Mitch Daniels and ‘trickle down government’

Mitch Daniels gave the 2012 State of the Union GOP response.

Mitch Daniels actually gave a pretty decent SOTU response tonight. None of Jindal’s tragic, loping performance, though that’s a low bar to cross. Perhaps I was too quick earlier to dismiss the Indiana governor. His line about “trickle down government” was extremely clever. Kudos to his speech writer.

Daniels manages to be folksy and fairly likable without sounding insincere. That’s a good quality to have in a politician. Romney would give his left leg to have a bit of that natural, low-key charm.

Still, I find the opposition response to the State of the Union address mind-numbingly boring and, perhaps more importantly, extremely unnecessary. Even a pretty good, pretty positive, upbeat response has me nodding off. After sitting through an entire speech from the president, it’s hard to muster the strength to sit through yet another – albeit shorter – follow-up. Besides, you never know when you’ll pull a Jindal.

If I believed that Republicans were serious about actually reforming entitlements the way they say they want to, I might even find a few things to agree with in Daniels’ response. We do need entitlement reform. We do need smart government and pro-growth policies. The problem is that the grown-ups have by and large abandoned the Republican party. I have many quibbles with the Democratic party but at least they attempt to govern well.

I have no doubt that Daniels qualifies as a grown-up in his party, but it must be an awfully lonely experience.

Instead we have Newt Gingrich toppling expectations in South Carolina – a man whose ego is childlike in its grandiosity.

Daniels did fine, but conservative dreamers like Bill Kristol should avoid getting their hopes up. A fine SOTU response doesn’t build a political organization out of thin air. Daniels still has no organization. He’s still leagues behind his would-be rivals in just about every sense except, perhaps, sounding and acting like an adult. We should know by now that qualities like maturity are hardly important when electing a president. We elected George W. Bush twice, after all.

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Why the president succeeded with his State of the Union address tonight

Obama cut a presidential figure, especially compared to his rivals.

President Obama gave a pretty good speech tonight. American exceptionalism and the emergence from darker times were the interwoven themes of the evening. Scattered throughout were some decent ideas on Senate reform and tax policy, but overall it was still a pretty low-calorie affair. Nothing too wonky or deep. Nothing to sink our teeth into.

Still, I think it’s important to remember the intended audience when we listen to these sorts of speeches. Most Americans, after all, don’t obsess over politics the way we bloggers and denizens of the internet do. Most Americans like to hear a positive, rousing speech that isn’t too long.

Just as importantly, it’s remarkable to watch Barack Obama speak about his vision for America. He cuts a striking contrast with his opponents in the GOP primary. There’s not a lot of visionary material in the speech itself – nothing particularly detailed – but he sure looks like a president doesn’t he?

After several months of the GOP primary circus, listening to Obama give a rousing speech about the American dream, the American promise – the indispensable nation that is us – well, it’s hard not to compare him to the dimensionless Mitt Romney, or the bristly Newt Gingrich and his aura of self-importance. Obama looks dignified. He has gravitas. He’s eloquent.

Still, Andrew Sullivan was disappointed:

I was hoping for a vision. I was hoping for real, strategic reform. What we got was one big blizzard of tax deductions, wrapped in a populist cloak. It was treading water. I suspect this will buoy liberal spirits, but anger the right and befuddle the independents. It definitely gives the Republican case against Obama as a big government meddler more credibility. I may be wrong – but the sheer cramped, tedious, mediocre micro-policies he listed were uninspiring to say the least.

We voted for Obama; now we find we got another Clinton. The base will like this. I’m not sure independents will. As performance, he did as well as he could with the thin material he had in his hands. As a speech, I thought it was the worst of his SOTUs, when he really needed his best.

Josh Barro wanted Obama to talk about monetary policy and was disappointed when he didn’t. Indeed, there was little policy meat in tonight’s speech.

But isn’t hoping for a vision sort of missing the point? Isn’t hoping for concrete policy a little like wishing for unicorns?

This is the first of many campaign speeches Obama will give. Will it anger independents? I don’t think so. Most independents are actually just undecided low-information voters.

The point of a speech like this one – an election year State of the Union Address – is not to lay out a grand vision. To be honest, the time for grand visions is over. What the president needs to do – and what he didn’t do enough tonight – is lay out in stark terms why his presidency is important and distinct from the hypothetical presidency of Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

But none of that really matters. Obama looked like a president tonight. He sounded like one, too. For that matter, Mitch Daniels actually sounded a bit like a president.

Both men sound a lot more like presidents than Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. This is a really bad sign for the Republican party. And since it’s too late for Daniels to get into the race, it’s a really good sign for Obama.

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Is Mitch Daniels giving the SOTU response to sabotage all this presidential speculation?

Mitch Daniels is not really presidential in any way.

At Library Grape, Lev makes a smart observation:

Mitch Daniels is the man of the moment—he’s been selected to respond to Barack Obama’s State Of The Union address, which essentially means that he’s about to kiss any sort of rising star status goodbye if history is any guide. And it should be: Daniels is soft-spoken and not terribly magnetic, and my hunch is that the Republicans devoutly wishing he’d gotten in will not be wishing it this time tomorrow. SOTU responses are a lose-lose situation, the only decent ones in recent years were (1) the one given by Sen. Jim Webb in 2007, which was packed with gravitas, toughness, and dignity, and (2) the one given by Gov. Bob McDonnell last year, which ramped up the cheesy atmospherics (cheering crowds, speaker walking down the aisle and shaking hands) to turn the whole thing into an ersatz State Of The Union, but which somehow worked because it turned the whole thing into a joke that McDonnell was entirely in on. It was actually kind of amazing to watch. Daniels, though, will likely shoot for the first and see his buzz evaporate faster than Bobby Jindal’s did

Frankly, I can’t for the life of me understand why the opposition still gives a response to the State of the Union. Everyone has already had to sit through a long, boring speech once. Now we have to sit through an even less meaningful speech? Seriously? Do we at least get free beer?

On a more serious note, Daniels must know this isn’t the proper forum for a soft-spoken guy like him. What gives? Maybe he knows that this will shatter any hopes that he’ll enter the race and can think of no better way to shake the speculation.

I’m still curious why so many on the right seem to think Daniels would make such a good candidate. He’s short, soft-spoken, and not particularly “presidential” in any sense of the word. Worse still, he can’t really appeal to the base. He has none of Newt’s flare. He’s good on some policies – prison reform, for instance – but he adds very little to the current line-up. Indeed, if he had run I suspect he would have already disappointed those calling for him to run now. Some other dream candidate would be hypothetical number one.

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Who brings von Mises to the beach?

Apparently Michelle Bachmann:

Ms. Bachmann is best known for her conservative activism on issues like abortion, but what I want to talk about today is economics. When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. “I’m also an Art Laffer fiend—we’re very close,” she adds. “And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,” getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like “Human Action” and “Bureaucracy.” “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.”

I guess it’s time for her to do her Five Books.

The Five Books piece with Mitch Daniels was actually when I started to become somewhat fond of the Indiana governor. It’s a shame he’s not running.

Somehow I doubt Bachmann’s von Mises beach-reading would have the same effect on me.