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Mitch Daniels Violates Truce, Social Issues Peace Process Endangered

Mitch Daniels is in favor of reinstating the Mexico City policy. Michael Gerson quotes Daniels as calling government funding for organizations that fund or promote abortions overseas one of "a thousand things we shouldn't be spending money on."  Fair enough, but a social liberal might look at the same policy and see it as an attempt to block the ability of poor foreign women to exercise their reproductive rights.  That doesn't sound very trucey.

The reality is that there can no comprehensive truce on the social issues (which is not to say that they must dominate the debate all or even most of the time.)  What would a President Daniels do to maintain a truce if Anthony Kennedy were to die during Daniels' first term.  Abortion, campaign finance restrictions, church and state issues, the Second Amendment, and who knows what else would hang in the balance.  Would the Supreme Court Justice be appointed by lottery?  Would the appointee have to swear a blood oath not to overturn any controversial precedents?

Having said all that, Daniels seems to be moving in the right directions and I'm going to follow National Review's advice and declare my own unilateral truce on this truce stuff - at least until Daniels says something I really disagree with.

One last point.  Hasn't Daniels' approach ensured that his (seemingly orthodox conservative)opinions on the social issues receive more scrutiny than they otherwise would have?

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Discussions - 11 Comments

I'm going to follow National Review's advice and declare my own unilateral truce on this truce stuff - at least until Daniels says something I really disagree with.

Daniels has just committed a gaffe in the sense that Michael Kinsley defined the term: he was accidentally honest. He has just told social conservatives that they are under the bus for no very defensible reason. His general dispositions on this matter, like David Frum's, are not likely to be subject to late-middle age re-assessment, because you get past a certain point in your life and you're a finished product. Stick a fork in him.

AD, I think that there a modest defense of Daniels is possible. Unlike a pro-choice moderate like Frum (who seems to be in favor of some abortion restrictions, thinks ROE was wrongly decided, and who has only prudential objections to overturning ROE), Daniels seems to have compiled a pro-life record and governor http://www.lifenews.com/state3322.html or at least Indiana's pro-lifers seem to think so. That is something he can build on if he care to change his strategy and put in the effort. He is also to the right of Frum on issues like carbon pricing and health care.

Some social conservatives will conclude from this episode that Daniels will screw them the moment he gets into office and nothing that Daniels says or does will change their mind. Thats part of the price to be paid for his misbegotten coalition building strategy. He certainly will never have the credibility with pro-lifers or social conservatives in general that Huckabee does. But compared to a Romney (who had his own midlife change of heart - maybe), Daniels might be able to make some gains among people who are not primarily social conservatives, don't expect much from the President on those issues, but do have some select expectations that Daniels easily can promise to fulfill.

Pete, I would direct you to a maxim that Thomas Sowell has offered: an important criteria in assessing a politician or a judge is a sign of detachment from the opinions of their peers. He offers Anthony Kennedy as someone who was never trustworthy because he was too bloody other-directed, something known in 1987 to people personally acquainted with him.

People who are dysfunctionally conflict -averse are not your allies. You and I both know that Judge Vaughan Walker is not going to be dissuaded by the spectre of a possible disruption of a hypothetical Pres. Daniels' fiscal policy initiatives. Daniels' objection is to anyone who might make a stink about the latest bit of judicial freebooting, effectively expecting social conservatives to adopt the psychology commonly attributed to battered wives. Nothing surprising about that. That is what you expect from the Republican establishment.

The idea of a 'truce' is such half-baked nonsense that it beggars belief that a pol with his experience would even suggest it and mean it. The cards are on the table. This guy will sell people with concerns like mine down the river with rancid platitudes about how we must not be 'divisive' and all.

AD, someone with Daniels' positions on entitlements and health care is not conflict-averse or at least not comprehensively risk averse. In some ways, it is politically tougher to be for consumer-driven health care (which will largely mean people either losing their employer-provided coverage, paying for less comprehensive policies, or paying more for current kinds of insurance) and entitlement reforms that bring benefits in line with current demographics than to be strongly in favor of (for instance) appointing constitutionalist judges. I'm in favor of both of course.

On the politics of the truce: yup, and double yup.

As for what Daniels would do if he got elected? I dunno. From his record as governor, he seems to have socially conservative opinions and he has acted on them (on gun owners rights as well as abortion.) All things being equal you would think he would be a fairly orthodox (though cautious and not very engaged) conservative on these issues. But all things aren't equal and he has indicated he would sacrifice policy progress on these issues. That doesn't mean that he can't be convinced that acting on what appear to be his own opinions also makes for smart transactional politics both for getting elected and for governing.

And yes, I'm rationalizing furiously.

Pete, are 'entitlements' something you shy away from discussing at dinner engagements? No, he is not comprehensively conflict-averse. He is so in ways that are unsurprising from someone of the professional-managerial bourgeoisie in this country.

On fiscal policy, Pete, his antagonists would be defenders of various components of public expenditure. That would be public employee unions, the AARP, the AMA, the Childrens' Defense Fund, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the higher education lobbies, &c. With the large exception of advocates of robust military spending (which is discretionary and has fluctuated a good deal more readily than much of the above), these lobbies make use of the Democratic congressional caucus as their chosen instrument. So, what is the deal, exactly? Pres. Daniels refrains from initiatives in social policy if you support his budget cuts? Daniels has no chips to bargain with because there scarcely are any initiatives in the realm of social policy from which to refrain. The actions of the Republicans in the manner of social policy are ones of defense, commonly against judicial decrees.

The logic of his remarks is that social conservatives should allow themselves to be rolled on matters of concern to them on the off chance that we might persuade the Democratic Party (if a failed bond sale does not) that the books have to balance and that there is some proper limit to the socialization of costs in the economy. He is defining social conservatives as the problem, which of course they are not. But the attitude is very commonly held among the sort of people who like to use the word 'divisive'. His idea is completely impractical, but the fact that he would advance such a half-baked scheme tells us where his default settings are. His default settings are that a large part of the Republican base consists of nuisances to be sentanced to time-outs, not allies who have concerns legitimately addressed.

Recall that Robert Bork, a quondam libertarian, was led into the social conservative camp in part by contemplating what men like William Brennan were willing to do to the law and to principles of self-government in order to get their way. Daniels, John McCain's camarilla, and sundry others have to know about this wreckage, but they persist in defining people resisting this as the problem. Stick a fork in them.

AD, I think you're hyperventilating. Pete and I went back and forth on this in an earlier thread.

Honestly, Pete may have won the day.

I continue to believe that Daniels using "truce" to describe his approach was clumsy and ill-considered. He would have been much smarter to say the president can walk and chew gum at the same time, and that while the fiscal fortunes of the nation would be my priority, that does not mean I will neglect social issues.

Daniels already may have realized he's in a hole and stopped digging.

And again, it's June. 2010. Long way to go.

And you're also right, Pete, that Daniels' cultural bona fides will be under the microscope so long as he has any aspirations for national office. Another unforced error.

I am breathing normally. The guy told you what his priorities are and who he holds responsible for social conflict in this country. That is what you need to know. He is disposable.

'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me", and so forth.

AD I try not to bring up politics in most social situations, but if someone else brings it up, I'm no less likely to share my opinion on abortion than on health care, Iraq or whatever.

Even with I disagree with him, I can see what Daniels is driving at. Health care and entitlement reform will scare lots of people who aren't deeply tied into lobbies and aren't regular members of the Democratic coalition. They include old people who get easily scared at the mention of entitlement cuts no matter how much they are reassured the cuts won't affect them, people with employer-provided health coverage who might be scared that market-oriented health care polices will either leave them with no coverage or force them to pay more for less coverage, and people who might have their own opinions on social issues (whether liberal conservative or what have you), but hold them lightly, don't like to hear about them, and are inclined to punish politicians who seem too focused on those issues. I agree with you that Daniels' strategy is ineffective id dealing with any of those problems. It is worthless in dealing with the first two groups and the dynamics of the situation (complaining social conservatives like well... me and also important people) focuses more attention on Daniels' position on social issues while hurting him with social conservatives.

I'm not sure that Daniels is beyond learning in this matter. Looking at his record, it seems that he is either a social conservative or at worst very capable of working with social conservatives. I agree with Rick that Daniels' truce talk should not outweigh both the things he has already said and done and the things he might say and do in the future. But he has earned the skepticism of social conservatives and it is on him to dispel it if he wants to run for President.

I agree with you that Daniels' strategy is ineffective id dealing with any of those problems.

Ask yourself why he suggested it.

it seems that he is either a social conservative or at worst very capable of working with social conservatives.

Here's another idea:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=09-01-013-f

AD, From his explanations and my gut feeling, my guess is that Daniels thought he could consolidate right-of--center opinion by appealing to his economic priorities on an emergency basis (an emergency I think Daniels believes to be real), impress "moderates" and people indifferent to social issues of his seriousness on economic issues as a way of crafting the broadest possible pro-economic reform coalition and marginalize liberals who might try to shift discussion away form economic issues. I have already been prolix enough in describing why I think that strategy is wrong and I still haven't exhausted all the reasons I am against it (though I am showing mercy to the site's readership by restraining myself.)

Interesting article. It'll be a while before I know what I think about it.

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