Comparative lit During his time in Washington as George W. Bush’s first director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels was called many things — many of them unprintable. Now he seems to be chasing a new tag: Shakespearian.
Best known during his D.C. years as “The Blade” — a tribute to his slashing approach to the federal budget — Daniels has shown little desire to shake that moniker as Indiana’s leader. In his State of the State address, he promised to attack the projected $645 million budget shortfall by cutting costs, tightening belts and creating efficiencies.
But it was his one-year, one-time, 1 percent tax on Hoosiers earning more than $100,000 per year that created the most drama. “With this money,” he said, “we will achieve a balanced budget … in the year immediately ahead.”
A bold and ambitious proposal, sure, but hardly the stuff of Shakespearean drama, right? I didn’t think so, until I heard Daniels’ closing lines: “Let’s all do our duty these next few weeks such that, years from now, when people look back to these days and say, then, in 2005, that was when Indiana’s comeback began, we can all say, ‘Right, I know — I was a part of it. I was there.’”
The sentiment seemed familiar. Then I remembered: Shakespeare’s The Life of Henry V. In what is known as the Saint Crispin Day speech, King Henry tries to rouse his soldiers for what looks like an unwinnable battle. The king urges them to think of the future, of a day when, hearing others talk of this war, they could show their scars and say, “These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day.” In other words, “Right, I know — I was a part of it. I was there.”
For fun, I thought I’d look for other comparisons between King Henry and Gov. Daniels. I found three similarities that, while they wouldn’t impress my college lit professors, nonetheless amused me.
First of all, in the two Henry IV plays, the young Henry V, then known as Prince Hal, is a smart aleck who spends most of his time drinking and carousing. Daniels, a smart aleck best known simply as “Mitch,” admits that his college days focused on drinking and carousing.
However (and this brings me to my second point of comparison), both Mitch and Hal seemed to reform before stepping into their new offices. Granted, Hal’s ascension to the throne was more expected and sudden than Daniels’ — as heir-apparent, he took the throne immediately upon the death of his father. Daniels, on the other hand, spent three decades working in unelected government positions, from the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office to the White House — as well as in jobs as an attorney, think tank leader and executive for Eli Lilly and Co. — before being elected governor.
Finally, I remembered the scenes preceding Henry’s Saint Crispin Day monologue. Disguised, Henry wandered among his soldiers and learned that they were frightened, downhearted and suspicious of him, but loyal to England and ready to fight for her.
Similarly, as he campaigned for governor, Daniels spent 16 months driving around Indiana in RV One, eating tenderloins and talking to Hoosiers about their view of the future and attitudes toward government. Altough he wasn’t disguised, Daniels had little trouble getting people to open up to him. Like Henry, he found good, loyal people who, while disappointed by their leaders, were willing to work hard for their homeland.
In Henry V, the king’s speech does its job: His tired, outnumbered troops win the battle. Time will tell whether Daniels hit the mark. He certainly won’t have an easy fight — he had barely finished his speech before legislators lined up in opposition to his tax increase.
But those who oppose Daniels’ plan might want to read to the end of the Saint Crispin’s Day speech, because it offers a glimpse of what their lives might be if he succeeds in a venture they fail to join:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.