Political Animal


January 25, 2012 8:40 AM Daniels is the serious one?

By Steve Benen

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, to the delight of GOP insiders who still hope he might run for president. The national platform offered Daniels an opportunity to back up the hype — pundits routinely praise the former Bush budget director as a serious, thoughtful conservative, and this was his chance to prove it.

Alas, he blew it.

I remember about nine months ago, when Joe Klein dismissed the Republican presidential field as a “dim-witted freak show,” and urged Daniels to run because he seems to respect himself enough not to behave like a “public clown.”

But at least on a substantive level, that’s exactly what the Indiana governor did last night.

Daniels said President Obama made the economy “worse,” which no sane person could possibly believe (even Mitt Romney believes the economy has “gotten better” under Obama). Daniels equated our debt to the Greek crisis, which is ridiculous. He argued that Steve Jobs created more American jobs than the Recovery Act, which is demonstrably wrong. Daniels accused Obama of supporting “a pro-poverty policy,” which is the kind of nonsense I might expect from Glenn Beck, not a prominent public official.

But there were two other claims that stood out for me. First, there was this gem:

“In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt.”

Actually, the biggest drivers of our unaffordable national debt are the Bush-era tax cuts that didn’t work. Daniels should be able to understand this — he was Bush’s budget director when the administration demanded tax cuts we couldn’t afford. If forced to choose one person who bears most of the responsibility for the size of the U.S. national debt, one of the leading contenders would have to be Mitch Daniels.

This was the other:

“In word and deed, the President and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection. Left to ourselves, we might pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage, the wrong school for our kids; why, unless they stop us, we might pick the wrong light bulb!”

Obama had just finished talking about cutting red tape and eliminating unnecessary regulations; the Affordable Care Act guarantees consumer choices in health care coverage; and the light-bulb bill the right is still whining about was a bipartisan success signed by Daniels’ former boss: George W. Bush.

Honestly, the fact that this is what passes for seriousness in the Republican Party in 2012 is not at all a good sign.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on January 25, 2012 8:46 AM:

    I suppose, fresh off his kill of Indiane's union workers, the Republicans wanted to reward their newest hero with some face-time, and let him give his STFU response to the Presidents SOTU.

    In a just world, Lil' Mitch would be put into a pit of poisonous vipers and left there for the rest of his life - right next to the ones for Little Boots, and Little Dick Cheney.

  • stevio on January 25, 2012 8:50 AM:

    "Honestly, the fact that this is what passes for seriousness in the Republican Party in 2012 is not at all a good sign."

    The "Freak Show" continues. Like habitual liars who make things up as they go along, Daniels has had his 15 minutes and choose poorly. Any serious individual who heard Obama's speech realized his ideas were "moderate" at best and not far left ramblings. It just nauseating to hear these clowns dismiss what for all intents are mostly conservative ideas with a bit of humanity attached. Clowns who make Bushit seem reasonable are terrifying...

  • walt on January 25, 2012 8:50 AM:

    For the doyens of our discourse, Mitch Daniels is a truthteller. Never mind that he peddles the same disgusting dog whistles and Randian snake oil as every other movement conservative. He's serious! No need to overthink this one. He's a policy wonk who just happens to promote policies that favor the rich. That's why he'll always be the flavor of the month on Morning Joe and other forums of our smug punditocracy.

  • just bill on January 25, 2012 9:00 AM:

    actually, steve, i have to disagree with you on that last point - it's a very good sign - for democrats. i'm beginning to see people waking up to the bs that the republicans keep throwing around, and they're not believing it any more. so, the more they stick to their tired talking points, the better it is for us sane folks.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 25, 2012 9:00 AM:

    Perfect : Repeats Faux Nooze talking points and lies and is branded "serious"
    Reinforcing the lies is what they want to hear.
    No, no, we don't need any truth inside our bubble thank you very much.
    It was said on Bill Maher this weekend , "they can't run against the real Obama , so they have made one up that they can run against"

  • lou on January 25, 2012 9:02 AM:

    "Left to ourselves"

    Of course, "left to the unbridled and rapacious free market" would have made more sense but it would have severely undermined his argument that it is better to be screwed by business than to be helped by government or that choosing to be conservative with your own consumption is somehow cowering to liberals telling you how to live. Free to live your lives stupidly for the raking of the elites, in short.

  • The BPI Squirrel on January 25, 2012 9:04 AM:

    That last quote was pushback against proposals by OIRA Director Cass Sunstein, and coming proposals by CFPB Director Richard Cordray, that would require mortgage lenders, banks, and insurance companies to provide clear, standardized information - called RECAP - enabling consumers to make better decisions.

    Republicans favor allowing businesses to make such disclosures as impenetrably complex as possible. That helps substandard products thrive among confused consumers, while the wealthy hire experts to pore over contracts and sort out the best options. Or as Republicans call it ... the "free market."

  • Newton Whale on January 25, 2012 9:06 AM:

    He had Tweety swooning last night. Said it was a great speech. Then Rachel came on and said "I couldn't disagree more."

  • Hedda Peraz on January 25, 2012 9:07 AM:

    All the voters need to know is that he is white, and a Republican!

  • schtick on January 25, 2012 9:07 AM:

    Voters have short memories. I doubt most of them even realize who Daniels is, nevermind he was the mastermind behind the fiasco that has led to our current mess.
    The tealiban banks on the short-term memory of voters and the brainless dolts that eat up every word from Clusterfaux Fake and BS Nuwz, Rush the pillpopper, and Glen buy gold now.
    I liked his speech and ideas with the exception of letting big oil drill baby drill all over and fracking. Too bad the tealiban won't let him get nada from anything he wants to do except for big oil.
    And will someone tell me exactly what benefit the US will get from a foreign country running a pipeline down the middle of our country to ship oil to the world market? Besides lining the pockets of big oil?

    crapcha....Ohio agitalen....I heard that

  • John Dillinger on January 25, 2012 9:07 AM:

    Someone should ask why Republicans chose a governor to give the response whose state unemployment rate has increased from 5.5 percent to 9.0 percent (above the national rate) while he has been at the helm the past seven years. Didn't the Romney people establish that the man in charge is responsible from day one?

  • Danp on January 25, 2012 9:13 AM:

    In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money


    2008 - $2.98 Trillion
    2009 - 3.52
    2010 - 3.46
    2011 - 3.60

    Spending went up from 1.86 trillion to 2.98 in the Bush terms. It also went up over 50% during Reagan's terms. I would also point out that Baby Boomers are starting to retire now.

    The moral of the story is that Republicans only worry about spending when they don't control the White House.

  • T2 on January 25, 2012 9:13 AM:

    wow, what a difference a year makes. Last SOTU, we were treated to Michele Bachmann's GOP rebuttal. A certified crazy lady (who's husband actually runs a nuthouse) sat in front of a camera and stared off in space for 15 minutes, babbling on to some unseen presence about a host of crazy crap and TeaBag propaganda.
    This year, the GOP gives us the guy who may be as responsible as anyone for the Great Recession yapping about how it was all Obama's fault. But thats a GOPer thing...they are never wrong or responsible for anything, apparently. Despite a record number of filibusters, the GOP blames Obama for not "cooperating"...ugh.
    To be fair, I didn't watch the SOTU or Daniels.....just saw some clips. I can't stand to watch Republicans anymore.

  • max on January 25, 2012 9:26 AM:

    And everyone forgets - or never mentions - the fact that besides adding $5 trillion to the national debt in 10 years, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts were sold to us as a way to create jobs, and they didn't. All they did was create perpetual debt.

  • Kathryn on January 25, 2012 9:28 AM:

    Yes Mitch, it is a complex, perilous world where your elite power brokers do everything within their power to obfuscate, confuse and steal from consumers with great success. Why are you afraid of consumers understanding what they're signing? And enough with the light bulbs, it shows how out of ideas and pathetic your party is. I guess those sheep still eat it up though.

  • SWENXOF on January 25, 2012 9:28 AM:

    Alas, he blew it.

    Not according to David Brooks over on PBS last night. That boilerplate lie-festooned rebuttal aimed at FOX viewers, had Brooks seeing starbursts. I swear Brooks was about to get down on one knee live on air and ask Mitch's hand in marriage.

    Daniels is a "serious" politician, Brooks is a "serious" villager, and I'm afraid half the damn country thinks the snake oil there both selling is the cure we need right now.

  • Ron Byers on January 25, 2012 9:36 AM:

    I watched the SOTU and Daniels. I thought the two were the perfect point counterpoint. Obama's speech was forward looking and full of hope. Daniels was backward looking and full of doom and gloom. I will take hope over doom and gloom anytime, especially since things do seem to be looking up some.

    What has happened is one of our political parties has ceded policy creation to radio show cretens and a cable news personalities all of whom benefit from doom and gloom. Doom and gloom is what talk radio and cable news do best. In the long run doom and gloom is no way to run a country. Reagan knew that, so did Clinton. In the darkest times FDR was upbeat. Carter found out that doom and gloom will elect your opponent. I like where Obama is today. The dynamics of the race are sitting up very nicely for a giant Democratic election in the fall. Too bad we don't have an organized political party poised to take advantage.

  • Gandalf on January 25, 2012 9:47 AM:

    The best thing about that Daniels speech last night is it gave people a real good look at Daniels. Not what he said but what he projected, Obama projected energy and hope and a positive outlook while Daniels in the words of Paul Begala came across like a warm glass of milk with a fly in it.

  • Anonymous on January 25, 2012 9:58 AM:



    Daniel Gross (Yahoo Finance) was interviewed on BBC News and he answers the question “Do the delegates in Davos understand ‘fairness’?” This interview is short, but very informative. Daniel makes a lot of good points. Highly recommended.

    Daniel explains that the Republican Party likes to accuse President Obama “class warfare”. But really all he wants to do is return to the tax rates during the Reagan/Clinton timeframe. The Republican Party makes it seem like this is the second coming of Stalin communism. As Dan says, it’s a bit overwrought.



  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 25, 2012 10:12 AM:

    ditto Ron Byers.

    Daniels (and the smirking three stooges--Boehner, Cantor, McConnell) definetely made themselves out to be the ugly-betty gremlins of the US government. First we were subjected to an hour's worth of watching the Stooges smirk and do their half-ass, uninspired 'yeah shitty, shitty' plaudits rountine that was then followed by a 15 minute screed of the sky is falling and we're all gonna die.

    And all the while Obama was his usual composed, dignified, and charasmatic self. Even cracking that hilariously unfunny joke about spilled milk... Life of the Party, he was!!! And Daniels & Co. definitely were a posse of "Debbie Downers"...yeesh!!!!

  • June on January 25, 2012 10:14 AM:

    It was truly rich watching the guy whose bloody fingerprints are all over the economic disaster bequeathed to us by Bush try to lecture this President on economics. I hit the mute button about five minutes in, and just read the captions.

    Every time I see Mitch Daniels, I can't help but think the voters of Indiana have shown the nation they love to be played for fools. How do you vote in Bush's budget director to run your state, and have no clue that it's going to be a disaster?

  • Skip on January 25, 2012 10:26 AM:

    What Mitch really meant:
    "Watch me lie out my ass, losers, knowing you can do nothing about it. I may be just a governor...for now... but my party controls the media, we control the message, we control the House, we obstruct the Senate, and soon, soon, You Who Aren't Us, the 2016 election will be ours to take, where we regain control of the White House and all the ancillary power that goes with it, like our vast military. More War, Babies. Then you will only be able to watch as the New Fascist Party makes Bush/Cheney look like kittens in a basket. Why? Because we like money, we like power, and mostly, because we just like to win."

  • Pal2008 on January 25, 2012 10:31 AM:

    Oh please, it was just an unmitigated partisan attack by a republican hack on Obama using lies intended to deceive simple-minded gullible independents who haven't already made up their minds that Obama is the worst president ever. It really isn't that difficult. It's just politics, gah!

  • Grumpy on January 25, 2012 10:32 AM:

    "Left to ourselves, we might pick... the wrong mortgage..."

    Daniels must not be one of those Republicans who blames borrowers taking on loans they couldn't afford for triggering the financial collapse.

  • Anonymous on January 25, 2012 10:48 AM:

    The Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. They have presented their base with an outrageously false portrait of the President, and now that base expects them to continue painting that same portrait. The rest of the country doesn't recognize this straw man that the Republicans have created and who they refer to by the same name as President Obama.

    Poor Daniels was stuck - he tried to present himself as a more reasonable and unifying figure than his colleagues, but he had to play along with the false portrait of the President because that was what was expected of him. And coming right after the President's speech that false portrait made Daniels seem petty and dishonest, even if the bulk of Daniel's speech was fairly sober.

  • jjm on January 25, 2012 10:57 AM:

    Worst was his attempt to credit the GOP [!!??] for our improving economy.

  • Texas Aggie on January 25, 2012 11:01 AM:

    “In word and deed, the President and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection."

    Speaking about government interference in people's private lives, there was an article yesterday with the mortality data of live birth vs. abortions. Having a baby was likely to kill a mother in one out of 11,000 births while abortions were likely to kill a woman in one out of 167,000 legal abortions. When you get to illegal abortions, the numbers change. Now tell me Mitch, what was that you said about letting people make their own decisions? In something like over half the states, republican lawmakers are telling women what they can and cannot do with their reproductive lives. Do you plan to change that?

  • MNRD on January 25, 2012 11:15 AM:

    That "Anonymous" at 10:48 AM was me. Captcha...

  • Anonymous on January 25, 2012 11:46 AM:

    In criticizing the president, I believe Daniels said that a pipeline (presumably the Keystone) was "perfectly safe" yet Obama opposed it. Perfectly safe? What a stupid, stupid thing to say. Among many other stupid statements by Daniels.

  • beejeez on January 25, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Well, there's the substance of Daniels' talk and there's the political effectiveness, and on the second score I think he did about as good a job as is possible. He probably would have been a better front man for the GOP campaign than either Mitt or Newt. It turned out to be smart of Obama to talk so long and with so little fire. I'm sure people all over the country were nodding off by the end.

    Daniels' worst political miscalculation, however, may be the overall country's-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket theme. If things continue to improve (by no means a lock), he'll look like the con man he is.

  • neilt on January 25, 2012 3:29 PM:

    My absolute favourite part of Daniels' rebuttal was when he very seriously intoned that "nearly half of all Americans under the age of 30 did not go to work yesterday".

    Because when we're figuring out how many people are working, it's a good idea to include 6 year olds in your calculations.

  • CyraNose59 on January 25, 2012 5:12 PM:

    Yeah, everyone was quick to run a fact check on the contents of the president's speech last night, but nowhere could I find where there was a credible fact check of this "white knight"'s response. Just like all the past drama with the R's response given by Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnel. Don't the R's have a field /stable of even marginally credible governor's capable of more than mouthing the same old party line?

  • anders tronsen on January 25, 2012 5:31 PM:

    Steve B nailed it. the R nomination is a Hot Potato being passed around in an unheated pool.
    the Repubs eliminated:
    - The Black Guy
    - The woman
    - the ONLY sane candidate.

    It's 'funny' but the people in the military think the
    C-I-C is the Best Thing that happened to them since Sliced Bread. The World Rejoiced when the U.S. elected our First african-american; the 'birthers' and the other Republicans STILL haven't gotten over it!
    Last balanced budget? William Jefferson Clinton