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February 12, 2011

Mitch Daniels...The Great Beige Hope Or Radical Revolutionary?

Much has been made about Mitch Daniels and his possible run for the presidency. Most of it has focused on his oft stated desire to focus exclusively on fiscal issues and the perilous state of the nation's finances.

Last night Daniels gave the keynote address at CPAC and there was much interest in whether or not he would expand his topics to include the normal range of issues candidates usually must address. Such a departure from his previous statements would have been seen as an indicator that he was going to bow to reality in his run.

Well, he didn't. Hot Air has the video and transcript of the speech and it was all fiscal issues, all the time. No foreign policy and no hot button social issues (in contrast to say Tim Pawlenty who made a not very subtle play to social cons in his speech by saying the country needs to, "turn towards God, not away from him." ).

Daniels is running on a technocratic platform as the serious, sober adult who will roll up his sleeves and work with anyone to get the nation's fiscal house back in order.

The problem is the reality of what he is proposing (and what the nation clearly has to confront) is anything but mild, non-controversial "common sense". Sure you can talk about how the federal government should balance its books the same way a family does but what that means in practice is a radical departure from how business has been done for generations.

But we, too, are relatively few in number, in a nation of 300 million. If freedom’s best friends cannot unify around a realistic, actionable program of fundamental change, one that attracts and persuades a broad majority of our fellow citizens, big change will not come. Or rather, big change will come, of the kind that the skeptics of all centuries have predicted for those naïve societies that believed that government of and by the people could long endure.

We know what the basic elements must be. An affectionate thank you to the major social welfare programs of the last century, but their sunsetting when those currently or soon to be enrolled have passed off the scene. The creation of new Social Security and Medicare compacts with the young people who will pay for their elders and who deserve to have a backstop available to them in their own retirement.

These programs should reserve their funds for those most in need of them. They should be updated to catch up to Americans’ increasing longevity and good health. They should protect benefits against inflation but not overprotect them. Medicare 2.0 should restore to the next generation the dignity of making their own decisions, by delivering its dollars directly to the individual, based on financial and medical need, entrusting and empowering citizens to choose their own insurance and, inevitably, pay for more of their routine care like the discerning, autonomous consumers we know them to be.

Daniels is embracing, in broad terms,the concepts of the Ryan Roadmap and in the process is suggesting a complete scraping of the current entitlement system and replacing it with something entirely different.

And what of this idea, "These programs should reserve their funds for those most in need of them"? Is that a tentative stab at means testing? Would that apply to current programs like Medicare and Social Security only these Entitlement 2.0 programs?

Put aside the various pros and cons of such proposals for a moment and consider how radical they are. This is not the work of a wonkish, old school root canal Republican.

I know people dismiss talk off charisma and style but the fact is politics is about building coalitions, building pressure from one set of groups against another to make things happens. Charismatic leadership can play an important part in that. It's easy to point to an empty suit like Obama but he had a comparatively simply task...get people excited about getting all sorts of "free" stuff. Daniels' plan is going to require people step up and get excited about taking less (at least initially). It's smart policy but the politics of making it happen are tough.

Here's my question...can a rather uninspiring, mild-mannered candidate who is running on competence and boasts about the establishment endorsements on his letterhead really lead this kind of revolution?

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posted by DrewM. at 02:43 PM

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