READERS overly concerned with minutiae may recall that last week, or sometime, the Indianapolis Star debuted its MITCH WATCH ("A weekly look at Gov. Mitch Daniels' activities as he weighs a run for the GOP 2012 presidential nomination") column-within-a-political-round-up-column ("Behind Closed Doors") in an effort to better excuse running a half-page picture of the man every goddam Sunday. With our nation's precious preteritio resources declining nearly as fast as newspaper readership, we're not even going to bother mentioning that recent years have seen such sure-fire Hoosier presidential contenders as Dick Lugar, Evan Bayh, Birch Bayh, Dan Quayle, Mike Pence, and Whichever Crane Brother Didn't Get Caught Molesting Congressional Pages come and go without testing the limitations of traditional page layout.
This week's thrilling installment includes: 1) Mitch went to CPAC, but that doesn't mean he's a candidate; 2) those YouTube Draft Daniels students went to CPAC, and sold tee shirts (one of which replaced Obama's "Hope" logo with 'Solvency". Oh, sorry. Hope you were sitting down.) but that doesn't mean he's a candidate; 3) somebody dug up Mitch's old Princeton pot bust, which is old news to Hoosiers because he's been upfront about it [I love, first, how easily an utter necessity becomes a Virtue, and, second, how overlooking the felonious (he was dealing in his dorm room, not tokin' up in the library stacks) youthful indiscretions of a man who is now, by professional necessity and personal inclination a big fucking hypocrite about the thing qualifies as open-mindedness] so it won't affect his still not being a candidate; 4) Daniels is getting some press notice for being short (the item attributes to "Statehouse gossip" the question of whether his insisted-on 5-foot-7 might be something of a stretch. And yes, "stretch" was their term). Although, you know, James Madison, who did run, and also dealt weed. This prompted the following conversation Chez Riley, which must be prefaced with a note that our living room statement includes an old church lectern used as a dictionary stand:
ME: Honey, how tall are you?
ME: Could you come in here for a moment? I wanna figure out what size casters we need so you can reach the OED.
He's 4-11 people. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but imagining you're hiding it, coupled with that combover, is suggestive of something pathological; 5) He's having rotator-cuff surgery, which, according to his press secretary, doctors attribute to normal wear-and-tear, but he attributes to falling in December '09 while taking out the garbage. Jes' like folks. This doesn't mean he's a candidate.
And Jes' Like Mitch, who knows better than every scientist on the planet when it comes to global climate trends.
Which brings us to CPAC, I guess, and the continued Press confusion over a sorta-carefully crafted Daniels PR campaign and something that actually means something.
What was most striking about Daniels' speech, which inspired careful listening rather than pep-rally applause, was that it treated his CPAC audience as adults rather than as just another constituency group demanding pandering. Whether it was dismissing the easy-answer attacks on earmarks ("in the cause of national solvency, they are a trifle") or suggesting that most voters do not appreciate the sharp-edged rhetoric of the Republican right ("it would help if they liked us, just a bit"), Daniels' speech was an exercise in speaking truth to conservatives who have the power to derail a presidential candidacy.
Here's the difference between our political pundit class and med-school students: med-school students generally only imagine they've caught every disease they read about for their first year or so. Evidently with pundits it's a lifetime condition.
Mitch Daniels! Barack Obama! John McCain! We can go on and on and on. The post-Watergate political press always anoints somebody as the Straight-Shootin', Truth-Tellin', Serious Candidate who's gonna pull us out of Our Political Morass ("Since 1948"™) by ignoring the conventional wisdom of campaigns as promoted, interminably, by our post-Watergate political press. Always the same shit, and perpetually in ignorance of the Guy who it touted four years ago for pulling the same schtick. This is an arena, mind you, where Jack Kemp was touted as a serious thinker. Go ahead, motherfuckers. Start talkin' about policy. Dare ya.
Here's the deal, Mr. Shapiro: Mitch Daniels would get points for "talking to a CPAC audience as if they were adults" if that meant something, and if he had a choice in the matter. Daniels can't come across as Mr. Christian Values. Let's give the Republican party credit for the one thing it's good at: insularity. Mitt Romney didn't get away with turning himself into a culture warrior last time. Daniels is a Chamber of Commerce Republican. It's not a philosophical stance. It's not economic analysis. It's the result of having Regional Sales Manager in your DNA. Such people do not like the wingnut religious fringe because they don't like anything that interferes with markets, or threatens advertisers, or has principles which do not begin and/or end with the lining of one's pockets. They believe such people exist at their sufferance, and for one purpose: voting Republican.
I have no idea what Mitch Daniels actually thinks about reproductive rights. I have an absolute certainty about why he told Laura Ingraham he was Indiana's Most Anti-Abortion Governor, Ever, and it has nothing to do with principles, or with the issue, for that matter. Is there some reason to imagine that Mitch Daniels is the single politician on the American scene in the past forty years who isn't a calculating little fraud? Is there something in Daniels' record that suggests Calling Things As He Sees Them, or Taking Brave, Unpopular Stances without regard for the political consequences? Or analyzing situations with an open mind? No. It's precisely the opposite. He first proposed a one-year tax increase to solve Indiana's "deficit" "problem", then withdrew it quicker'n you'd pull your fingertips out of an open flame. Afterwards the sole consideration in Daniels-dominated legislatures has been slashing budgets (and assorted accounting tricks) in order to display a showy budget surplus which countered his work at OMB. We haven't had a discussion over educational priorities over the past six years in Indiana; we just had a chart that showed how much spending "had" to be cut. We haven't actually had a discussion of priorities at all; just six years of trying to correct Mitch Daniels' record. We've had nothing resembling leadership at all. Just Mitch Daniels, Libertarian Logo.
He hasn't stood up for any principles. When he's had a foolproof majority in both houses dedicated to reducing spending, Daniels has reduced spending. It doesn't matter whether you consider this to be an accomplishment or not; the question remains how applicable it is to that Federal deficit Daniels helped create. It doesn't take any courage, any vision, or even any math skills to stand up in front of a CPAC dinner and promise to cut Social Security and Medicare; it also doesn't accomplish anything, or address the real consequences. If it takes some small amount of calculation to insist that Defense spending be left on the table, well, that's less about bravery than a measure of the incontinent arms dealing that dominates both parties. If you're clamoring for a balanced budget, and Defense-related spending is 60% of that budget, and we outspend the rest of the world combined, how do you not bring it up if you're serious? Especially when you know that, in the event, you won't be taking any heat for it, because real Defense cuts are about as likely as real campaign finance reform. How does this get mistaken for political realism?
Let me note, again, that I'm from Indiana, Mr. Shapiro. I'm inured to Republicans the way a herd of cows is inured to the noise of a nearby freeway. As far as I'm concerned, any legislative session which ends with us still not putting strumpets in stocks, nor Carmel getting the money to build prangers at the center of all those roundabouts, nor the state park system getting sold to Wal*Mart, is a good session. In fact, any session of the Indiana General Assembly that ends is a good session. For chrissakes, the best I can hope for around here is an Evan Bayh governorship. I started off with low expectations. I would have been happy to continue thinking of Mitch Daniels as a malignant hobbit who'd won the governorship with a cornball routine that would have made Homer & Jethro blush, but who coulda been worse; I wasn't going to forget his work for the Bush administration, but that's a given. But in the event it's been clear from Week 1 that the Daniels program has been to obfuscate his record, or replace it with transparently false claims, blame the Democrats for everything, and then use the bullshit to fertilize his own fields.
Had you or I, Mr. Shapiro, set out to create a Mitch Daniels Presidential persona from the fabric of his political accomplishments that CPAC speech is about the best we could have done. That might make it a good speech, but it doesn't make it a smart one. And if things are as bad as we all imagine, it's time that distinction trumped political posturing on the punditry scorecard.