Friday, August 20, 2010

Our man, Mitch

The Economist profiles Governor Mitch Daniels. Despite their patronizing subtitle, "Can he save the Republicans from themselves and provide a pragmatic alternative to Barack Obama?" it is a relatively glowing profile. Might Daniels be the type of conservative that elite liberals may even like? The Economist ends with a comparison to Barack Obama.
Mr Daniels still insists he is unlikely to run for president. But he has a familiar post-partisan sheen, not unlike a certain former senator—though he is more conservative, shorter and much balder. He likes to talk about a “programme of unusual boldness” that unites the parties and sets America back on track. “Supposedly we are not capable of making decisions like this,” Mr Daniels said, grinning as he smacked a stubborn bottle of ketchup. “But somebody has got to try.”
Au contraire. Mitch Daniels is the anti-Obama. He focuses on wonky solutions to spending gaps with a fierce determination to get government out of areas it shouldn't be involved in. He doesn't rely on an ephemeral charisma based on nothing more than a few speeches and a fawning press. He actually has spent his life rolling up his sleeves and accomplishing things.
Over the years he has worked for Richard Lugar, Indiana’s respected and moderate senior senator, served as Ronald Reagan’s budget director, run North American operations for Eli Lilly, a big pharmaceuticals firm, and, from 2001 to 2003, served as George Bush’s budget director. To these jobs he brought a decidedly dorky passion: a reverence for restraint and efficacy. This pervades his life. At 61, he runs or swims almost every day. He subsists, it seems, largely on oatmeal. On a recent shopping trip his credit card was declined for “unusual activity”. He is, in short, just the kind of man to relish fixing a broken state—or country....

Mr Daniels is at ease, an unusual politician who does not seem like one. He criss-crossed the state in an RV decorated with his slogan, “My Man Mitch”, and soon covered with signatures. He ate pork and watched baseball in the shadow of Gary’s steel mills. He stayed in private homes, first to save money on hotels, then because he liked it and his hosts seemed to as well. (He continues this even now, sleeping in children’s rooms, cramped Latino households and even more crowded Amish ones, often riding between them on his beloved Harley.) In November 2004 he won, by 53% to 45%.

Mr Daniels oozed with ideas. He introduced merit pay for public workers and performance metrics for state agencies. Indiana’s counties skittered illogically between two time zones, so he reset the state’s clocks. A toll road was losing money, so he oversaw a $3.85 billion lease to foreign investors. He was not dogmatic. In his first year he proposed a tax increase. He shrank the state workforce but increased the number of case workers for children. He passed a health plan that included private accounts for the poor.
As a result of his governance, Indiana is surviving the recession in much better shape than its rusty neighbors. Come on, does that sound at all like Barack Obama?

Perhaps he's too sane to run for the presidency. But could he come govern my state for a term?