I cheered when the Indiana legislature passed an automatic state refund by which unspent money was returned to taxpayers at the end of the fiscal year. If only other states followed Daniels’s example! Governors across the country, as well as congressmen and bureaucrats active in transportation policy, also could learn a lot from his successful privatization of the Indiana Toll Road.
And yet as I read these passages I couldn’t help feeling angry and betrayed. For the structure, tone, and narrative of Keeping the Republic is exactly that which I have come to expect from books written by a major politician at the start of a great campaign. In this sort of book, the author devotes the first part to laying out the mess the country is in, the second part to a record of his achievements in dealing with smaller messes, and the final part to his prospective agenda for cleaning everything up.
The unwritten final sentence of such books is: “And that’s why I’m running for president.” But Daniels’s is the exception. Because he announced last May that he wouldn’t run for president, this otherwise wonderful story ends in something of an anticlimax. Keeping the Republic is a campaign book with no candidate.
Daniels had his reasons for not running: Family is more important than politics, and the Daniels family was against a presidential bid. Still, for those of us who remain more than a little disappointed in our options for president, the appearance of Keeping the Republic is nothing less than a provocation: Here, between two covers, is yet another reminder that the nation’s most accomplished governor, with experience in the private sector as well as in state and federal government, a man with a sharp mind, a decent character, and knowledge of the drivers of our debt, voluntarily removed himself from contention for our highest office.
At this writing, no candidate has followed what one might call the “Daniels Model”: calm, collected, straight-shooting, and self-deprecating analysis of the causes of and potential solutions to the gusher of spending coming from Washington. There’s plenty of bluster, to be sure. There’s more than enough red meat. There are even, if you look hard enough, policies to improve the economic outlook, reduce spending, and create jobs.
What the field still lacks, however, is a voice prepared to level with the country about the size of the debt and the tough decisions necessary to put America on a sustainable trajectory. Neither Paul Ryan nor Chris Christie answered the call. Rick Perry, to his credit, has been willing to speak provocatively about Social Security and Medicare. Michele Bachmann is implacable in her opposition to Obamacare. But, at any gathering of 2012 Republican presidential candidates, there is always a missing man: someone such as the governor of Indiana.
The Republican contenders are all decent people with impressive résumés. There’s a fair chance one of them will be the next president. And — this is to their credit — most of them would be unwilling to accept the “social truce” Daniels proposes. As far back as May 2010, Daniels said that conservatives might have to declare a truce on such issues as abortion in order to unite the country in a fight against the red menace. As he puts it here, “It does not belittle at all the importance of the social issues to point out that, in terms of the survival of the American experiment, they do not rival the Red Menace and the related dangers we face from our overwhelming debt.”
But is this really true? There are many people — millions of them, in fact — who believe that the human toll of 30-plus years of abortion on demand has been far more damaging to the American character and polity than spending too much money on health care for seniors. At a Republican debate in August, Michele Bachmann got it exactly right when she pointed out that “you can get money wrong, but you can’t get life wrong.” To disarm unilaterally in the middle of a decades-old fight — a fight that has coincided, uncoincidentally, with Republican success at the polls — would be not only wrong but foolish.