News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 25, 2011

MARK BENNETT: Daniels goes where a candidate probably won’t in new book

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

---- — Some things simply won’t get said on the political campaign trail.

Such ideas are either too boring, too complicated or too easily avoided. They don’t inspire angry rants or raucous cheers. They’re not witty one-liners or sound-byte put-downs based on exaggeration or over-simplification.

Instead, this type of commentary leads us to think first before reacting. It can’t adequately be answered with knee-jerk responses.

A cynic might presume that Mitch Daniels wrote his new book, “Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans,” to land the vice presidential spot on the 2012 Republican national ticket. He denied that was his motive for writing the book, which was released last week. Who knows if that’s where the term-limited, outgoing Indiana governor is headed? Daniels already has turned down calls for him to enter the GOP race for president, abiding by the wishes of his family. Their concerns about privacy would seem to apply to the VP job, too.

But, at least at the moment of the book’s release, Daniels had the luxury of speaking his mind without fearing his words could damage his chances of winning votes in an impending campaign.

To be sure, “Keeping the Republic” contains nothing that would fatally harm Daniels’ potential to someday seek a national office.

Yet, it does present some concepts that would not quickly attract legions of supporters. He even admits some mistakes — a departure from the prevailing “I’m-right-so-deal-with-it” mentality of the current Republican presidential hopefuls. (Not surprisingly, though, Daniels’ concession list does not include his unnecessary expansion of taxpayer-funded vouchers for private-school tuition fees and charter schools.)

In “Keeping the Republic,” he goes where a candidate probably won’t.

Daniels chides his fellow Republicans’ inflammatory use of the term “death panels” in the debate over President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act and seizing on the notion that the government would fund counseling for a family facing a choice between hospice care and “attempting heroic measures.” He wishes his party members would’ve presented their own better answer to a dilemma that Daniels says must be addressed.

“When the question is, ‘Shall we try a hugely expensive and probably futile procedure, and send the bill to someone else?’ there really is no trade-off, and therefore no real choice,” he writes. “Of course, try everything. We are all human and want to live forever, along with our loved ones. But the collision of an infinite want, for immortality, with finite resources — namely, what society has available — in an era of incredibly expensive new technologies, is bankrupting us all and devouring the next generation’s prospects.”

Thought-provoking, but not exactly bumper sticker material.

Most Hoosiers are quite familiar with Daniels’ single-mindedness about lean public budgets and low taxes. That reputation includes his push to cap property taxes, a move that brought unintended consequences, such as the sad closing of four branches of the Vigo County Public Library. Clearly, he’s not a fan of big taxes. Yet, he writes this about uncompromising opposition to any tax increase: “To drift into the viewpoint that opposes any tax, at any time, at any level, is illogical and unjustifiable. Hewing this inflexibility to this position when the nation faces fiscal catastrophe is worse; it is the triumph of blind ideology over patriotism.”

The House GOP members of Congress, with their tea party support at stake, won’t appplaud that statement.

He emphasizes the need to carefully focus on the largest facets of the federal budget and debt — Social Security and Medicare, as well as defense spending. “There is no path to national survival that leaves Social Security and Medicare as they are,” he writes. “People who will continue to disagree strenuously about other things will have to unite around some sort of rescue plan. If it comes to the second or third best way, sign me up.”

Unity? Compromise? Why do that when it’s so much easier to attack?

And, speaking of America’s social safety net, Daniels acknowledges the elephant in the room regarding the rising poverty rates. The U.S. rate — with 15.1 percent of the population living at or below the poverty level — is the highest since 1993. Indiana’s rate is even higher, at 16.3 percent. “It is beyond argument that the breakdown of the traditional family over recent decades is a huge contributor to virtually every heartbreaking social pathology we face, and to economic difficulties,” he writes. “Crime, drugs, educational failure, and especially poverty are all directly and indisputably linked to lower levels of family formation and higher levels of divorce.”

He insists, though, that such a pervasive problem “cannot be an excuse for acquiescence or inaction in the face of an unacceptable situation.”

Finally, the governor praises Hoosiers’ decency and generosity, but also gives a realistic view of the Indiana’s present.

“I am not starry-eyed about our progress as a state, which is spotty and partial, or about us as a people,” he writes. “We have behaved in selfish, indulgent, and shortsighted ways in our recent past. The story of our recent improvement, and of our relatively sound management of the public’s business compared with that of other states, is simply that we have engaged in a somewhat more mature dialogue of citizenship. I hope that the outcome encourages those pessimistic about the readiness of Americans everywhere to listen to calm reason, accept the need for tradeoffs, and set our nation back on the course of greatness of which we are fully capable.”

Mature dialogue. Calm reason. Tradeoffs. A presidential campaign strategist would pop a blood vessel at such talk.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or