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June 11, 2010

The Mitch Daniels "Truce"

Here's what Daniels said:

This morning, at the Heritage Foundation, I asked Daniels if that meant the next president shouldn't push issues like stopping taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare or reinstating the Mexico City Policy banning federal funds to overseas groups that perform abortions. Daniels replied that we face a "genuine national emergency" regarding the budget and that "maybe these things could be set aside for a while. But this doesn't mean anybody abandons their position at all. Everybody just stands down for a little while, while we try to save the republic."

To clarify whether Daniels simply wants to de-emphasize these issues or actually not act on them, I asked if, as president, he would issue an executive order to reinstate Reagan's "Mexico City Policy" his first week in office. (Obama revoked the policy during his first week in office.) Daniels replied, "I don't know."

He's going to have to eat those last words and repudiate them.

Reaction from conservative opinion-leaders.

So, what does a "truce" mean to Mitch Daniels? I'll tell you what I think it means to him: I think he doesn't know what it means, because I think this is an inchoate thought offered on the spur of the moment without having worked out the implications of it or some kind of rigorous plan for its implementation. I read it as more of a "Wouldn't it be smart to put off some questions to focus on those of immediate criticality?" without having actually worked out what this would mean in practical terms.

I kind of do know what he means. Instapundit used to annoy me by constantly linking support of the War to his general (good-faith) desire to end (or at least begin a tactical withdrawal from) the war on drugs. He would note, say, that legislators were working on some law to reduce the use of Ecstasy, and say something like "I guess we won the war when I wasn't looking."

This annoyed me because it seemed -- to me -- that in the guise of advancing a Critical Priority, he was also attempting to advance a very low priority item (decriminalizing drug use). I mean, even if you agree with the general tenets of decriminalization (as I have come closer and closer to doing these last two or three years), you have to admit: It's not as if America's going to fall apart if we don't act on that right now.

But he made it sound as if those on the Drug Warrior side of things were using the war to their advantage, that is, they were using the pretext of a the War on Terrorism to advance their own War on Drug agenda, leveraging a serious, immediate crisis to advance a secondary one that could be gotten to later. But it seemed to me he was doing the exact same thing, just, as they say, on the other side. That is, that he was attempting, expressly, to leverage support for the War into support for a low-priority item, decriminalization.

I was annoyed by this, and if you asked me, I would have said something like Mitch Daniels did: Can't we just put aside this very secondary policy item to focus on the Big Picture? But if you followed up and asked me, "But what does 'put this aside' mean in actual practice?," I would have confessed, "Gee, I don't really know."

Because in truth, I thought the Drug Warriors were justified in continuing their efforts to fight the war on drugs. And in truth, I also felt Instapundit was justified in continuing his long fight against the Drug Warriors.

So I didn't really want either party to give up their basic beliefs, to actually abandon their beliefs for the good of the war effort. Sure, I could say that Instapundit should get with the program and stop agitating the status quo, but that would be too easy; after all, since I was more on the Drug Warrior side, it would have been very easy for me to tell someone who disagrees with me to give up his beliefs for the greater good I had in mind.

And, on his end, it was sort of easy for him to say those who believe drugs a serious scourge should give up their beliefs for the greater good, too.

So what the hell did this inchoate thought of mine mean? What did it mean, when I would get annoyed with Instapundit's agitation for a decriminalization movement, when I thought Is this really something we need to deal with right now?

I didn't know what it meant. I hadn't worked it out. An obvious answer would be that I meant "No one should attempt to alter the status quo in any direction at all until we win the war," but that seemed ridiculous to me -- certainly I wasn't opposing Bush's second round of tax cuts just because we had a war on and that was the top priority.

It was just an emotional impulse without rigorous thinking behind it.

Every politician, at some point, says something along the lines of, "We must rise above our petty differences and unite to bring about what we need to do for our children." But what the hell does that mean? Does that mean a liberal politician intends to stop agitating for extended union power to "unite" on our children's future? Does that mean a conservative intends to stop talking about tax cuts and deregulating business?

I don't think they're lying when they say this, because I don't think they've figured out what they hell they mean to a degree of specificity where it even could be a lie.

Some statements can't be lies, because they are so meaningless and vague and incoherent as to be non-falsifiable. As scientists say about a wack-a-doo theory that's so off-book it doesn't even make sense: It's not even wrong. It doesn't rise to the level where you can even categorize it as "wrong."

I think that's all that's going on with Mitch Daniels. I don't think this represents some well thought-out plan to sell out the social cons. I think it was an idle thought, of the kind that I have often had, without really knowing what he meant.

As Rodney King said, "Can't we all just get along?" He didn't really know what that meant, either -- but he meant it just the same.

I'm a supporter of Daniels (and Pence, and Thune, and a lot of other people, actually), and so I hope he can put this particular fire out. I'd like as many strong candidates with broad acceptability to the base as possible in 2012, so we're choosing according to who we like most rather than who we hate least (a savage process-of-elimination that resulted in our nominating the plainly unsuitable John McCain last time 'round -- I'd prefer my hand not be so forced again in 2012).

But he has made a fire here, and he does need to stamp it out before it consumes him. That particular statement where he did, in fact, get unwisely particular -- that he didn't know if he'd re-reverse the Mexico City policy (something every president who takes over for a president from the other party does in the first hour of office; it's automatic, man) -- has to be repudiated.

I don't want Daniels disqualifying himself from serious consideration so early in the process.

He will have to learn that when a reporter like John McCormack has his tape-recorder and notepad out, it's not a good time for him to indulge in idle, inchoate thought-balloons.



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posted by Ace at 01:05 PM

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