Reihan Salam is a writer, journalist, and Schwarz Fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy institute. His writing appears regularly in The National Review, Forbes.com, The Daily Beast, Slate, and other publications. His article "The Death of Macho," concerning the disruptive effects of the recession on men across the globe, appeared in Foreign Policy in 2009. He is the co-author, with Ross Douthat, of "Grand New Party: How Conservatives Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream" (Doubleday, 2008).
Question: Which politicians best embody your political philosophy?
Reihan Salam: Like a lot of conservative nerds, I really like Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, and Mitch Daniels is not a terribly charismatic figure, but what I really like about him is that he is honest. He has a lot of integrity, and by honest I don’t mean in this kind of trivial way. I mean that he highlights the kind of tradeoffs that we’re going to have to go through during this period of wrenching economic change. Over the last ten years state governments across the country have grown by about 6% a year. Now when you think about any of those discrete debates you could frame it this way: "Well, we want to raise educational spending and these guys don’t because they hate children," and that’s actually really compelling, but of course if spending more means you don’t hate children, then of course it’s unlimited, right? I mean we could spend literally trillions of dollars and if you oppose that then you necessarily hate children. And the thing is that that is not how the world works. You have to actually balance your different goals. These goals are always intention. And I think someone like Daniels he became incredibly unpopular when he first came into office because he was like, “This is not sustainable.” “This is a disaster.” “We’re not funding transportation enough.” “We need to start thinking creatively about how to raise revenue and how to plan for frankly a rocky future in which we’re not educating our children adequately and we don’t have the tools that we need to flourish.”
And you know, part of my thinking is that people expected that from Barack Obama. When Barack Obama came into office I think they thought he is a truth-teller who is going to kind of break with this kind of sunny morning American spirit of everything is hunky-dory and we don’t need to belt-tighten and we don’t need to sacrifice in any way. And then he came into office and offered a health reform plan that was like, we’re just going to cut wasteful spending and use that to kind of solve everyone’s problems. We’re going to raise taxes on some secretive people that you don’t know, but not you and everything is going to work out. And then suddenly people were distrustful and it created this huge opportunity for folks to say all kinds of nonsense that wasn’t true because again there was so much distrust that people didn’t know who to believe. And Daniels is someone who when he came into office he said, “We’re going to raise taxes in the top 1% of earners.” That didn’t actually go through, and Republicans fought him tooth and nail on it, but he said, “Let’s do that because we’re also going to cut programs for other people and if we’re going to do that we need to share the burden across the whole population.” That strikes me as the politics that people would really respond to, a kind of politics of honest tradeoffs.
Recorded on November 16, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen