You've heard the stats, undoubtedly. Only 12% of the budget is non-defense, non-entitlement spending. That would lead a rational thinker -- and the president clearly is one of those -- to conclude that, if there is any way to climb out of the sea of red ink in which the country currently finds itself, that way involves big fixes to the other 88%. But no. The budget does not address that problem.
And the congressional Republicans are no better. They are collectively supporting no concrete proposals to trim that 88% over time.
The problem is simple: everyone wants to get reelected.
The only way this mess gets fixed is for someone (or a group of someones...Simpson/Bowles deficit commission, anyone? Oh right, their proposals were substantive, compelling and a great start, and they didn't get approved) to step up, reelection prospects be damned, and tell the truth.
Last weekend at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference where you usually get only for-the-camera substance-lacking preening from the likes of Tim Pawlenty, Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, or else wild ideological clashes between neocon and libertarian wings of that group, in walked Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana.
I am quite positive that Governor Daniels and I don't share much in common when it comes to personal-freedom issues. But, dammit, the man gave a sensible, sober speech about red ink and the need for leadership and compromise in the battle against it that I found fairly inspiring. Plus, he has very publicly -- and at the risk of criticism from the moralizer-freak wing of the GOP led by Rick Santorum -- called for a truce on social issues, out of a recognition that wherever you stand on, say, abortion rights, let's just keep the status quo for now and head off to tackle the big stuff, i.e., the spending and the deficit.
You can find the text of the whole speech here, but join me in sampling a few soundbites:
"We believe it wrong ever to take a dollar from a free citizen without a very necessary public purpose, because each such taking diminishes the freedom to spend that dollar as its owner would prefer. When we do find it necessary, we feel a profound duty to use that dollar as carefully and effectively as possible, else we should never have taken it at all."
"If a foreign power advanced an army to the border of our land, everyone in this room would drop everything and look for a way to help. We would set aside all other agendas and disputes as secondary, and go to the ramparts until the threat was repelled. That is what those of us here, and every possible ally we can persuade to join us, are now called to do. It is our generational assignment. It is the mission of our era. Forgive the pun when I call it our 'raison debt.'"
"The nation must be summoned to General Quarters in the cause of economic growth. The friends of freedom always favor a growing economy as the wellspring of individual opportunity and a bulwark against a domineering state. But here, doctrinal debates are unnecessary; the arithmetic tells it all. We don't have a prayer of defeating the Red [Ink] Threat of our generation without a long boom of almost unprecedented duration. Every other goal, however worthy, must be tested against and often subordinated to actions that spur the faster expansion of the private sector on which all else depends."
"[N]ot even the first and most important mission of government, our national defense, can get a free pass. I served in two administrations that practiced and validated the policy of peace through strength..... But if our nation goes over a financial Niagara, we won't have much strength and, eventually, we won't have peace. We are currently borrowing the entire defense budget from foreign investors. Within a few years, we will be spending more on interest payments than on national security. That is not, as our military friends say, a 'robust strategy.'"
"Here I wish to be very plainspoken: It is up to us to show, specifically, the best way back to greatness, and to argue for it with all the passion of our patriotism. But, should the best way be blocked, while the enemy draws nearer, then someone will need to find the second best way. Or the third, because the nation's survival requires it."
"We should distinguish carefully skepticism about Big Government from contempt for all government. After all, it is a new government we hope to form, a government we will ask our fellow citizens to trust to make huge changes."
"I've always loved John Adams' diary entry, written en route to Philadelphia, there to put his life, liberty, and sacred honor all at risk. He wrote that it was all well worth it because, he said, 'Great things are wanted to be done.' When he and his colleagues arrived, and over the years ahead, they practiced the art of the possible. They made compacts and concessions and, yes, compromises. They made deep sectional and other differences secondary in pursuit of the grand prize of freedom. They each argued passionately for the best answers as they saw them, but they never permitted the perfect to be the enemy of the historic good they did for us, and all mankind. They gave us a Republic, citizen Franklin said, if we can keep it.
Is this an endorsement of Governor Daniels for president? No. Hell, I don't even know if he is running. But I think he's worth listening to. I am a registered Dem, but I pride myself in politics on worrying less about whether there is an R or a D next to your name than whether you speak the truth and rely on common sense. Mitch Daniels seems to be doing well on both counts right now. Keep it up, governor. Don't start pandering now.