Thursday, January 3, 2013

Goodbye Mitch, old pal

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 at 10:59 AM

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All of these lengthy stories and columns I've been reading about the end of Mitch Daniels' two terms as Indiana governor have made me realize just how much I will miss him.

In fact, one three-part series inspired me to write my own remembrance of the Daniels years in a style I have become accustomed to over the last eight years.

Note that the following is a work of parody. All of the quotes were made up, as were almost all of the events it describes. It is not intended to mimic the work of any individual journalist, pundit or TV talk show host but rather all of them.

Immediately after his successful campaign for governor in 2004, Mitch Daniels found himself riding his RV one last time. The vehicle, made famous in TV ads showing him traveling the state listening to ordinary Hoosiers, had one not-so-minor flaw: Its toilet was notoriously unreliable. The stress of a long campaign, not to mention the weight of the buttocks of hundreds of big donors, media men and party hacks who used it, had permanently rendered the potty unusable.

And so it was that, once again, the RV pulled into a small town convenience store so the governor-elect and party could relieve themselves. As Daniels zipped up, the occupant of the urinal adjacent to his spoke up.

"Excuse me," the man, who was wearing a red-and-white flannel shirt, said to Daniels. "I've heard about your RV. You can't use it anymore."

"You heard right, friend," said the man about to become Indiana's 49th governor.

The man began washing his hands. "The way I see it," he said, "that's what you're going to do to this state. You're going to ride around Indiana for the next eight years until it's us, not you, who doesn't have a pot to piss in."

Years later, the boyishly handsome Daniels remembered the story and laughed. "People always think that politicians, whether Republican or Democratic, aren't going to do what they say. But I told that man I keep my promises. He's right. He doesn't have a pot to piss in. The business where he worked closed down after spending all the state money we gave it. He barely can eat."

There are many ways in which to interpret the administration of Mitchell Elias Daniels Jr. One could say he stripped the state of many of its most valuable assets and sold them on the cheap to foreign businesses. Others might note that he ravaged the state just in time to parachute to a lucrative new job free of even the minimal scrutiny of the state's media.

Still others can point to Daniels and say that he was a man wise enough to understand he would lose convincingly to Barack Obama and to stay out of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Yet others, particularly those who have covered the Statehouse for too many years, look at the tenure of Daniels with an admiration bordering on sycophancy. They take a look at his record of almost complete lack of positive achievement and see in it the makings of legend.

From 2004 to 2012, Daniels enjoyed unprecedented success at accomplishing nothing while making a national name for himself with frequent 10,000-word speeches and articles full of quasi-intellectual, mostly incoherent words about "restoring America's greatness" and "earning the peoples' respect."

Looking back with pride, Daniels says he once went through back-to-back-to-back interviews with Fox News, Politico and CNN without saying even one thing of substance. "It was so tough," says the governor, whose tanned features and stately physique earned him more than one backward glance in the White House gym men's locker room during the second Bush era.

"I ran out of things to say while I was talking to Politico," Daniels says, "and so I found a booklet on how to assemble a Craftsman table saw and read from that for five minutes. I just threw in phrases like 'right-sizing' and 'future-gripping.' They loved it. Said I was almost as exciting as Tim Pawlenty."

It was exactly that kind of dogged Hoosier determination that melted the hearts of the members of the Statehouse media, a small but important corps with connections to some of the least-watched TV shows and infrequently viewed political websites.

His predecessors were all hounded by the media for minor infractions but the passionate nature of the media's love for Daniels ensured he would not be seriously bothered by any allegation, at least from the media.

"I guess we always knew he was strip-mining the government," says one shy reporter over coffee at a downtown Starbucks, "but, coming from his mouth, in those adorable, cleverly phrased sound bites, I guess we didn't care."

The reporter adds, "Daniels did what we can only dream of. He really did wreck state politics, laughed about it and then found a better-paying job destroying another institution. His name will live forever."

On the November day in 1992 when the Subic Bay U.S. Naval base closed in the Philippines, hundreds of red-light district workers of many genders stood at the dock, waved handkerchiefs and cried as the final American servicemen departed forever, never to come back to the bars, massage parlors and cheap hotels as patrons again.

So it shall be between the Statehouse pundits and Mitch Daniels. His departure signals the end of an era not unlike the one mourned by the Filipino B-girls in Subic Bay. There's a new governor in town, and he intends to take a wrecking ball to whatever Daniels left of the state government.

But in the hearts and minds of those who were there, the Daniels years will stand out as a magical time where nothingness and lack of achievement were glorified to a level never seen before. It is the legacy of an amazing politician.

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