Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Self-Validating Decision

"My wife, may she always be right, but my wife right or wrong!"

“Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more.”

Thus did Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels remove himself from consideration for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, breaking the hearts of Mitt Romney haters everywhere. Seldom have eighteen words launched so much ethical analysis, or what passes for it in the media.

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, for example, applauded the Governor’s priorities while accusing Daniels of “throwing his wife under the bus.” Her point was that Daniels did not have to make it so crystal clear that his wife vetoed his own desire to run, that he should have simply said that he declined, and leave it at that. Indeed, that would have been chivalrous and kind. For a public servant and politician, however, it would also have been dishonest and wrong. Just as the public needs to know why a public figure is running for president (Gingrich: Because he’s deluded….Trump: Because its good for his TV ratings…), it needs to know why a public figure is not.

Daniels doesn’t have to run for president. It’s a free country. But in a time of national crisis, when there is a widespread belief that strong leadership is critical, that the United States is at a crucial moment in its history, and it is either drifting, ignoring significant threats to its stability or rapidly deteriorating, a genuine statesman has an ethical obligation to place country first.

Many in the Republican Party and conservative movement were looking to Daniels as a leader who could transcend a motley field of potential challengers to an eminently challengeable president. Gov. Daniels’ duty was to give them an answer, and an honest one, both because being honest in statements to the public is a good habit to promote, and also because it tells us something important about Mitch Daniels.

What the answer told us was that Mitch Daniels lacks the essential priorities and willingness to sacrifice personally and professionally that are essential traits of national leadership. If he wants to put his family first, that may make him a great father and husband, but it doesn’t make him a great American leader. If the desires of their wives had been the determining factor, many U.S. Presidents, including George Washington, U.S. Grant, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, might never have answered their country’s call. They believed that the well-being of millions of fellow citizens had to take precedence over the natural desire for privacy, normal work hours, personal safety and the avoidance of constant scrutiny and criticism. I understand and respect Mitch Daniels’ decision, but I don’t admire it, and as with the similar decision of Colin Powell to reject a presidential quest in deference to his wife, it is neatly self-validating: if a man is unwilling to put one’s country first at a time of crisis, then he isn’t qualified to lead the United States anyway.

Good to know, Governor. We shall remember that the next time your wife has a mid-life crisis and runs off with an old boyfriend, and you decide you can run for president. The decision to lead a nation must depend on the nation’s needs, not yours, and not your wife’s. We are grateful for your honesty, however. Now we know.

As for Cheri Daniels, I see no reason why she should be able to avoid the consequences of her actions, and no obligation for the Governor to shield her from fair accountability. She had already precipitated the incident that reflected poorly on both her and, arguably, her husband, when earlier in their marriage she had abandoned Daniels and her children to start a new life with an old flame. ( I’d say Daniels more than  fulfilled  his minimum chivalry requirements by issuing a statement asserting that “The notion that Cheri ever did or would ‘abandon’ her girls or parental duty is the reverse of the truth.” When a mother leaves her family in Indiana while she goes to live with another man in California, that’s abandonment. What else would Daniels call it? A vacation? An elaborate practical joke? )  When the flame flamed out, as they are wont to do, Daniels took his wayward ex- back and re-married her, simultaneously marking him as a prince and a patsy. Now, justifiably afraid of how the press and public will treat the episode if a presidential candidacy made the couple’s travails an issue, Cheri used her veto to stop her husband’s political rise. Her selfish indulgence of an unscratched itch for a former love set in motion a series of events that began with the betrayal of her family, and ended in affecting the field for the 2012 presidential election.

Unethical decisions have the tendency to cause unexpected harm. If the fate of Mitch Daniels’ presidential aspirations teaches us that lesson, he will not have withdrawn in vain.

9 thoughts on “Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Self-Validating Decision

  1. I agree with your assessment that this reasoning is cyclical, and I am glad that Daniels is clear enough about his own priorities to decide and articulate them now, rather than 2 years into a difficult presidency.

    However, I’m deeply uncomfortable with your judgments on the Daniels’ marriage. I don’t know much about their history or how much of it has been made public, but I do know that it’s really difficult to ever know what’s going on in someone else’s relationship — even that of a close friend or family member. You seem to assume that Cheri is flighty and selfish, while Mitch has the dumb loyalty of a Labrador retriever, and certainly the outside facts could support that reading. But what if Mitch was, in fact, a selfish and negligent husband prior to Cheri’s leaving him — and what if his absolute loyalty to her now is a combination of a real change in his own heart and a deep sense of gratitude at being offered a second chance? The outside facts support that, too.

    Without knowing for certain, your assignment of blame on Cheri Daniels smacks of a long tradition of blaming the queen or mistress for the king’s bad behavior. Not classy, and not particularly ethical either.

    • It’s a valid point, except for the disposition of the children. I can’t see a flattering explanation for that. If he was neglectful, a responsible mother wouldn’t leave him in charge of four young girls, would she? Would you?

      Great men and great women more often than not are lousy parents, Everything I’ve seen indicates that Daniels is a devoted parent. We can only make assessments of public figures’ character based on what we know and what our experience tells us…generally Occam’s Razor applies. The buzz on Bill and Hillary before he was elected was spun to death, but in the end, the obvious implications turned out to be true: untrustworthy Bill, ambitious Hillary enabling and covering up, and a marriage that was less than it pretended to be. What I see in the Daniels travails is a nice guy pliable husband in thrall to his hot, flaky wife, who has him wrapped around her little finger. That’s the most likely truth—sure, there are lots of other options—and based on the odds, I’m not going to mourn the loss of the opportunity to vote for Mitch Daniels.

      • It’s likely that you are correct, and I certainly don’t have any concrete information that would contradict your assessment.

        However, leaving the girls behind may not be absolute proof of Cheri’s flakiness, or Mitch’s solidity. Many people prove to be better parents than spouses; it’s possible that Mitch was a devoted father who was also manipulative, neglectful, or unfaithful towards his wife. It’s also a rare woman who has the financial and emotional resources to strike out on her own with four adolescent girls to care for; it’s possible Cheri hoped to seek custody of her children at a later date. It’s even possible that this most recent decision has nothing to do with Cheri, at all, but a desire to keep their adult daughters out of the spotlight.

        You may protest that I’m projecting an awful lot onto the Daniels family — and you would be absolutely right. I only hope you can see that the media’s interpretation of the story (which you have not challenged) also involves a lot of projection. One reason I’m skeptical of that assessment is that it follows a stereotyped script — good-hearted but naive man is brought low by the enchantments of an attractive and flighty woman. It surely does happen sometimes, and it definitely makes a good story, but it’s also VERY convenient for anyone who can’t imagine that good-hearted Mitch Daniels could possibly reach this decision on his own.

        I believe Mitch Daniels is a responsible adult who should be afforded both the credit and the blame for his own actions. He chose to marry Cheri (TWICE — surely the second time he knew what he was getting into!); he chose to go into a highly visible political office; he chose to allow plenty of speculation about a presidential bid. And, when he publicly announced that he would not be running, he chose to cite family obligations as the primary reason.

        Even if Cheri Daniels really is a selfish little git who uses her female attractiveness to manipulate the poor, hapless Mitch into doing whatever she wants — Mitch Daniels is an adult, and he has chosen to allow that pattern to continue. There is no reason why he cannot be held publicly accountable for his own decisions that affect the public sphere.

        • Do you sense I’m not holding Daniels accountable? I said his decision proves he isn’t qualified to lead anyway. I don’t think claiming his wife and adult daughters could dictate his decision reflects poorly on him, but it is consistent with the most likely interpretation of his earlier marital crisis.

  2. Sorry, perhaps I should have been clearer earlier. I do think you’re holding Mitch Daniels accountable, and the bulk of your post seems to focus on him, which is appropriate.

    The portion that makes me uncomfortable is the longish paragraph dedicated to Cheri Daniels specifically, which ends with the assertion that, “Her selfish indulgence of an unscratched itch for a former love set in motion a series of events that began with the betrayal of her family, and ended in affecting the field for the 2012 presidential election.” That sounds an awful lot like blaming Cheri for a decision that was ultimately not up to her. Is that not how you intended it to come across?

    • I meant that unethical actions have consequences, many of which one can’t predict. Had she not abandoned her family once, the couple’s past and the aversion to 21st century media scrutiny might not have been an issue, her husband might have run for president, and the history of the nation and the world might be changed for the good. That doesn’t make his failure to run her fault; it does mean that her actions set in motion forces that led them to this point. If you are going to affect the course of history in unpredictable ways with your conduct, you might as well try to make it good conduct. That’s all.

      • I completely agree with everything you said in your last comment here — thanks for clarifying.

        I’m not sure that was the point that came across in your original post, however. Between your choice of photo and the long paragraph dedicated to Cheri’s culpability, it still reads to me like you’re blaming her for her husband’s decisions.

        Given the unfortunate tradition of blaming women for various misdeeds of men (way back to Adam & Eve), you might want to clarify so that no one else will misunderstand and think that you’re doing so here.

        • I don’t think Jack is blaming the wife. He’s blaming Daniels reliance on the wife.

          I think there’s a bit of a catch-22 possibility though. If Daniels doesn’t care that his wife doesn’t want him to run, she might divorce him, pretty much sinking him with half the conservative party. Based on her preferences, there’s no way he can run and win.

  3. Bullshit.

    Blame his WIFE? Blame his FAMILY?

    Neither you nor I know what it’s like to both run for office and have our family under a 24/7 microscope by the press. I am convinced that Fred Thompson decided not to run for the same reason.

    It takes too much these days — from family, from ethics, from real life — to run for national office. This is why we have egoists and frankly, sociopaths, successfully gain national prominence and perhaps the greatest perq of all — the presidency.

    I firmly believe that at this stage a candidate has to be DRAFTED to run… Why else give up all that is near and dear to you and your real beliefs?

    There are examples too numerous to delineate (tho I’m sure you can) where candidates didn’t SEEK the presidency except for the lack of anyone else to do the job. Similarly, there are a number of crackpots and sociopaths who became, in fact, real leaders in the presidency.

    Just don’t pick on Mitch Daniels on this issue. He has led an extraordinary (if odd) life. And if he chooses to keep it separate from the public service he’s already performed, give him a break.

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