Michael Gerson

There is a reason why OMB is not a typical steppingstone to high political office; the same reason that accountants generally don't become sex symbols. But Daniels became a highly successful Indiana governor, combining a motorcycle-driving, pork-tenderloin-eating populism with courageous budget cutting, a solid record of job creation and a reputation for competence. If responsibility and austerity are now sexy, Daniels and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are centerfolds.

When asked his political influences, Daniels cites Charles Murray, the author of "What It Means to Be a Libertarian." Daniels speaks of taxation as a form of coercion that can only be justified by narrow and necessary public purposes. But unlike, say, libertarian Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, Daniels has actually run a state, forcing him to define government's necessary purposes in a more realistic manner. "Building excellent public infrastructure is an appropriate role for government," he explains, on the theory that it "enables the private sector to thrive. ... Maybe this makes me more of a Whig." It has certainly made him a tenacious reformer of government itself. Asked about his achievements in office, he notes that average wait times at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles have fallen to under nine minutes. "Actually," he says, "eight minutes, 16 seconds."

Daniels' rigorous, detail-oriented focus on economic issues has earned him a favorable buzz among conservative intellectuals and commentators. Social conservatives have been more skeptical, feeling their deepest commitments might be set aside for the duration of a culture war "truce." In fact, Daniels' pro-life record is strong. The main problem with his truce proposal is not its moderation but its naivete. Just how would avoiding fights on unrelated social issues make Democratic legislators more likely to vote for broad budget cuts and drastic entitlement reforms? Daniels admits, "No one may take the offer. ... But I'm not prepared to give up on the idea we can address this thing. If we can't -- well, the cynics were right. But somebody has to try."

It is difficult to imagine Daniels' rejection of uplift, ideology and activism appealing to the country at most times. But maybe, at this particular time, we are a nation in need of fewer messiahs and more OMB directors.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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