Commentary Magazine


You Can’t Criticize a Man for Sparing His Wife and Daughters

The decision by Governor Mitch Daniels to forego a presidential run because of family considerations is an example of something exceedingly rare in the political arena—selflessness and grace.

I say that because Daniels wanted to run for president, and if he had chosen to do so, he would have been a front-runner. But because of concerns expressed by his wife and four daughters, he decided to take a pass.

I’m fully aware of the counter-argument to the decision Daniels made. If the situation facing our nations is as grave as Daniels believes, didn’t he have a duty to put himself forward as a candidate? I’m certainly sympathetic to that argument—but the point is, Daniels is familiar with it as well. It must have gone around and around in his mind a thousand times.

Whether Daniels’s decision is the right one depends on the angle of vision. But it is fair to say that in a profession in which politicians routinely place their towering personal ambitions above all else, neglect their families and cheat on their spouses, and even declare that their infidelity is an act of patriotism, what Daniels did was in its own way personally impressive.

I’m not cynical about politicians. They’re capable of acts of courage and perseverance. It isn’t easy being in the arena; those who endure the slings and arrows deserve ample credit. And there are genuine sacrifices that accompany public service. But there’s also enormous ego gratification that occurs, even though public officials rarely acknowledge it (they stress the sacrificial nature of serving in public life, not the inflated pride and public adoration that usually accompany it). And for a public official genuinely to put the desires of others ahead of his own—to step back from the stage when you have a realistic chance to become the next president of the United States—happens about as often as does a solstice lunar eclipse.

I wish Daniels had decided to run. But in an age when the order of our loves is easily corrupted, even in ways we don’t see, it’s hard to criticize a man for not forcing his wife and daughters to relive a terribly painful episode not of his own making.

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