There's been a mini-boom of sorts for the Gov., Mitch Daniels, recently. Two national columns make such a blip, reveal a pulse of interest. That both notices are puff pieces is almost beside the point, though the puffery is the point of this posting. The first notice was a column by Jill Lawrence who writes for politicsdaily, a website edited by a ND grad, Melinda Henneberger, which gets cited fairly often, though Lawrence's column is just the sort of punditry which is as much PR as politics, or politics as Public Relations. I have been writing for decades now about the pundit-industrial complex, the offset of the military-industrial complex, where former political operatives leave government and reappear as political commentators on major networks and cable stations. This has been happening for decades and is now so entrenched it seems a requirement for a job, a former position in Washington, so you can talk about the people who use to pay you.
Eisenhower's famous remark in 1961 about the military-industrial complex was a bit more far reaching, citing the collusion of the two industries, the military and industry, where former generals became current executives in arms and aerospace industries. Now there seems to be a complete collusion of media and government, where personalities interchange so frequently no one much notices anymore or pays attention. Sarah Palin becomes a paid analyst for Fox, etc. Of course, Fox News is run by a former political operative.
So, at this point, such connections are a yawn. And you don't have to be a former politico to catch the virus, you can live the Washington life and be married to a former editor of Governing, and a current editor of its website, www.governing.com, which bills itself as "connecting America's leaders." It's one of the those mags that only toilers in government ever see. It pays a lot of attention to governors.
And forgive me for thinking that is why Jill Lawrence pays attention to Indiana's own Mitch Daniels. So begins the puffery. (You can find it at www.politicsdaily.com. It appeared 2/24/10). "Nobody would mistake Daniels for a liberal," she writes, without her tongue in her cheek. She glosses over his career as a guy who keeps failing upward (after his really smart stint as George W. Bush's budget director and wants us to think he's a flexible conservative free-marketeer by noting, "His administration last year fired IBM and took back control of the state's welfare program, an acknowledgment that privatization, a conservative shibboleth was failing." Except, of course, Mitch didn't acknowledge that; he had an outright rebellion on his hands and had to abandon the sinking IBM ship.
But why expect actual journalism in this sort of puffery? Then there's the case of Ross Douthat's even more smarmy column, which appeared on March 1, in the New York Times. Douthat is the conservative replacement for Bill Kristol when he departed the Times' op-ed page. Douthat has published an embarrassing memoir (you can find the embarrassing parts on the web) and is in that small pool of young conservative writers who vault to prominence when selected by a powerful publication to fill a quota and that's his job at the Times. To be conservative. He is in every way pedestrian. He gushes about Mitch. (I presume he read Lawrence's piece, which gave him the idea and the ideas.) He writes, "And he's been a pragmatic free-marketeer, rather than a strict ideologue. His controversial decision to lease the Indiana toll road reaped $3.8 billion for the state. But when an attempt to outsource welfare enrollment went awry, Daniels yanked the system back into the public sector." How's that 3.8 Billion looking now, Mitch, after you and your buddies so wisely invested it? Selling assets for investments was at the heart of the economic collapse, stemmed only by handouts from the American taxpayer throughout the country. Of course, only wild opposition forced Mitch to limit the damage he's been able to do and foil his wishes to completely mimic his betters on Wall Street. But national journalism of the Lawrence/Douthat type is only the sucking-up sort.
What will keep Mitch's national ambitions at bay is his shortness and lack of substantial hair. It is that cultural bias that brings him back to earth, and to future elections in Indiana (excepting, perhaps, the veep nomination), not the delusional praise of two journalistic players on the east coast.