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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mitch Daniels - the un-Obama

Andrew Ferguson profiles Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana. I think I've found a politician I could support whole-heartedly. Daniels is described as the un-Obama because "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." If he's the un-Obama, it's because of his understanding of the role of government and his dedication to achieving that goal.
Daniels gathered his agency heads on his first day and told them they were henceforth to pursue a single organizational goal—all successful businesses unite their efforts behind a goal, he said. His was this: “We will do everything we can to raise the net disposable income of individual Hoosiers.”
And he is working in ways big and small to achieve that goal.
He treats waste in government as a moral offense. “Government isn’t a business, and it shouldn’t be run as a business,” he said. “But it can be more like business. It has a lot to learn from businessmen.” Government operates without the market pressures that produce efficiency and increase quality. The challenge for government leaders is to produce those pressures to economize internally, through an act of will. “Never take a dollar from a free citizen through the coercion of taxation without a very legitimate purpose,” he said in an interview last year. “We have a solemn duty to spend that dollar as carefully as possible, because when we took it we diminished that person’s freedom.” When you put it like that, overspending by government seems un-American.

When Daniels took office, in 2004, the state faced a $200 million deficit and hadn’t balanced its budget in seven years. Four years later, all outstanding debts had been paid off; after four balanced budgets, the state was running a surplus of $1.3 billion, which has cushioned the blows from a steady decline in revenues caused by the recession. “That’s what saved us when the recession hit,” one official said. “If we didn’t have the cash reserves and the debts paid off, we would have been toast.” The state today is spending roughly the same amount that it was when Daniels took office, largely because he resisted the budget increases other states were indulging in the past decade.

No other state in the Midwest—all of them, like Indiana, dependent on a declining manufacturing sector—can match this record. Venture capital investment in Indiana had lagged at $39 million annually in the first years of this decade. By 2009 it was averaging $94 million. Even now the state has continued to add jobs—7 percent of new U.S. employment has been in Indiana this year, a state with 2 percent of the country’s population. For the first time in 40 years more people are moving into the state than leaving it. Indiana earned its first triple-A bond rating from Standard and Poor’s in 2008; the other two major bond rating agencies concurred in April 2010, making it one of only nine states with this distinction, and one of only two in the Midwest.

Indiana, Daniels likes to say, is the “peony in the parking lot.”
It's almost Biblical - saving in the fat years so that you have something left to help you in the lean years. How few politicians practice that.

I love that, in answer to criticisms that he is squeezing education, he provides citizens with the tools to demand good habits from their local school districts.
n fact, the governor’s office has publicized a “Citizens’ Checklist” that people can take to their local school boards to see if school officials have made every possible economy. Citizens in Vincennes need to take that list and get answers, he said. The list is filled with questions. Have the administrators “eliminated memberships in professional associations and reduced travel expenses”? Have they “sold, leased, or closed underutilized buildings”? Have they “outsourced transportation and custodial services”?

“I want citizens to understand,” he said. “When people start demanding we spend more money, they’re saying, ‘We want to raise your taxes.’ And the citizens should say, ‘Okay, tell me. Which one of my taxes do you want to raise?’ ”
Can you imagine if every school board meeting or demand for increased taxes to pay for education was met with such questions?

If only we had more governors capable of acting this way throughout the country. We have a few who are making a start, but the economic collapse is forcing voters to look for more such politicians whose main goal is increasing citizens' net disposable income rather than looking to government to supply all needs. I just fear that the states in real distress like California, Michigan, or New York has been so long in the control of the public employees' unions and liberal politicians that it is institutionally impossible to enact the sorts of changes that Daniels has been able to put in place in Indiana. For example, how many governors would have the power unilaterally to do this?
The reforms began instantly. On his first day Daniels reversed an executive order signed by a Democratic predecessor granting collective bargaining rights to state employees. Union membership plummeted overnight. “I think they were happy to have the extra thousand dollars that would have gone to dues,” Kitchell said. Decertifying the public-employees’ union has spared Indiana pressures that have crippled other state governments. Unhindered by union demands, the governor instituted a “pay for performance” scheme, rewarding state employees who met explicit goals with raises ranging from 4 percent to 10 percent. The salaries of underperforming employees stayed flat. No one was fired, but every time a job went vacant a supervisor had to justify hiring a replacement. The number of state employees has fallen from 35,000 to under 30,000, back where it was in 1982.
The man is a contrast to President Obama because, unlike Obama whose main claim to executive experience was running his presidential campaign, Daniels has actually worked and led in private business and in government. Another way that he is the un-Obama is his ability to relate to and befriend ordinary folks in the most natural of ways. Ferguson describes how Daniels rides his motorcycle around the state and when he stops to eat, he goes right up to people in the diners and fast food joints and sits down to talk to them about how things are going in their lives. Somehow, I find it hard to picture the cerebral Obama sitting down at a truck stop to talk to people that he privately disdains as bitterly clinging to their guns and religion. Yet Daniels seems to do this naturally and continually. Of course, a president can't go down the highway on his motorcycle, but he can engage in more than photo op encounters with ordinary folks.

Ferguson goes on to discuss Daniels' presidential prospects. It is not clear that Daniels would even run for president. Though he's said several times that he isn't interested in the job, his words are similar to his protests that he wouldn't run for governor before he actually did throw his hat into the ring. And even if he were elected I fear that the national bureaucracy would be a much tougher nut to crack than that in Indiana. We've had presidents since Jimmy Carter talk about how they were going to come to Washington and reorganize or reinvent government. They've been vowing to cut waste, fraud, and abuse for decades and the size of the federal government inexorably goes up and up. Could a President Daniels stem that growth? I don't know, but it would be a lot of fun to watch him trying.


mark said...

Daniels might have a bit of baggage, serving as Director of OMB under GWB. He helped blow through the surplus that Clinton handed Bush. So much for "saving in the fat years to help you in the lean years.

ic said...

No Hope and Change?

tfhr said...


So much for you ever understanding that Congress has some sort of part in spending. Do you know what that is, by chance?

John Hudock said...

There is another governor who gets it. The illustrious Chris Christie from my neighboring state of New Jersey. He is making a serious attempt to cut through the years of political ineptness and corruption that has been a hallmark of Jersey pols.

mark said...

I'm always amused how far you'll go to defend Bush and his administration. You do realize he set the agenda, and the republican-led congress got it through? What role did Daniels have? Perhaps he spoke out against it. I think his re-birth as a true fiscal conservative came when he was elected governor.
But your pathetic defense of Bush doesn't surprise me. If you're willing to betray your fellow troops, I guess throwing a repub congress under the bus is nothing to you.

Tacitus Voltaire said...

tfhr said...

So much for you ever understanding that Congress has some sort of part in spending. Do you know what that is, by chance?

democratic president, republican congress - boom and surplus

republican president, same congress - deficit and crash


oh, by the way - a while ago i asked you all if you knew how bush financed the iraq and afghanistan wars, and how much the total cost was

you answered incorrectly at the time. have you bothered to find out the real answer yet?

Pat Patterson said...

Sorry, no surplus as the 2000FY showed a deficit of $17.4 billion and the next year Clinton's 2001FY shot up 7.4 times to $133.29 billion. But there was that little matter of the economy almost imploding after 9/11 which meant at least 2002FY the deficit grew again. But there was no deficit when Clinton was in office except it did decline because of a Republican congress and then when Bush was in office the Republican majority started behaving just like the Democrats before and after a twelve year interruption in their majority.

No surplus!

Bachbone said...

Clinton's OMB Directors were no middle-roaders. Leon Panetta's ADA ratings (when he was in Congress) were generally in the high 90s. Alice Rivlin was a constant, very outspoken critic of Reagan's tax cuts. (One can imagine her recommendations to Clinton on how to get his "surplus.") Franklin Raines is already well known for his Fannie Mae machinations.) Jacob Lew was a Tip O'Neill advisor, and when OMB Director, also advised Clinton on domestic and international policies, and was on the National Security Council, which causes one to wonder exactly how much time he actually spent on OMB matters. But as mark suggests (we can't read minds), perhaps they all advised Clinton to follow his "conservative instincts" and set a balanced budget agenda, or even one with a surplus. If they did, he didn't set that agenda and pull his leftist colleagues to it. Since I can't read minds, it's entirely possible Daniels has been "a true fiscal conservative" all along. One thing we do know is he was at OMB after 9/11, which required increased military spending when the whole nation demanded a response to the terrorists. When Clinton was fighting them, he almost depleted the supply of cruise missiles tossing them at empty tents and an aspirin factory.

Bush and a GOP Congress have been roundly criticized on these pages for many things, including by tfhr. Pointing out that Congress controls spending hardly constitutes denigrating the military. But tossing a red herring (e.g., "betray your fellow troops") is an old method of trying to shift attention away from a topic when you're out of relevant ammo.

tfhr said...


Well said.

tfhr said...


You need a new meme. The Soros "betrayus" riff is getting old and was ridiculous from the start but if you want to keep on embarrassing yourself with that, go ahead.

tfhr said...


When did I ever provide a wrong answer to that question? Are you sure you asked me that?

I defer to Pat Patterson's response on the topic of budget surpluses.

Locomotive Breath said...

"the surplus that Clinton handed Bush"

I remember when Clinton shut down the government to force a balanced budget. Oh, wait. That was Newt Gingrich. Clinton opposed the cuts that balanced the budget.

The other thing that Clinton handed Bush was a massive terrorist attack just waiting for the signal to "go".

mark said...

Thanks for the history of Clinton OMB directors, but the original post is about Daniels (so much for shifting attention away from a topic).
You and others are trying to re-write history. For the first seven years, repubs were nearly silent about spending: tax cuts without offsetting spending cuts, medicare bill, financing two wars. It wasn't unil 2007, when the damage was obvious, that repubs criticized Bush.
Bush/Cheney used 9/11 to tag any opposition as un-American, whether it was foreign or domestic policies. (We still see it today, as any calls for regulation are equated with being anti-capitalist/socialist.) tfhr was one of the worst offenders with his moronic "spitting on the troops" idiocy. You wrote that he "roundly criticized Bush", yet in his post to me, he absolved Bush (and Daniels) for the spending and put it all on Congress. You yourself tied in 9/11 to justify spending. What did 9/11 have to do with tax cuts and the medicare prescription bill?
So back to the original post: Without bringing up other OMB directors, why is Daniels immune from blame for the excesses of the Bush administration?

tfhr said...


You're frothing again.

I "absolved" no one. I just reminded you that there is more to this government and it's spending than any one person or position. Understand?

With regard to what one person can do when in a leadership role, if you're concerned about Daniels, look at his record as governor. Or is that what you're afraid of?

Now run along and keep watch through the blinds for the Feds to show up and arrest you for your 9-11 anti-American hate speech. We've had a terrible backlog quelling dissent and apologize for the delay. It would help us to locate you if you'd make a phone call. Just order a pizza and make sure that you say you want ammonium nitrate as a topping and we'll be there in 30 minutes or less. Guaranteed.

mark said...

Apology accepted.