With the hardcover version running a brief 233 pages, Keeping the Republic [hardcover version, Amazon] is a quick and lively read. For the politically-inclined reader or simply the casual reader concerned about our nation, it is a must-read.
In writing Keeping the Republic, Governor Mitch Daniels attempts to convince his readers, and indeed the American public, that the nation’s growing national debt–what Daniels terms a new “Red Menace”–represents a threat to this nation’s very existence. He proceeds to explain what he feels are the origins and cause of the debt crisis, and provides some solutions and reasons for optimism, referencing Indiana’s many successes during his tenure.
In the task of explaining the severity of the debt problem, Daniels more than succeeds. He presents the stark numbers throughout the book, but the upshot is this: the nation’s debt and budget as a percentage of GDP are approaching that of Greece and other nations that are on the brink of financial and monetary collapse. Standard & Poor’s and other ratings agencies have already downgraded America’s credit rating once and are suggesting a possible second downgrade already. And this is before the financial tsunami arrives from Medicare and Social Security. The actuarial tables are there for everyone to see.
Daniels constructs an easily-readable narrative and employs a novel parlance (with many terms serving as chapter names) to bring readers back to important concepts and characters.
• “The Skeptics” is Daniels’ collective term for people throughout history who doubt the ability of an American-style democratic republic to survive. The principle argument of The Skeptics: that a democratic populace will vote themselves too much money from the treasury. Decadence will lead to crushing debt. Daniels argues that in its history, America has proven The Skeptics wrong and that it will overcome its present challenges to prove them wrong again.
• “The Red Menace” refers to the mountain of red on the nation’s budget sheet and is overtly intended to remind the reader of the menace of the USSR during the Cold War and perhaps of the rising power and status of China today. The comparison might seem hyperbolic at first blush, but Daniels’ use of the phrase is anything but. The point is that the threat of out-of-control debt, while not as physical and imminent of that of a war between superpowers, is existential nevertheless. Rather than physical destruction, America faces potential deep changes to its values and way of life.
• “The Great Inversion” and the “Shrunken Citizen” are Daniels’ terms for explaining the change in the role of the government vis-a-vis the citizen that has started to occur in this nation. This is one of the book’s most compelling concepts: liberal “big government” policies not only add to the nation’s debt but also reverse the role of the citizen and the government. Citizens come to think of the government as their protector and provider. Through regulation and social safety net programs, the citizen has been shrunken and works to serve the government, rather than government working to serve the citizen. If this process is left unchecked, “shrunken” citizens lose touch with the magic of the American ideal and lose the productivity and ingenuity that have driven the American economy throughout history.
• “Our Benevolent Betters” is Daniels’ satirical term for liberals in government who subscribe to the philosophy, consciously or unconsciously, that they know what’s best for Americans rather than individual Americans themselves. The Benevolent Betters are the story’s villains.
• “Change That Believes In You” is Daniels’ twist on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan. This is a theme that undergirds the entirety of Mitch Daniels’ political philosophy and the arguments contained in “Keeping the Republic”–that elected officials and Americans themselves must trust individual citizens and give them the freedom to be the engines of innovation and economy that they have historically been.
Daniels outlines several solutions to ‘unshrink’ citizens, undo The Great Inversion, and solve the nation’s debt problems. Part 2 of this review will address these proposals in depth. Look for Part 2 in the next week.