Thursday, December 24

The Weather Down There

EVEN some out-of-state readers who come here just to feel superior may recall that in 2005, Peevish Indiana Governor and former lawn jockey model Mitch Daniels, newly elevated (sorry) by an electorate apparently convinced that a man who condescended to tour Indiana in The World's Third Largest Recreational Vehicle, despite his obvious, nay, palpable distaste for the state, the sunburned, chain-smoking denizens whose elbows he was forced to rub and deep-fried fodder to share, and the garish, Hoosier-built, two-rooms-with-kitchenette behemoth-on-wheels he was forced not merely to travel in but to allow, at every stop, those same gawking grease-eaters to tour, as though it was one of Graceland's outbuildings or the reliquary of some Jesus-shaped potato--it was, so far as I know, the first state-wide election in which one of the candidates spent the entire campaign with what looked like an undertaker's vain attempt at a post-mortem smile molded onto his face--that such a man, I say, shouldn't, even if he could, be denied what little he asked for in return, proposed a one-year surtax on incomes over $125,000 in an effort to "balance" Indiana's "budget". Within seventy-two hours Daniels is killed and replaced by his doppelgänger (every candidate for high office has one at the ready, an offshoot, or fringe benefit, depending on your point of view, of Operation Paperclip; you didn't think Mengele was in South America working on his tan, did you?). The surtax proposal disappears quicker'n Sarah Palin from a book signing; the New Mitch never utters the words "tax increase" again.

Experienced observers of the political scene won't even have to brace for the coda--heard yet again this month in the dopedoppelgänger for the Washington Post--which recapitulates the theme of Daniels' political courage while omitting any mention that the entire exercise could'a been clocked with a $2 kitchen timer.

The state GOP, having--this is 2005, remember--assumed its rightful place in the pantheon of Karl Rove's Permanent Majority and disposed of the body (okay, a lot of people think this Nazi Breeding Program for Docile Political Homunculi is a tad farfetched. "Where's the proof?" they say, or "Conspiracy theorist!" or "If you don't cooperate, Mr. Riley, you're going to have to be restrained again". But look, Mitch Daniels has had two sources of income his entire career, at least officially: taxpayers and pharmaceutical sales, first as a college freelancer, then as Eli Lily's VP of International Corporate/Government Synergic Flimflammery. Neither really suggests someone with a whole lotta concern for the customer's point of view ["One: Keep 'Em Waiting. Two: Make Sure They Leave Hungry." could be an interchangeable motto]. Yet now, facing what economists refer to as a massive fucking discrepancy between the sunnier-than-the-sun campaign claims of 2008 and the functional bankruptcy of one year later, the New Mitch turns up at each new crisis, or every two weeks, whichever comes first, to announce more cuts, as though he had discovered the only mathematical equation with just one side.) uh, the state GOP, controlling both sides of the Legislature, and with "Mitch Daniels" "in" the Governor's Mansion (further evidence: Indiana First Lady Cheri-with-an-i Daniels, "Cosmo" to her friends, would never have spent an hour in that dump, something she averred in public right around the time the first Mitch disappeared. She hasn't been heard from since. There've been about four public appearances by "Cheri Daniels" since 2004, but no one even remembers what she looked like, making comparisons impossible. For that matter, the woman is said to have married Mitch Daniels twice. Case closed.) proceeded to brand itself the Party That Balances Budgets, which it did by gaming the count in new and exciting ways, and auctioning off state assets to cover the difference. Of minor note is that fact that the branding effort required both houses, and the new Governor, to ignore the massive Property Tax revenue hurricane which had been approaching at the customary 24 mph since a court decision in 1999, with a precise arrival date of the aforementioned 2005 and a pinpointedly accurate landfall at the Statehouse. Again, the veteran observer could probably predict that the resulting Tax Protest flooding would 1) sweep away Daniels' major "Democratic" rival, who'd had nothing whatever to do with it; and 2) result in Daniels being hailed as a man of unprecedented political courage and concern for the Little Guy.

Now, it's true "The Heroic Pilot Who Laughs at Storm Warnings" didn't work out so well for Mitch's former boss, but nobody says these things are perfect, and the national constituency, with its fancy-larnin' and average IQ approaching the 90s, is somewhat harder to gull. Not that Ignoring the Clear Example That Is California has been all palm branches and torchlight rallies for "Mitch", either, as the joyous, heady days of replacing union, living-wage jobs with minimum wage call-center gigs have turned into times of real economic difficulties which not even middle managers in the financial sector can completely ignore.

And "Daniels" had weathered it--if by "weathered", you mean "managed to preserve his talking points to the extent that some WaPo bidness page hack was still buying the story earlier this month"--until recently, first by having a $6 million campaign chest with which to impress any local teevee types who might otherwise have asked questions, assuming they remember how, and then by playing the short-session Legislature last year into adopting his budget, which was predicated on the idea that the state's Rainy Day Fund is not supposed to be used until Mitch is through with it, say in 2012 or so. Now that budget is inoperative, and in short order Daniels has been forced to publicly threaten Education, which is something we don't have much of to begin with. (Daniels and the Republicans slashed education spending increases in 2005 and 2006; this year the Bantam Menace torpedoed at the 11th hour a budget deal the Legislature had worked out, necessitating a Special Session in which the only significant change was zeroing out the Democratic House's increase in education funding. Experienced news consumers will forgive me the brief explanation that this resulted in Daniels being hailed in his Not-Campaign Literature as "The Education Governor", and that it took about forty-five minutes for him to find a podium short enough from which he could claim credit for a spending increase, based on his canny acceptance of Evil Obama stimulus funds earmarked for schools.) Last month's Monthly Unexpected Revenue Shortfall was met with a Daniels rebuke of Higher Education, on the grounds that we had to slash everything to the marrow before touching secondary education. Which, of course, actually meant "I'll be slashing secondary education, too, just as soon as we figure out how to make that sound like another Heroic increase".

Which, apparently they couldn't figure out in the time allowed--namely "getting it done while all the yahoos are at the Mall"--so the next Monthly Unexpected Revenue Shortfall announcement included his pledge that his cuts could and would be made without reducing the number of teachers, which translates as "When all else fails--and it has--we can still blame the Evil Teachers' Unions".

This led to a sort of combination Kabuki dance and hockey fight, in which there was about a twenty-four hour period before someone helpfully pointed out to the administration and its picket-duty lawyer platoons that teacher contracts were, well, contracts, which "brought" "Daniels" "back out" to declare that, gee, far be it from him to trample anyone's legal rights, but, y'know, if he personally were a teacher he'd be pleased as could be to forgo any pay raises if it meant the teacher across the hall got to keep his job, too.

Now, this is not a perfect world, so no one should be surprised to learn that the nominal owners of the microphones stuck in Mitch's face failed to ask why, if this is such a good argument, he didn't use it on his henchman Mitch Roob's pals at ACS, back when they were being paid the full amount due on their billion-dollar contract each month for delivering 20% of promised Family and Social Services, and that poorly. Nobody asked why he hadn't spoken up when teachers were being laid off across the state in response to that God-given Freedom from Property Tax routine he stepped in front of and pretended to lead. Again, not that I expected it. It would be nice, though, if any of the "Daniels orders cuts to Education" headlines showed some vague recollection that we didn't elect him Oliver P. Morton.

And don't get me wrong: I have no idea whether tax increases are a good idea under the circumstances, but at least I don't pretend apodictic certainty based on the works of Ayn Rand. All I'm saying is that we might think long and hard before we elect another grouchy pathological liar with a chip on his gnomish shoulder the size of that bridge he should be living under. And you gloaters in other states: remain vigilant. Don't be swayed by the next Recreational Vehicle you see.


Kordo said...

My experience of Indiana is limited to having hitched through there in a snowstorm about 10 years back (everyone seemed nice), but this Daniels cat is sounding nastier every time I hear about him. "sit on the money trouble til I can get into the 2012 campaign" probably isn't a half-bad strategy, especially with national level "reporters" doing their level best to fluff his Fiscal Hawk Bona Fides. You could always move to Florida. The politicians are just as slimy, but the weather is much nicer :)

Anonymous said...

I don't presume to judge Kordo's motives, ulterior or anterior, but that was a pretty flirtatious comment toward the end, there...

Yes, whatever Indiana may else lack, it still has Publius Doghouse Riley, which surely puts it three or four up on some other places I can think of. (Happy birthday, btw, Mr. R.)

If it's any comfort, historically and statistically Americans tend not to elect really short men to the Presidency.

Li'l Innocent