Mitch Daniels, A Serious Man


I don’t know if you are a fan of the Coen brothers (I am); it was from their 2010 movie “A Serious Man” that I learned that is the literal meaning of the Yiddish word “mensch,” as in “He’s a real mensch!”

And so Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels is.

He gave the keynote address at the CPAC banquet last night honoring Ronald Reagan.

Phyllis Schlafly introduced George Will who introduced Mitch Daniels (a kind of visual iconography of conservative unity that was surely not unintended).  George Will said Daniels offered “conservatism for grownups.” (He also called him the “thinking man’s Marlon Brando” who has the “charisma of competence.” Also that Mitch was the only politician he has ever heard make a predestination joke.)

Unlike any other presidential contender so far, Mitch Daniels made a point of running on his record as governor: “I bring greetings from a place called Indiana. We hoosiers hold to some quaint notions. . . we believe in paying our bills, we’ve kept our state in the black. . .by practicing an old tribal ritual: we spend less money than we take in.”

Mitch Daniels’ great theme was the urgent, mathematical need to cut spending seriously—or face a national economic crisis of humongous proportions. He called on all of us to unify around facing what he dubbed “the new Red Menace—this time of red ink.”

(The old Red Menace, for my younger readers, was Communism).

As the greatest generation rose up to defeat Nazism and Communism, he wishes us to rise up to right—our own profligate impulses. Once again he called for a truce on the social issues:

“If a foreign power advanced an army to the border of this nation, everyone in this room would drop everything and look for a way to help. We would set aside all other agendas and disputes as secondary. . . that is what those of us here, and every possible ally we can persuade to join us, are now called to do—it is our generational assignment,” he said.

Again he said “We don’t have a prayer of defeating the Red Threat of our generation without a long boom of almost unprecedented duration. Every other goal, however worthy, must be tested against and often subordinated to actions that spur the faster expansion of the private sector on which all else depends.”

There was no mention of the life issue at all. In fact there was only one hint of care about social issues in his speech—and it was a telling nod, to the importance of “family formation”:

“I urge with great care not to drift into a loss of faith in the American people. In speech after speech, article upon article, we remind each other how many are dependent on government, or how few pay taxes, or how much essential virtues like family formation or civic education have withered. All true. All worrisome. But we must never yield to the self-fulfilling despair that these problems are immutable, or insurmountable ... all great enterprises have a pearl of faith at their core, and this must be ours: that Americans are still a people born to liberty. That they retain the capacity for self-government. That, addressed as free-born, autonomous men and women of God-given dignity, they will rise again to drive back a mortal enemy.”

In his introduction, George Will brought up Gov. Daniels’ views on “social issues”, saying Daniels believes “We divorce too often, and increasingly do not bother with marriage.”

I appreciated George Will raising this, because of course both men are divorced.

But here’s one difference between Mitch Daniels and virtually every other man I know who has ever divorced: Mitch Daniels' wife left him with four girls in Indiana, moved to California, married a surgeon, realized her mistake, re-divorced and Mitch Daniels remarried her.

Like I said, a serious man.

Grading Mitch Daniels' speech

On Life: D
On Marriage: D+
On Social Conservatism: F

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