GEORGE WILL: Conservatism in Indiana returns to the old ways

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.

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, whose state's population is, he says, “getting older and not growing,” 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.

In 2001, he returned to Washington as President Bush's first director of the Office of Management and Budget. As the government's designated grinch, he said Congress' motto apparently is “Don't just stand there, spend something.” Sen. Ted Stevens was not amused. The Alaska Republican, who then chaired the Appropriations Committee … urged Daniels to “go home to Indiana.” Daniels did, not to soothe Stevens but to run for governor.

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). Initiating the sale of 2,096 surplus state vehicles (so far, $1.95 million in revenue from 1,514 sales). And so on, and on, agency by agency.

Uniquely Indiana

What is it about Indiana? In this annus horribilis (horrible year) 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, more than 100 parsimonious members under the leadership of Mike Pence, a third-term Hoosier from a few miles east of here. 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.

Traditional conservatism

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, far from being an exercise in small-mindedness, 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.

George Will writes for The Washington Post. His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.