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Tilting at Windmills

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February 27, 2011

THE RECORD MITCH DANIELS DOESN'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT.... A couple of days ago, David Brooks praised Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) for his record of fiscal responsibility. That record, in Brooks' vision, starts in 2004 when Daniels was elected to statewide office.

But there's also that inconvenient period in which Daniels was Bush's budget director, and the U.S. government began the most fiscally irresponsible period in American history. Amanda Terkel reports this morning:

On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace pressed Daniels on this point. "When you came in, this country had an annual surplus for the first time in 30 years of $236 billion. When you left, two and a half years later, the deficit was $400 billion. You were also there when President Bush launched his Medicaid drug benefit plan that now cost $60 billion a year. I know there was a recession, but do you think it was wise -- at a time when we were fighting two wars -- to have two tax cuts and launch a huge new entitlement?"

Daniels said deficits during that time were inevitable. "It was a recession, two wars and a terrorist attack that led to a whole new category called homeland security," he said. "So nobody was less happy than I to see the surplus go away, but it was going away."

This fails on a whole lot of levels. It's true that Daniels, as Bush's budget director, was helping shape the books during an economic downturn, but I seem to recall Republicans concluding that these details are irrelevant -- Obama inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, but as far as the GOP is concerned, that's not a good excuse for large deficits.

For that matter, Daniels is correct that his tenure also included 9/11 and the launch of two wars, but every president in American history raised taxes to help pay for previous U.S. wars, to prevent deficits from spiraling out of control. Bush, with Daniels' blessing, approved two massive tax cuts that ultimately added $5 trillion to the debt in just eight years.

It's that same debt that Daniels believes will destroy the country. Funny, he didn't think that way when he was directly responsible for making the problem worse.

Daniels went on to tell Fox News this morning that we shouldn't even count his record from this era: "[I]f you want to know what I think about fiscal issues, don't look at 2 1/2 years when I was in the supporting cast with no vote. Look at six years where I was in a responsible position, submitting budgets and fighting for them."

In other words, when evaluating Daniels for federal office, just pay no attention to his only federal experience.

That's not going to work. Daniels backed tax packages that didn't work and were a disaster for the budget; he backed putting the costs of wars onto the national charge card in a way no previous administration ever had; and he backed expanding the federal role in health care without paying for it.

What's more, when Daniels has tried to brush all of this aside, he's used "stunningly fraudulent" excuses.

I realize Daniels has somehow become the "thinking man's" preferred GOP presidential candidate, but I'm afraid this crowd is backing the wrong horse.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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...I'm afraid this crowd is backing the wrong horse.

should read...

...I'm afraid this crowd is backing the wrong horse's ass!

Mitch Daniels is a corporately owned tool. Unfortunately for him, he p!ssed off his owners when last Monday he talked the Indiana House repukes into withdrawing their union busting bill.

If Mitch had not upset his owners, do you believe that both his past drug arrest history and a Fox softball pitcher would have questioned him about his role in creating our deficits would have taken place?

Coincidences anyone?

Posted by: SadOldVet on February 27, 2011 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

"That's not going to work...." Because the Liberal Media will question him aggressively on it and not let him talk around the questions. Oh, they won't? Wellthen, it might work, mightn't it?

Posted by: Greg Worley on February 27, 2011 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

If I was Mitch Daniels I would spin the facts this way: "What we painfully learned during my tenure with the Bush administration is that stimulus spending doesn't work. We proved that you can't spend your way to prosperity."

Of course I wouldn't mention the tax cuts but if pushed I'd say, "Those tax cuts put money in the hands of investors who make our economy grow. The trouble wasn't that we cut taxes, the trouble was that we didn't cut them enough."

For the record, I think the spin is all just faith-based economics, but I think you'll hear similar lines.

Posted by: tomb on February 27, 2011 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

In other words, when evaluating Daniels for federal office, just pay no attention to his only federal experience.

This will work like a charm.

There, fixed that for you. Daniels is banking on voters both being stupid and having short memories. Recent history shows that these are as close to sure bets as you could possibly make.


Posted by: Zorro on February 27, 2011 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Krugman's open letter to Daniels, August 2001:

Posted by: Linkmeister on February 27, 2011 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Right now the Republican dominated media is trying desperately to find someone who could defeat Obama, but NO ONE they've tried out comes close in a one on one match up to besting him in the polls.

My bet is that they will do what so many totalitarian Latin American states tried successfully over the decades (though people there have now caught on): they will try to find a football hero or movie star to run against him.

Only trouble with this is that, with the Green Bay Packers backing the unions, and with the only movie stars against him rather unattractive guys like Jon Voight and Stephen Baldwin--or gals like Victoria Jackson--I think even this will be a big stretch.

Posted by: jjm on February 27, 2011 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans all came down with selective amnesia about a minute after Obama won regarding that period from 2000-2006 when they doubled the national debt.

Posted by: max on February 27, 2011 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Daniels: "[I]f you want to know what I think about fiscal issues, don't look at 2 1/2 years when I was in the supporting cast with no vote."

Lame. If Daniels didn't approve of what the bushies were doing, he should have quit his post. Not make excuses about it years later.

Posted by: Hannah on February 27, 2011 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Daniels is trying to have it both ways: distancing himself for the fiscally irresponsible decisions made by the Bush Administration during Daniel's tenure there while not explicitly criticizing those decisions.

Hopefully, at some point the press (or an opponent) will force him to take a position on this. If he wants to credibly distance himself from those policy choices, he's going to have to come out and say that he openly opposed those moves within Bush Administration circles. I doubt he can do that, since it's unlikely that he did actually voice opposition; if he had, he would have been gone well before he actually left.

I respect that Daniels has, for the most part, resisted the temptation to demagogue issues the way Pawlenty and the rest have done, and seems to approach issues in a rational way and with some understanding of the policies involved (again, unlike the other likely Republican candidates). But he still supports terrible policies and, in truth, his record as Governor of Indiana is less impressive than it appears. While I don't want to underestimate the challenges of being a Governor, holding that position in a state like Indiana is much, much easier than being President.

Posted by: DRF on February 27, 2011 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Something that too often goes unremarked, even by smart folks like you, Steve, is this bullshit excuse that Bush's deficits were all caused by 9/11 and the two wars (at least one of which - the more expensive of the two - can't be characterized as anything other than a "war of choice").

The fact is, the Bush tax cuts had pushed the government back into deficit spending by August 2001, a month before 9/11. Sure, 9/11 and the wars made the deficits bigger, but there would have been deficits even without those factors, and people should not be allowed to forget that fact or to get away with glossing it over with these bullshit excuses.

Posted by: Jennifer on February 27, 2011 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

For whatever reason, there is no longer any political memory in this country. Everything is a media event with a half life of maybe a week. Why this is so is a question worth considering at some length. Is it the 24-hour news cycle? The right-wing dominated media? A generally dumbed-down population? Something in the water? Cell phones frying brains? Everyone preoccupied with survival? Everyone distracted by Facebook?

There must be an explanation. Do we need political scientists to explain what has happened? Or maybe sociologists and psychologists?

More likely, it's just that we remember what we want to remember in the way we want to remember it. Few people are open to changing their minds about anything even when confronted with irrefutable evidence that they're wrong. Multiple eye witness accounts of a fender-bender most often don't agree. Each witness thinks the way he/she saw it is correct.

Or is it that the right-wingers are so entrenched and invested in their ideology and verities that they now have extreme tunnel vision.

Posted by: rrk1 on February 27, 2011 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

rrk1, it's not that the memory of every individual in this country has shortened, it's that the MSM HAS to change the subject. If they follow the problems we are suffering from now back to when they originated, guess who's shown to be responsible?
Hint: it's a political party with a name that starts with "R"...

re Daniels: He won't get the nomination, he hasn't enough "fire in his belly"; ie, hatred of gays/Muslims/who-whatever to garner enough Teabagger votes. Without them he'll never get enough delegates. This is a good thing though, because he's dangerous - he SEEMS sane and sensible, but is just as right-wing as Walker, et al. He, and the few Republican/Teabaggers who operate in the same manner, are the GOP's only hope for 2012, but the Teabaggers will push them away; just as a panicked swimmer pushes a lifesaver away. In the Republican/Teabaggers case, I say let 'em drown in the mess they made.
SOT, I give the Republican/Teabaggers another 21 months before they implode completely. It will be right after President Obama is re-elected with Democratic majorities in both Senate and House.

Posted by: Doug on February 27, 2011 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Let's look at his record in Indiana. The firts thing he did was to make a fast buck selling the Indiana Toll Road, with no thought to the long term consequences. Then he pushed daylight savings time through with no though to the implementation costs or the longer term costs. Next he cut the property taxes that support the schools causing chaos in school budgets all over the state. Not he wants to divert what little is left of state funding for education to voucher for charter schools, which don't do as well as the public schools on state wide testing. Around here we call this kind of short-sightedness "eating your seed corn."

Posted by: ann from indiana on February 27, 2011 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

I was about to say something nice about Fox actually asking a troublesome question of a Republican until I saw Sad Ol' Vet's comment.

Yah, Fox did not err from it's Robocop-like programming.

1) Do the bidding of the plutocracy.
2) Support Republicans
3) Obey Dick Jones

In that order. In case of conflict, default to higher priority.

Daniels got his knuckles cracked with the nun's ruler.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 28, 2011 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

I want to second what anne from Indiana wrote. Mitch has taken our meager state services and made less of them. The toll rode bullshit is really ignored in all of the praise for him being a fiscally responsible governor. Anyone can balance a not-huge budget like Indiana's if you sell off one of the few assets the state owns to create a windfall for a year or two. But now we have a major artery connecting Chicago to the east in the hands of a private, foreign-owned corporation for the next 75 years. What could possibly go wrong?

Posted by: Mr. Long Form on February 28, 2011 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK



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