Mitch Daniels gave the CPAC conference its most powerful and intelligent speech. The speech has been praised by many people for many reasons. I want to single out just one sentence.
Upward mobility from the bottom is the crux of the American promise, and the stagnation of the middle class is in fact becoming a problem, on any fair reading of the facts.
Those are important and welcome words.
Welcome first, because they are words based on fact, not myth. Compare them for example to Marco Rubio’s words at CPAC last year. Rubio praised the United States as:
the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from …. the only economy in the world where poor people with a better idea and a strong work ethic can compete and succeed against rich people in the marketplace and competition.
Rubio’s words repeat a story we like to tell ourselves, but that happens not to be true. Daniels’ words call us to face things as they are.
Daniels’ words are welcome, second, because they imply an agenda fully as important as the deficit and the debt. If mobility is the crux of the American promise – and if that promise is not being fulfilled – then something must be done, right? We can puzzle together over what that something might be. But at least we’ll be engaging the most important problems of American society.
Daniels’ words are important, finally, because they take us inside the head of a man who is really thinking. A lot of the speeches at CPAC – at any political meeting, left or right – are attempts to reflect back to the audience what they believed when they entered the room. Daniels was not trying to guess what his audience wanted to hear. He was telling the audience what he believed it needed to hear. That’s leadership too, intellectual leadership. Conservatives have missed it too long. The governor of Indiana this weekend brought it back.