Think Right: Mourning Daniels, Who Could Have Been a Great American President

Andrew C. Spiropoulos

When most Hoosiers hear of President Mitch Daniels, they think of the recently deceased president of Purdue University and the many accomplishments of his decade-long tenure. For a few of us, however, while we admire his work at Purdue and think him worthy of emulation, when Daniels is called president, we reflect sadly on what could have and, in a luckier country, would have had to be.

In 2011, a year before the end of Daniels’ second term as governor of Indiana, many conservatives implored Daniels to run against incumbent President Barack Obama. We believed Daniels’ leadership priorities and accomplishments demonstrated that he was the right man for this moment in national politics. The contrast with Barack Obama could not be more flagrant. Obama was hungry to spend more money on expanding government rights, while Daniels was well known for his frugality and relentless pursuit of government waste to cut.

But what made Daniels special was that he didn’t cut outrageous and corrupt spending out of sheer economy. He invested these savings in the implementation of innovative social policies, including comprehensive school choice programs and health savings accounts, which harnessed the power of markets to improve the lives of, in particular, classrooms. worker and average. While Obama delivered big speeches and meager results, Daniels’ down-to-earth and sometimes blunt demeanor disguised a genuinely creative political mind. His most famous stunt was selling the state’s toll revenue stream to financial investors for what turned out to be a huge windfall, which he immediately invested in massive transportation infrastructure improvements.

Alas, Daniels refused to subject his family to the personal attacks he knew would follow any challenge to Obama. He instead accepted another presidency, agreeing to lead Purdue. Daniels immediately denied any notion that he was seeking a comfortable and lucrative near-retirement. He first announced a tuition freeze, which he maintained in place throughout his term. He then embarked on a characteristic Daniels hunt to cut expenses and found many ways to serve students more effectively. Just as he did in government, he invested the savings in both expanded programs and the search for professors in science, mathematics and engineering, as well as the creation of one of the main course platforms. country online.

Daniels also acknowledged that a major university needs more than more course offerings or increased grants — it basically needs to lead. He persuaded his colleagues to make Purdue the first major state university to adopt the Chicago Principles, the strongest set of academic freedom protections circulating in the American academy.

With the exception, however, of this commitment to academic freedom, Daniels would be the first witness to tell you that the path he followed at Purdue is not suitable for all institutions. As a land-grant state university with a historic focus on science, math, and engineering, Purdue is committed to providing a distinctive range of opportunities to its citizens at a reasonable price. The same strategy would not necessarily suit, say, Daniels’ alma mater, Princeton, a venerable and wealthy liberal arts institution. Oklahoma state leaders, however, should make a special effort to learn from Daniels.

The biggest lesson of Daniels’ career is that while effective policymaking is not an easy discipline, it is a discipline that, if you care enough to remove the distractions and corruptions of mere politics , you can learn how to do it well.

Andrew Spiropoulos is Robert S. Kerr, Sr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Public Affairs Council. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and should not be attributed to any one institution.

Kevin E. Boling