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Where have all the adults gone?

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POSTED: August 11, 2010 11:25 a.m.
If you could boil down the public’s lament with Washington, it might be: “What happened to the adults?”
Not the adults of the Clark Clifford variety, the Washington fixtures who alternate between serving administrations and commenting on them sagely for PBS. But political leaders who make tough choices, take on problems directly and combine principle with pragmatism in a manner consistent with true statesmanship.
President Barack Obama promised to be this kind of leader. He has instead proven — with a few exceptions — to be the servant of a limited political faction. He has exacerbated the nation’s fiscal crisis without dealing effectively with its economic crisis, while piling on far-reaching legislation of dubious merit. His supporters still lament that Washington is “broken.”
The sweep of Obama’s ambition has necessarily forced congressional Republicans into a perpetual posture of “no,” but they are reluctant to outline their own agenda of “yes.” Out in the country, a populist movement of great moment and promise wants to pull the country back to its constitutional moorings. Its favored candidates, though, are often shaky vessels, the likes of Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada, who are always one gaffe away from self-immolation.
For adults, look to the states. Look in particular to New Jersey and Indiana, where Govs. Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels are forging a limited-government Republicanism that connects with people and solves problems. They are models of how to take inchoate dissatisfaction with the status quo, launder it through political talent and apply it in a practical way to governance.
Christie has just concluded a six-month whirlwind through Trenton. In tackling a fiscal crisis in a state groaning under an $11 billion deficit, he did people the favor of being as forthright as a punch in the mouth. And it worked.
He matched unyielding principle (determined to balance the budget without raising taxes, he vetoed a millionaires’ tax within minutes of its passage) with a willingness to take half a loaf (he wanted a constitutional amendment to limit property taxes to 2.5 percent, but settled with Democrats for an imperfect statutory limit). He’ll need an “act two” to get deeper reforms, but New Jersey is now separating itself from those other notorious wastrels, California and Illinois.
In Indiana, tightfisted two-term Gov. Mitch Daniels has slimmed down and improved his state’s public sector. He inherited a $200 million deficit in 2004, which he turned into a $1.3 billion surplus just in time to ride out the recession. He’s reformed government services and rallied his administration around one simple, common-sense goal: “We will do everything we can to raise the net disposable income of individual Hoosiers.”
Both Christie and Daniels are not what a political consultant would cook up (Christie has too much girth and Daniels too little hair). They both feel the weight of responsibility as the chief executives of their states in a way that hyperbolic congressmen and commentators don’t. They prove that Republicans can govern, that budgets can be tamed, and that politics can work, so long as serious men and women put their shoulders to the wheel.
In short, they are adults. Their like can’t gain control of Washington soon enough.

Lowry is editor of the National Review.
 

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