Andrew Ferguson, "Ride Along with Mitch:
Can the astonishing popularity of Indiana's penny-pinching governor carry him to the White House in 2012?" Six volumes. June 14W
E'VE got a long slog ahead of us, but a journey of a thousand miles--even one that begins and ends in the same stinking slough where you began, the one some huckster named Kristol you are beginning to suspect is the same one indicted for fraud just last week is trying to sell you as prime real estate--should start under your feet,
not with a single step; Alan Watts says this is both a permissible translation and
the reasonable one: not "hurry up and do something, you've got a long trip ahead of you," but ""figure out which way you're going first".
The earth- or blogosphere-shaking pull quote from this, the umpteenth attempt to kickstart the doomed Daniels 2012 campaign--I think he's
doomed, but if not then we
are--has The Bantam Menace calling for a truce in the Culture War. Forgive me if, at the top, I betray a slight tendency to disbelieve anything the man says, but what I'd really like to see, what these people can
do tomorrow, if they'd like to, is self-styled "conservative" intellectual journals losing the fucking walking goddam ads for a George Pataki PAC jammed onto the middle of every page like an ugly tattoo.
Isn't Reading a traditional, Judeo-Christian, "conservative"
virtue? As in, you start reading with the first word, and move on through to the last, without seeing George Pataki, who has nothing whatsoever to do with this story, nor any other--every two minutes? I can't say my study's been exhaustive, but I don't recall Edmund Burke doing a lot of product placement, nor sneaking personal endorsements for Croft & Tewsberry Wig Powder, or proprietary pox palliatives, into his Parliament speeches. And it's 8600 words plus; I'd really like to get on with it, instead of having it divided into thirteen pages,
or roughly 2/3 of Ross Douthat's weekly production per. You really need page views that bad?
We'll get started in a minute, promise. But, look, Andrew, Astonish
means "thunderstruck" or "mazed". And, indeed, this is one way to describe my personal reaction to Daniels' popularity ("suspicious" is another). But you mean something like "greatly surprising", which is acceptable from a usage standpoint--as the waterlogged and fish-nibbled corpse of a yeoman term lost in a sea of advertising hyperbole, hauled in without its pants--but then it isn't true.
He's the Republican governor of a still-solid Republican state. It's Clear Blue Sky, not statewide thunderstorm activity events. What was George W. Bush's approval rating among Republicans the day he left office as the Worst President Ever?
The Republican rank-and-file approves anything in Republican clothing, provided it hasn't been caught with a dead hooker or live preteen boy. Mark Souder resigned out of embarrassment, and because Choirboy Pence was on his ass, you should pardon the expression; not because he was in any danger of not being reelected. Richard Lugar is the most popular Hoosier politician of All Time, and the only thing he's done for Indiana in thirty-three years is get his wife off our highways.
Of course you don't want to say "Daniels' Surprising
Popularity", since the reason for the surprising part is not that it exists, if it does, but that it's been bestowed on a loathsome toad, a contemptuous, miniaturized elitist in an Aw Shucks state, which actually was on to him in the beginning, back when he was remarkably un
popular. So you choose "astonishing" the way a self-conscious lad might stuff a zucchini in his jockstrap. Daniels popularity "soared", if it did, at the precise moment when he was able to use an immense war chest (containing Republican heavy hitter and corporate quids pro quo, not Frank and Ethel's egg money) to begin saturation bombing of the airwaves a month before a primary where he wasn't challenged, and continuing through November. Those ads lied about his economic record.
In fairness, they had to.
He then trounced a woman with an execrable track record, who'd only managed to win the primary by going negative, after which she couldn't repair the damage or get Evan Bayh to remember her name. The astonishing
thing about 2008, lest we forget, is that the Republican brand was so degraded that Barack Hussein Obama carried the state, not that shit still floats.
When Mitch Daniels ran for governor of Indiana in 2004, a friend and videographer got the idea of filming the candidate in vidéo vérité style as he traveled around the state in his Indiana-made RV. In both his campaigns for governor—in 2004, when he won a close race, and in 2008, when he won reelection against the Obama tide in an 18-point landslide—Daniels visited each of Indiana’s 92 counties at least three times, appearing in places that hadn’t seen a statewide candidate in generations, or ever. If he wasn’t riding the RV, he came to town on his custom-built Harley Davidson, a solitary aide trailing behind.
Pausing every so often to cut some brush. Look, let's just get this out of the way. The man's a colorless gnome with a mean streak, and his entire career consists of suckling at the government teat, except for the decade when the Hudson Institute, then Eli Lilly, hired him because of his experience suckling at the government teat. There is no fucking way any impartial, or even partly-sighted, Hoosier observer sees Mitch Daniels as Jes' Folks, as someone who'd ride in an RV, tour in an RV, be caught dead in an RV, or allow one to be parked in his neighborhood, unless he was getting something out of it. This is cornball crap Mitch Daniels has done to get elected, and one look at his face and everyone's in on the secret. Do not try to tell someone who's witnessed six years of this any different. In a state where electricity did not still qualify as a marvel for one-quarter of the population, Daniels performance in 2004 would have been classified as Astonishingly Condescending. Daniels at the Indiana State Fair, forced to chomp a boiled ear of corn while rubbing elbows with the toothless, the shirtless, and the excessively solarized was like watching the audition tape of the guy who ran second to Tony Shalhoub for the role of Monk.
He had the look of a man whose blind date smelled like dirty socks. Couldn't hide it. Not even close. The only reason he managed to get elected is that most Hoosiers are too polite to've bent down low enough to peer at his expression. And don't even start with the motorcycle thing.
He insisted on spending every night on the road in the home of a local family. Nearly all the families were strangers to him. He slept in guest rooms, family rooms, dens, and children’s bedrooms, on bunks and foldout couches, with pictures of pop stars staring from the walls and an occasional Disney mobile dangling overhead, proving to the people of his state that he could sleep anywhere.
By the way, this is about how condescending Daniels is when he
tells the story. And it's always sold as a knee-slapper the equal of Earl Butz'
crowning achievement. Which, come to think of it, it is. Mitch Daniels actually walked among these hicks! That's how bad he wanted the opportunity to straighten out their economy!
He was bit by a pig
Look, Andy--can I call you Andy?--if you wanna prove
you've been to Indiana it's "He was bit by a pig, and I seen it."
and, later, a farm dog.
Roughly coinciding with the local legend of a 3'2" wolf-like creature that walks on two legs, and, when the moon is full, swipes the wallets of unsuspecting travelers. They say you can recognize him by the pentagram on his left palm. And the comb-over.
He paid special attention to the quality of pork tenderloin sandwiches he found in the local bars and diners. Pork tenderloin sandwiches, the size of a platter, are unavoidable in Indiana, no matter how hard you try, and Daniels made it clear he didn’t want to try. Food became a theme of the campaign. The best dessert he’d discovered, he said, was a Snickers Bar dunked in pancake batter and, this being Indiana, deep-fried.
Just for the record: there's no way I'd defend the chain restaurant, fried catfish, and sausage gravy cuisine of my home state, though if anyone but Ferguson shows up I'll be glad to make you a breaded pork tenderloin that'll make you weep. But th' fuck gives Andrew Ferguson the right to sneer at it? Where's his goddam cookbook? Better yet, sneer all you want, asshole, but never pretend to speak for Middle American values, or "explain" Indiana politics. There's a deal we could all live with. Meantime, if'n you knew what you were talking about, you'd know "Deep Fried Fucking Abomination" is a sort of state fair/carnival food concessionaire version of bungee jumping, except they have to think up a new one every year, and Indiana doesn't get it until the second go-round. Deep fried Snickers bar is about as regional as Red Lobster.
His telegenic appeal is highly unlikely. He’s 5′7″.
On wheels, maybe.
His pale coloring is set off by his reddish gray hair, and the day is fast approaching when the combover will no longer be able to work its magic.
And that day is: July 20, 1977.
He favors pressed sport shirts and sharply creased Dockers, public-golf-course casual.
I'm not an expert in golf course attire, so let's just say this: if Mitch Daniels has ever played a public course in his life the term "Fundraiser" was attached. If what Mitch Daniels "favors" leads the knowledgeable student of such things to think "public
course" then the scam is working, at least somewhat. Unlike that comb-over.
his manner is just awkward enough to make you wonder, when you talk to him, if you’re making him nervous.
See, this is why you can't breeze in here and act like you know what's what (not that that was your purpose). Shoulda seen him in his first term. It took his image doctors eighteen months to get him to feign that awkwardness around lesser mortals, which, in Mitch's case, is everybody.
That "social awkwardness" is like the hitch in the speech of a life-long stutterer who's learned to navigate his difficulties while searching for a synonym he can handle; it's Mitch's way of not blurting out anything psychically revealing. His natural inclination is to let you know in no uncertain terms how insignificant you are by comparison. We in the Hoosier state watched while his handlers constructed the thing. And the mask still slips some times. (Dogs always know people better than people do, by the way.)
He is everywhere in the news all the time; when I visited Indiana last month, his picture appeared on the front page of the Indianapolis Star, above the fold, on two of the four days I was there.
Congratulations, Ferguson. You just got a Racist Beacon
editor fired for missing two days.
He is at once so visible and so self-effacing
that he seems to have sunk into a black hole of personal magnetism and come out the other side, where the very lack of charisma becomes charismatic. He is the un-Obama. Republicans—notably some wealthy and powerful ones who have decided he should be president —seem to like that.
That, and/or anything else that puts more money in their pockets. Daniels is a country-club Republican's imaginary hedge against Sarah Palin. Guaranteed to be as flexible as Bush--a few months back he was practically the only voice in the country complaining about the unfair treatment Toyota
was getting--but with the ability to form complete sentences, and the requisite Randian derangement. 'Course the fact of the matter is that Mitch knows, the guy who shaves him in the morning knows, that he's not going to be President. He knows it's going to a lot tougher to hoodwink a national audience about his Indiana "miracle"; he knows what sort of a campaigner his wife makes.
Daniels insisted at the time that 2008 would be his last campaign. He's not the first nor only politician to lie about such things; it's probably the rule, not the exception. The simple fact, though, is that in 2008 he recognized how long the odds were: he's not an attractive candidate. He's churlish. His Indiana record as trumpeted in the local press and picked up by the national is a sham, a transparent PR reminiscent of Reagan's, because that's what it was modeled on. Like Reagan's, it relies on people proclaiming Whatever Happens as the greatest possible outcome, and due entirely to the application of infallible Randian principles. And, like Reagan's, the reality is both short and long-term disaster.
Finally, and like Reagan, the actual results mean nothing whatsoever to his mouthpieces, who prefer lower growth rates, declining wages, higher unemployment, poorer job creation, and painful boom-and-bust cycles controlled by members of the Randian Brotherhood to better results from someone else. (As would the rest of us, if we were Enlightened.) Y'know, I live in Indiana. It's not like I expect the shade of Eugene V. Debs to win an election hereabouts. As I've mentioned before on those rare instances when his name comes up (modest, self-effacing man!), I didn't view the 2004 election of Mitch Daniels as a great tragedy, although the campaign had gleefully roughed up Joe Kiernan, a real
real Hoosier, war hero, and competent administrator. Oddly, for such a resoundingly Red state, Indiana Republicans are not all unbending religious maniacs. It's just the vast majority. And right off the bat Daniels pulled his "one-year surtax to reduce the deficit" routine, which I thought was evidence of potential open-mindedness, even though the wailing about state debt was contrived. That proposal, of course, lasted all of twelve hours, before Republican donors taught Mitch the facts of life. Next thing you knew he was calling minority Democrats in the General Assembly "car bombers" and going full-metal Gipper on the wasteful spending of previous (Democratic) administrations which had led us to the worst budget mess in history. That's
the Mitch Daniels the public needs to be introduced to if he's really intending to climb on the national stage.
But politics is yet to come. For now let's just note that his policies haven't been reported any more accurately than his height, or the mesmerizing effect of his hairstyling.