Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address was succinct and set the table for the 2012 election contest. He hit early the president’s dreadful record on the debt: “In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt. And, yet, the president has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead. The federal government now spends one of every four dollars in the entire economy; it borrows one of every three dollars it spends. No nation, no entity, large or small, public or private, can thrive, or survive intact, with debts as huge as ours.”
Daniels argued that this irresponsible accumulation of debt has been a drag on the economy. He was blunt about the president’s failure on job creation: “He seems to sincerely believe we can build a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars. In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class, and those who hope to join it.”
He pressed back against the president’s redistributive approach to governance. (“As Republicans our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life’s ladder. We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have nots; we must always be a nation of haves and soon to haves.”)
As a governor of the opposition party, he was, by necessity, rather general in his policy proposals. But the basic outlines of the GOP agenda were there.
His toughest language was reserved for the president’s failure to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline: “The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy. It must be replaced by a passionate pro-growth approach that breaks all ties and calls all close ones in favor of private-sector jobs that restore opportunity for all and generate the public revenues to pay our bills.”
On tax policy he urged that rates be lowered and loopholes eliminated. On entitlements he chastised the defenders of the status quo. (“The mortal enemies of Social Security and Medicare are those who, in contempt of the plain arithmetic, continue to mislead Americans that we should change nothing.”) The details will have to be supplied by Congress and/or the presidential contender.
He indicted the president’s divisive rhetoric (“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others”) and deplored policies that promote dependency.
Daniels is poised and serious, but his speech lacked the soaring themes that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sounded last year. His tone nevertheless should serve as a model for less sober conservatives. He was business-like, avoiding personal slams at the president and urging Republicans to be the mature, positive voices for growth and fiscal sobriety.
Should the GOP retake the White House, he would be a fine addition to the cabinet or White House staff. For now, he’d have more influence if he’d speak out on the GOP candidates’ proposals and rhetoric. His views are worthy of consideration, but his reticence renders him a non-factor in national politics, at least for now.