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Morning Jay: A Choice Only Among Rascals?

6:00 AM, Jan 26, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Some people wonder about the polls that show Americans largely ignorant as to the nature of our deficit crisis. Cut foreign aid and pork barrel spending, the public instructs, but don’t touch Medicare. Well, after generations of second-rate politicians misrepresenting the facts of our budget to them, we shouldn’t wonder – because Key was exactly right: the voice of the people is but an echo of the country’s political leadership. Garbage in equals garbage out.

This year seems to be more of the same, with three candidates either incapable of or uninterested in focusing the country on the biggest challenges we face. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are leaders who understand the nature of the problem and who can articulate it in a clear way. Agree or disagree with them, at least they are posing the problem in no uncertain terms. That is a necessary condition for an actual debate on the merits, which in turn is necessary for an informed public opinion.

One such leader gave the State of the Union rebuttal Tuesday night. Indiana governor Mitch Daniels argued:

In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we are only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out, if we are to avoid the fate of Europe, and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.

So 2012 is a year of true opportunity, maybe our last, to restore an America of hope and upward mobility, and greater equality. The challenges aren’t matters of ideology, or party preference; the problems are simply mathematical, and the answers are purely practical.

This is exactly the right frame for the 2012 election, and it is exactly the message that none of the candidates – on either side – seem able to carry.

The over cautious, platitudinous Romney can beat Obama, but in so doing I doubt he will frame the issues in a way that gives him a mandate to fix the bigger problems. And the unpredictable Gingrich might eke out a win, but it is but a matter of time before he alienates half-plus-one of the country, including many conservatives, by his bombast.  

Somebody else – somebody with the ability to make the case for reform in a sober and courageous manner – should jump into this race. And not just to keep Obama from a second term. If 2012 is a decisive election – then we need a candidate with the courage and rectitude to make the choice clear to the voters, so that once in office he has the mandate to fix this mess.

Daniels could be that candidate. While he could not win an outright majority of delegates because of the passing of too many filing deadlines, he could do what Bobby Kennedy attempted in 1968: get in late, do well in the latter contests, win some big states, and make the case that, early primaries aside, he is the true choice of the party, the one who could unify everybody around a common cause. If nobody has won a majority of delegates by June, that could very well be enough for a dark horse victory for Daniels.

Let’s hope he’s open to the idea.

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