The discussion on this blog and in other forums of late about a possible candidacy by Mitch Daniels for presidency in 2012 has fixated on his calls for a truce to the culture war. A candidate who seems to be one of the most successful governors in the new era of state fiscal policy disasters has angered or provoked many with his proposed truce. Perhaps more extended reflection on the Daniel's truce can be had if one considers what Daniels, I think, rightly regards as the pivotal moment in American limited government.
Daniels' remarks over the past few months have urged that the central political battle boils down to self-government achieved through robust consent to actual policies, i.e., Is the creepy Peter Orszag to be our master and the efficiency commissions headed by similar types of officials, or is there something much better that is possible? In listing the accomplishments and, I think accurately gauging the universal thinking of Obama on regulatory policy, Daniels repeatedly underscores, in the measured tones reminiscent of Calvin Coolidge (Daniel's speeches are similar to Silent Cal's), that the failure to recover the hearts of Americans on the prospect of actual self-government leads us in a new direction of social democracy. This is the central moral loss, and from it flows even more of the San Francisco and faculty lounge moralizing we have heard for years and are now seeing slowly implemented.
The central moral and political question evoked by Daniels is what do we make of our lives as human beings and as American citizens? Do we want to be citizens? Are we free and capable of self-rule in any muscular sense? One gathers that Daniels may see the culture wars not as unnecessary but as the inherent consequences of the primal failure of a manly assertion of political honor for oneself, one's family, and one's community. If we are incapable of these basic tasks, then, of course, the fallouts of abortion, deconstruction of the family, and a hiding within the therapeutic mentality that existentially absolves life of meaning and consequence (moral relativism) inevitably follows.
Daniels proclaims the political good of pride, courage, and liberty as the central elements of limited and rightful government. His venture into the national political waters is predicated on the notion that a significant enough cross-section of American citizens will understand this and join him. These are neither the "achievatrons" of America's meritocratic elite, nor the 20-30% who support entitlement politics, but a group who are in conversation with rightly ordered political habits that still seem real and plausible. Moreover, these political habits are our own as Americans.
This, of course, says nothing about Daniels' constitutional conservatism that would lead to originalist appointments across the federal judiciary.