Morris: Good Advice from Mitch Daniels
by Leo Morris
If you were a hall monitor back in your school days, I apologize for the insult, but I did not care for your kind.
I was one of the crossing guards, and we considered ourselves a far superior breed.
Crossing guards stood at busy intersections, brave young arms extended, to keep dimwitted classmates from rushing out in front of demon cars. We were true public servants, and courageous ones at that, since in those unenlightened days we were allowed to perform the task without adult supervision.
Hall monitors roamed the corridors just before class start times in search of hapless friends without passes, eager to turn in their names to authorities in the naïve belief that this somehow made them part of the power structure. They were, if you’ll pardon the expression, wannabe goody two-shoes.
To put it into modern political terms, and to paraphrase the great Ronald Reagan, crossing guards were like the public officials who get elected to do something, and the hall monitors were like the ones who get elected to be something.
Which brings us to former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who also referenced the Reagan quote in announcing that he will not be seeking the U.S. Senate seat about to be vacated by fellow Republican Mike Braun.
I’m not here to defend Daniels’ record. I liked some of his accomplishments (cutting the government workforce and capping property taxes), remain ambivalent about some (getting a one-time, upfront payment for privatization of the toll road) and strongly object to some (pushing through the despicable Daylight Saving Time).
But I’ve always liked and admired him as a public figure, and I’ve never doubted his integrity in pursuing his visions for policy or his sincerity in explaining his reasons for them.
So I believe him when he says, elaborating on the Reagan quote, that he has a preference for the “citizen servant approach to public life. I believe that politics and government are worthy pursuits, which men and women of good will should undertake if they can, not as a life’s work or an end in itself, but to try to ensure that the important realms of society – the private economy, our voluntary associations, local communities and neighborhoods – can all flourish.”
The concept of “citizen servant” is one of those elemental ideas that looked great on paper but never quite worked in the real world. Clearly, the Founders envisioned politics as a mechanism for getting ordinary people into and out of public office. But it almost immediately became a lifelong pursuit for those in a whole new class of professional politicians eager to belong to the Ruling Elite.
As a result we have far too many people who seek office to be something, far too few who want to really do something, in the sense that Reagan and Daniels meant. We have too many hall monitors who want to massage and manage us, the equivalent of chiding us for being late to class, and too few crossing guards who would try to keep danger at bay but otherwise let us simply live our lives.
And it can be a fine line, public servants who start out seeking to do but get sucked into the allure of just being in a class above the common herd.
Just consider that Braun has tasted the life of a senator and now wants to be governor. Jim Banks is already a representative but now wants that Senate seat. Have they crossed the line from doing into being? They should honestly ask themselves that question, and voters should think about it, too.
And whoever gets that Senate seat should heed these words from Daniels:
“People obsessed with politics or driven by personal ambition sometimes have difficulty understanding those who are neither. I hope to be understood as a citizen and patriot who thought seriously, but not tediously, about how to be deserving of those labels . . .”
Yes, you, too, can be a crossing guard, even if you’re a recovering hall monitor.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at email@example.com.