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Commentary: Indiana's Danielism may be part of our future

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana likes having the nation's highest portion of workers -- 20 percent -- in manufacturing, so five days before Delphi, the Michigan-based automobile parts manufacturer, entered bankruptcy, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who believes that "conservatism can be active," called Delphi. He praised Indiana as a paradise for even more Delphi operations than are already there.

Michigan's Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, responded to Delphi's travails differently, denouncing Delphi's executives, Washington and globalization. In the game of entrepreneurial federalism -- states competing to lure businesses -- score one for the Hoosier State, which in the four years before Daniels became governor had a net job loss.

In the division between social conservatives, who emphasize nurturing virtue, and libertarian conservatives, who emphasize expanding liberty by limiting government, Daniels is with the latter. For example, regarding immigration, an issue that dramatizes this division, many social conservatives are restrictionists, but Daniels welcomes immigrants who usually are "young people with dreams -- a good development."

After graduating from Princeton and Georgetown law school, Daniels came home to this city to work for its then-mayor, Richard Lugar. After 8 years as chief of Lugar's U.S. Senate staff, and two years as director of political operations in President Reagan's White House, Daniels came home again, to work in business and for a think tank for 13 years.

Hoosiers seem suspicious of metropolitans but in 2004 Daniels became the state's first governor from this city. Knowing that the devil is in budget details, "the blade," as Daniels was known at OMB, set about:

Ending bottled water for employees of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (annual savings, $35,000). Ending notification of drivers that their licenses are expiring; letting them be responsible for noticing (saving $200,000). Buying rather than renting floor mats for BMV offices (saving $267,000 this year). And so on, and on, agency by agency.

Such matters might be dismissed by liberals who think government spending is an index of government "caring," and perhaps by a new sect called "national greatness conservatives" who regard Daniels' kind of parsimony as a small-minded, cheeseparing exercise unworthy of government's great and stately missions. But it seems to be an Indiana approach.

What is it about Indiana? In this annus horribilis for conservatives, one of their few reasons for rejoicing has been the ascent to influence in the U.S. House of Representatives of the Republican Study Committee. The RSC's doctrine, a response to a one-third increase in federal spending during the current president's first four years, might be called Danielsism, which is: There is more to limited government than limiting its spending, but there will be nothing limited about government unless its spending is strenuously limited.

This tenet of traditional conservatism, although more frequently affirmed than acted on, is producing fresh plans for action. A 24-page RSC proposal calls for rescinding $25 billion in pork spending from the transportation bill, saving $30.8 billion by delaying for one year the start of the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, and much more.

Daniels believes that Danielsism actually serves a large vision. He subscribes to a distinction made by Virginia Postrel in her book "The Future and Its Enemies" -- the distinction between advocates of stasis and advocates of dynamism. The former believe in managing the unfolding of the future. The latter believe in minimal management of that unfolding; hence they believe in minimizing government, which has a metabolic urge to manage, and a stake in preserving, the status quo that government's bureaucracies are comfortable serving.

So, what is it about Indiana? As the home of Danielsism, and of Penceism, it -- with its bought, not rented BMV floor mats -- is the wave of the future.