Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels delivers the State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature at the Statehouse Tuesday, January 10, 2012, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Mitch Daniels? Seriously?
The Republican Party is so determined to advance the extreme anti-labor agenda of its Wall Street funders and front groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council that it shoved aside John Boehner (might have teared up), Paul Ryan (last year’s man) and vaguely interesting governors such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley (both backing a loser for president) in order to make way for Indiana Governor Daniels to deliver the response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address by President Obama.
The choice of Daniels, who is currently leading the fight to enact an anti-labor “right-to-work (for less)” law in Indiana, sends a powerful signal at a time when the Republicans who would be president are stumbling over one another to proclaim their enthusiasm for “right-to-work” legislation, their disdain for public employees and their unions and (in Newt Gingrich’s case) their determination to turn the clock back a century in order to eliminate child-labor laws. Only Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich are more closely linked in the public’s mind with the union-bashing frenzy that has so energized Republican governors and legislators. And Daniels is, arguably, the most aggressive union basher of all. Having already stripped Indiana public employees of collective bargaining rights, he is now aiding and abetting the efforts of Indiana Republican legislators to undermine the rights of private sector workers.
Now, the state-based fight goes national as an anti-labor governor gets a forum to spread anti-labor lies about how best to jump-start a sputtering economy. “The national Republican party has selected Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address… sending a clear signal the party is making attacks on working people a top priority in the 2012 elections,” observes the AFL-CIO blog. Daniels is a key backer of right-to-work-for-less (RTW) legislation, which state Republican lawmakers, in a stunning display of arrogance, have repeatedly tried to ram through, while thumbing their noses at working Hoosiers—not to mention democracy.
The response to the president’s State of the Union Address by a representative of the opposition party has become as much a part of American political theater as the speech itself.
The responses can be powerful (Virginia Senator Jim Webb in 2007) or pathetic (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal). They can be focused and conciliatory (Senate majority leader Bob Dole in 1996) or combative (Senate majority leader Harry Byrd in 1988). They can be pointless (House minority leader Richard Gephardt in 2002) or they can be riveting in their weirdness (House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s 2011 competition for the limelight).
But this year the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address will break new ground.
It will turn attention away from the national fights of the moment toward the states and highlight a Republican governor who is in the forefront of the coordinated campaign to undermine the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions and to weaken private sector unions to such an extent that many of them would struggle to survive.
Daniels, who served as George W. Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget (from whence he hailed the surpluses created by Bill Clinton’s Democratic administration), is more than capable of reciting his party’s inside-the-Beltway talking points (“Socialism! Alinsky! Socialism! Reagan! Socialism! Taxes! Socialism!”). But Daniels is not playing these days on the national tier of our politics—except perhaps as the person most Republicans wish were running for president. Rather, he is the face of the party’s state-based strategies.
While Wisconsin’s Walker and Ohio’s Kasich have drawn most of the headlines—and most of the political blowback—it is Indiana’s Daniels who has been the steadiest and most successful pitchman for ALEC’s antiunion agenda and the multinational corporations that have funded a nationwide assault on the rights of workers and on the unions that give them voice in the workplace and in the politics of communities, states and the nation.
So determined is the former Bush administration budget boss to break the unions in his state that Daniels has been more than willing to deceive the electorate of Indiana—and, now, to deny them the right to vote in a referendum on whether they want to roll back labor laws.
Politicians of both parties are often accused of being deceitful and disreputable.
But few have been so precisely, and so completely, confirmed in their dishonesty as Mitch Daniels.
In addition to the usual false claims about the economic “threats” that are posed by allowing workers to bargain for good pay, good benefits and good pensions, Daniels has been caught lying about his enthusiasm for worker rights. Elected on promises to unite Indiana on behalf of job creation, Daniels made a big deal about his willingness to work with labor unions. As he prepared to seek a second term, Daniels appeared at a Teamsters Local 135 stewards dinner where he specifically addressed the right-to-work issue. And he said he wasn’t going there. “We can’t afford to have super wars over issues that might divide us,” the governor told the assembled union members. “I have said it over and over again, and I’ll say it again tonight: I’m a supporter of the labor laws we have in the state of Indiana and I’m not interested in changing any of them—not the prevailing wage law and certainly not a ‘right-to-work’ law…”
Now, Daniels is working with Republican legislators in Indiana to pass a “right-to-work” law.
The Teamsters released a video of the speech and the AFL-CIO has circulated it with the message: “Gov. Daniels: Against ‘Right to Work’ Before He Was for It.”
On Tuesday, Daniels will take his hypocrisy national. And in so doing he will make it abundantly clear that the Republican Party is committed to union busting as an economic and political strategy.