Bench Memos

In Defense of Governor Daniels

Over at The Corner, Yuval Levin — with whom I am extremely reluctant to disagree — takes my governor, Mitch Daniels, to task for his use of words like “truce” and “mute” in connection with what some call “the social issues.” Now, I confess: As a resident of Indiana, I am a fan of Governor Daniels. In particular, I regard him as one of most powerful voices among elected officials for meaningful education reform, which includes, of course, assistance to low-income children attending religious and parochial schools. At the same time, I like to think that my pro-life credentials are pretty solid. I believe that our abortion-law regime is deeply unjust, that unborn children are fully members of the human family, and that any serious commitment to human equality requires extending the law’s protections to these most vulnerable among us.

Many of those who criticize Governor Daniels’s use of “truce” seem to think — incorrectly, in my view — that it reflects a lack of pro-life commitment on his part or a dangerous naïveté about the real-world political and other battles that elected officials — including the president — have to fight, in order to help us become the political community that we should be, that is, a political community in which unborn children are welcomed in life and protected in law. I would not, to be clear, support Mitch Daniels (or anyone else) for president if I thought that he did not understand and appreciate that a pro-life president cannot really call a truce — there are judges to nominate, executive orders to issue, cabinet and other important positions to fill, foreign relations and policy to conduct, and a bully pulpit to be employed.

It seems to me, though, that if we look at Governor Daniels’s record — in particular, his record on judicial appointments — we don’t find any reason to think that “truce” means for him “caving on the merits” or “downgrading the seriousness of the issue.” He does not strike me as one of those — and, of course, there are those — who thinks that our politics would be better if only the irritating pro-lifers would get out of politics, or who imagines that there is a future for a Republican party that wavers or backtracks, in order to seem “moderate,” on such a basic, fundamental human-rights question.

Like Yuval, I would prefer that Governor Daniels add a sentence — one that, I believe, reflects his views, record, and plans — along the lines of “but if a fight is forced on us, I would obviously want (or be) a president who stands up for the sanctity of human life.”  Yuval is also correct to note, though, that “Daniels’s record on [pro-life] issues suggests he considers them important, and is not in doubt about where he stands.” After all, Daniels is right: There are pressing issues involving borrowing, taxing, and spending that today have to be at the center of our current political (and electoral) conversations.

The salience of these issues is certainly not a reason to embrace a candidate who is not pro-life, but it is a reason to look for, and embrace, pro-life candidates who are plausible and successful when it comes to fiscal matters, management, and education. It would be a mistake, I believe, for conservatives to confuse Governor Daniels with those candidates, past and present, who are embarrassed by or uninterested in the pro-life cause, and to exclude him from their admiration and very serious consideration.

— Richard W. Garnett is a professor of law and associate dean at the Notre Dame Law School.


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