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My feelings about a Mitch Daniels run for the presidency are pretty well known at this point. I think the man would be great to have in certain key cabinet positions. I think he'd be an excellent budget director. I think he'd be a great Chief of Staff. But as far as a President, the man lacks the will to lead on issues that are of the highest pressing importance. That being said, watching his calm yet direct response to the President's State of the Union speech last night, I can definitely see why many in the Republican Party are pining away for Mitch, and loathing the day he opted not to run.
If you didn't see it, you can watch the full thing in just eleven minutes, and it really is worth watching. If you'd rather have the CliffNotes version, the Washington Post hit the high points:
In his rebuttal, which was stern but without the bombastic tone adopted by some of his fellow Republicans of late, Daniels congratulated Obama for a handful of successes but accused him of painting an overly optimistic portrait of the nation's economic health.
"On these evenings, presidents naturally seek to find the sunny side of our national condition," Daniels said. "But when President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true."
But he sharply criticized the president's "constant disparagement of people in business" and accused him of giving in to "extremists" on developing local-based sources of energy. He faulted what he called inaction to address entitlement programs that without changes are likely to "implode." He accused the Obama administration of pitting the rich against the poor.
"No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others," he said. "As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat."
In an acknowledgment of the divisions among Republicans, Daniels urged party members to "work, in ways we Republicans have not always practiced, to bring Americans together."
That last statement is a perfect indication of the type of go-along-to-get-along approach Daniels has that isn't bad, but is extraordinarily na´ve when dealing with Washington politics. Daniels need only look to his own state's virtual lockdown last year when Democrats fled their work to a neighboring state to stop legislation they didn't like, or the massive protests in Wisconsin and subsequent hissy-fit Recall Election being pursued to understand that liberalism is not an animal that wants to be domesticated. It wants the run of the place, and it needs a powerful and at times confrontational leader to tame it.
That being said, I appreciated Daniels tone and his words. He is right and is smart about the President's allegiance to extremists on the left - and it was nice to hear a "moderate Republican" like Daniels acknowledge the existence of extremism on the left - in his anti-business rhetoric. This truly is one of the most incredible things about the Obama approach. He demonizes the very sector that we rely on being big, robust and healthy in order to sign the nation's pay checks. And before anyone tries to argue, "Well, what about those getting government pay checks?!" think it through: where does the government get the money to pay those checks? The private sector.
That's what is so maddening about Team Obama's war on business and corporations.
I also like Daniels' honesty about the state of our union. The truth is that it's not good. People are divided, they are scared, they are being made to feel hopeless and are less optimistic than ever about the future prospects of this country. Those who are old enough to remember are telling me this is precisely the feeling that was present in the waning months of the Carter administration.
While that's reassuring, I'm not thinking there's a Ronald Reagan lining up on the Republican side - and no, despite a strong rebuttal speech, there still wouldn't be one even if Mitch Daniels reconsidered. But take nothing away from Governor Daniels on that response. I might not agree with Charles Krauthammer that it was "one of the best" rebuttals he's ever heard, I'd say Daniels drew attention to some things that needed to be said.