Mitch Daniels’ Future Games

For every open reactionary who pines for the restoration of the Good Old Days before uppity women and minorities ruined the greatest country the world ever knew, there is a figure who tries to recast the politics and economics of the distant past as the wave of a brave, innovative, future–almost hip. This seems to be Mitch Daniels’ particular thing:

On the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s history-making recall victory, the governor of nearby Indiana with his own record of curtailing union benefits suggested public-sector unions are past their prime and should be abolished.

“I think, really, government works better without them,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told “Fox News Sunday,” when asked whether public-worker unions should even exist.

Yeah, all that job security and benefit stuff, certainly pensions, maybe even “retirement,” is so old-think. At the 2011 CPAC conference, at which Daniels was rapturously received despite the deep offense he had caused the Christian Right by proposing a “truce” on social issues while the urgent work of fiscal retrenchment could be consummated, Mitch came right out and said the New Deal and Great Society programs were obsolete and needed to be discarded in favor of something new and less safety-nettish:

If freedom’s best friends cannot unify around a realistic, actionable program of fundamental change, one that attracts and persuades a broad majority of our fellow citizens, big change will not come….

We know what the basic elements must be. An affectionate thank you to the major social welfare programs of the last century, but their sunsetting when those currently or soon to be enrolled have passed off the scene.

“Affectionate thank you.” Yeah, Social Security and Medicare were fun while they lasted, kind of like handshake deals and dollar lunch specials and home visits by doctors. But no one could seriously think they’d work in this day and age, right? So shredding the safety net in order to give “job creators” lower tax rates and labor costs and more flexible, nimble business structures conducive to the knowledge-based global economy blah blah is what’s obviously necessary to keep up with never-ending change. And we sure don’t need any sclerotic, industrial-age unions around to resist change, particularly in the public sector, which needs to be the handmaiden of the fast-paced blah blah entrepreneurs who are peeking around corners to adapt our nation to its future global leadership role while the rest of us poor dumb cattle mosey along blindly, dependent on their bold genius, right?

I personally prefer my reactionaries to be in the Jim DeMint mode, just blatantly dripping with resentment of anything and anyone that’s not just like him. But if Republicans win control of Congress and the White House this November and the Ryan Budget is enacted and we do begin to say our affectionate goodbyes to all that egalitarian nonsense of the twentieth century, we’ll hear a lot more from the likes of Mitch Daniels, who’ll comfort us that it’s all a matter of keeping the country strictly up to date.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.