Daniels pitching Morning in America you can be pretty sure he just got a big donation from Kellogg's.

Of course the big difference is the era: Reagan benefitted from a sixteen-year campaign that finally caught the Nation's biorhythms at a triple low, while Daniels, absent some major Obama fuckup, will be sailing uphill, against a strong breeze, while dragging anchor. This is the principal reason I'm not running from car to car along the highway like Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

And before we delve into The Case for Mitch '12, let's note that his utter cupidity extends to the Republican base. He's got a few wingnut positions down pat, but in large part he's looked at Non-banking Republicans in the state the same way the Big Three Corn Beer Producers look at the average home brewer: as slightly annoying impediments to Profit, with a vaguely suspicious tendency to think and feel things. Rich "Kiss of Death" Lowry:
...more than any other Republican officeholder, Daniels points the way ahead for his bedraggled party. He’s a Reaganite who is not trapped in 1980s nostalgia; he’s a fiscal conservative who believes not just in limiting government, but in reforming it to address people’s everyday concerns; he’s a politician of principle who refuses to sell his program in off-puttingly partisan or ideological terms.

Absolutely right, except for the parts that are completely wrong. I doubt Mitch is "trapped in Reagan nostalgia", since that would require something approaching human sentiment, but he did give that inspiring commencement speech at Butler where he sniped at Baby Boomers like Reagan had his cops do at People's Park; his "reforms", mostly a matter of his first two years in office, have worked wonders, if your "everyday concerns" involve running your television station, finding someone's toll road to operate, or harvesting blocks of state-owned timber. If your everyday concerns involve food, water, shelter, and education for your children, well, not so much.

Finally, a word about Mitch's non-partisan salesmanship, and that word is "Fuckwits". He's a nasty little shit with a four-foot chip on his shoulder, and he's only five feet tall. During his first legislative session, in 2005, at the height of Iraqi insurgency, he called dilatory minority Democrats "car bombers". Honestly, if there's any truth to be found here at all--not that Truth has ever slowed down the GOP--it is, again, that Daniels has no real use for the red meat wing of the party, except as a reliable impediment to sensible environmental regulation. And I certainly understand the wishful thinking there, among the crowd at the Hudson Institute, for a candidate who can win without 'em, but please. If you think that's going to continue two weeks into the actual pre-campaign campaign you're farther gone than even I imagined.
When Daniels took office, the state had an $800-million deficit. He turned that into a $1.3-billion surplus (although it will be eaten into in the current downturn). Since 2005, he has saved roughly $450 million in the state’s budget and reduced the state’s rate of spending growth from 5.9 percent to 2.8 percent. “I tell you with certainty,” Daniels told his Washington audience, “concern about the debt and deficit has not gone out of style.”

Shades of Ronald Reagan. Now, budgets are complicated things, and I'm simple, but here goes: One, that deficit has been growing like the fish tale i' the adage; it was $500 million at the time, now it's $800-900. That deficit was not commonly so described before Mitch started running for Governor. It was the result of shifting accounts and obligations around to make the year-end look better, something which the state had been doing, with Democratic and Republican majorities in the Statehouse, for a couple of decades. We might also mention here that Indiana was particularly hard-hit by the first Bush II recession, the one where Mitch Daniels was director of the White House OMB. That is, then, that he returned to Indiana and campaigned as just the man to clean up the mess he'd helped create. It was the beginning of a theme.

Let us note, too, that we are talking about Indiana, not the Miraculous De-Stalinization of Eastern Europe, although Indiana Republicans tend to view fence-squatters like Evan Bayh as raving Bolshies. State spending is rarely luxurious or wanton, except for the parts you don't like. In 2005, with Republicans in control of both Houses and Daniels' campaign promises in their ears, the GOP froze state spending for two years across the board. They set about defunding state programs, leaving them the responsibility of local governments. In other words, when it came, say, to education, the state said, "Instead of working from a projection of how much money we need to accomplish our goals, we will simply freeze budgets, leave school districts to either make up the difference (in property taxes) or make cuts, both of will which occur at some remove, and then we trumpet our budget balancing." And it's a great accomplishment, assuming that's what you think governments ought to accomplish.

If you happen to differ, though, it's about as much of an accomplishment as leveling a tablespoon of flour is. Daniels sold off operation of the Toll Road for 75 years. Maybe a good deal, maybe not; in the absence of any extreme occurrence either way we'll have to leave that one to the distant future. An entire generation of Hoosiers yet unborn will grow up, learn to drive, grow old and die without ever getting to vote on the thing; we think they ought to decide on its success, after the money is accounted for. So far, part of it went into the slush fund that rewarded Wealthy Whitestan for its permanent Republican majority, and let it inflict roundabouts no one else wants on what was once a state highway, and a big chunk of it will go to building I-69, which environmentalists have fought my entire adult life, and which'll be great if you're a Canadian eagerly awaiting completion of the NAFTA highway, or if you're one of the nearly dozen people who've been complaining that the drive from Evansville to Indianapolis takes too long. You live in the smallest state west of New England!

Again, I'm no economics expert, but I know a thing or three about Indiana. It's not like our Democrats are chomping at the bit to run up the sort of debt Mitch oversaw at OMB. Hell, in most parts of the country it's not like they'd even be considered Democrats. No President is walking into Washington with a bag of flour, a measuring spoon and a ruler. God knows none of the Republicans we mistakenly elected over the last quarter century did so, or even made a halfway decent pantomime of it. Salam, brother:
One thing I find interesting about Daniels is that he was not very effective in the Bush White House, where his deficit-hating impulses were apparently checked by more powerful voices, he's really come into his own as governor. When he first came into office, he called for a tax hike on the most affluent Indianans. Though the surcharge was never passed, Daniels played against type and demonstrated his seriousness.

Okay, one, this is your second time touting Miracle Mitch; perhaps if you were actually doing the work you'd have learned by now that we're Hoosiers.

My god, how well the habits of Reagan hagiography have passed to a new generation! Daniels' spent thirty months at OMB, which were marked by the opposite of deficit reduction. In fact, they were marked by a new definition of The Opposite of Deficit Reduction. He wasn't there as an economist. He's not an economist. He was there as a manager. If his fiscal principles were being trampled by higher-ups he should have resigned earlier.

In fact, his budget-cuttin' persona as Indiana governor can be seen as an attempt to ameliorate his real record of service to his country. That "surcharge on the wealthy" business--please, get the news directly from an Indianan!--was practically the first thing out of his mouth, shocked the hell out of me, and lasted maybe all of two weeks while, predictably, his own party went ballistic. It is notable as the first, and practically the only time Mitch Daniels ever backed away from something his Enormous Brain had come up with (he did, with every other privatization scheme underperforming and/or mired in scandal, eventually give up on his hopes of selling off the Lottery, but that was never actually proposed; it stands in the same relation to the Toll Road sell-off and the Family and Social Services scam as On To Damascus! did to the neo-cons' war, namely, proof positive that all this is mostly just magical thinking).

It's possible he miscalculated; his very early tenure as governor betrayed an almost total innocence of the legislative process, though, as it turns out, this was just his ongoing belief that he could just point at things and cause them to burst into flames. It's also possible that the whole thing was calculated (as I suspected at the time) to present the image of Mitch Daniels, man with Demonstrated Seriousness! Jeez, taking a Brave but Doomed Stand in favor of something you know will never happen, thereby eliminating any chance you'll be shown up, is in the fucking libertarian-economic Republican DNA. Of course it also gave him an out on cutting programs, the Only Other Way to reduce the "deficit". And it's also notable as the last time he Seriously! proposed raising any sort of tax except the ones that have other people's fingerprints on them.

So look, kiddies; we understand your wish to be on top, your need to operate without oversight, and your desire that your clothing never go out of style. We are not concern trolls here, so we'll save the lectures about the difference between real change and finding someone who apes it, especially seeing as how the latter worked for you for so long. There's almost nothing we'd enjoy more than seeing The Mighty Atom out on the national hustings, calculating how much he needs to pander to the base without going Full Metal Mitt. One never says never, but my fellow Indianans and I have seen Daniels in action, and the way he suddenly lit up when the spotlight turned on him ought to clue you. This is not a Presidential campaign. It's another one of Cher's retirement tours.


Scott said...

This is not a Presidential campaign. It's another one of Cher's retirement tours.

Despite difficult economic times, I'd gladly contribute to a fund to erect a Roland Burris-style mausoleum for Mitch and his wife, on the sole condition those words above be etched in the lintel.

map106 said...

Well, I was going to ask if you didn't think Patty overacted, but then I realized that was the point.(Of course the real over-actor was Nancy Kelly--a case of Broadway doing Hollywood badly.) Dog, you're so hard to keep up with.

Perhaps a little lightning at the end of a pier might solve our problems.

map106 said...

Well, I don't know if it's kismet, serendipity, karma, or whatever of those terms that sort of mean the same thing, but don't. I'm sitting here watching "The Big Sleep" and suddenly Humphrey Bogart says: "Follow me, I'm Doghouse Riley."

Patty McCormack and Doghouse Riley in one day. Perhaps there is a god.
Christ, you should pardon the expression, I just can't keep up.

Brian M said...

I just have to say that I, an ex-Hoosier, love to read your columns. 'tis too bad you're not out here in the Golden State...I think you would literally stroke out when faced with our disfunctions (which prove, alas, that disfunction is bipartisan, of course!)