First off, I want to say that the book itself is very interesting, extremely readable, and is written in an almost conversational tone. Complex problems and concepts are boiled down with simple, easy to understand prose. This sort of ability to distill the complex into something that ordinary folks can comprehend has been the hallmark of Mitch Daniels' time in politics. His book is no different.
As someone that has read more than a few books written by politicians, I can attest that political books like this are generally not terribly readable or interesting, even if they are ghost-written. This book (which as far as I am aware was not ghost-written) manages to be both readable and interesting.
It's a good thing, too, because the subject matter is very depressing. The book has essentially two parts. The first is basically a discussion of the situation our country is now in. Most of Mitch's focus is on the national debt (which Mitch acknowledges was built over a long time, but he also at length discusses how the policies of the Obama administration have managed to make that problem immeasurably worse).
The second part is an outline of what George Will calls in the foreword of the book, "the Daniels Doctrine, or conservatism for grown-ups." As much as the first part of the book is depressing in laying out the challenges we face as a country, the second part is even more depressing because it's basically the platform for the presidential campaign that never was. I can't see any of the current Republican candidates for president supporting this platform, and I don't think that any of them could communicate it as effectively or implement it as competently as Mitch Daniels.
Mitch dedicates his book to "Cheri and the girls." The next line of the dedication reads "Like everything else," which struck me as an odd addition. In the context of the book, and of the challenges of our times, I read it almost as a lament. Their gain is America's loss.
The book isn't about Mitch, though it contains the occasional Hoosier anecdote and Mitch finds (unsurprisingly for a book intended as a component of a presidential campaign) plenty of answers in his policies in Indiana to problems in America more broadly. The book's third paragraph makes it clear that this is not a biography by any means: "If you're looking for a book full of self-revelation and tales of a tormented childhood, try the next shelf. What follows is most determinedly not about me because, frankly, I'm not that interesting. I've led a boringly typical postwar American life, which is to say I'm among the luckiest people who ever walked the earth."
The book isn't about him. It's about how to ensure that future generations of Americans can have the same boringly typical and lucky lives that he did.
Observers of Indiana politics won't find names dropped in the book. In fact, the only Republican elected official mentioned by name in the entire book is Richard Mourdock, who appears in the context of his lawsuit over the Chrysler bailout, a move Daniels explains and defends (perhaps the most concise explanation and succinct defense of the Chrysler case I have seen). Dick Lugar, Mitch's mentor, didn't even get mentioned (there's a photo of Mitch with Lugar in the photo insert in the middle of the book, but nothing else). Evan Bayh and Pat Bauer each merit only a single mention each.
That's not to say that the book doesn't recount a lot that happened under Mitch's time in Indiana or tell interesting political stories from that time. It does.
For example, at one point Mitch recounts a story about a Republican candidate for the legislature who was a pharmacist. First, the Democrats attacked him (a pharmacist, not the pharmacy owner) for sending jobs to China. Then they smeared him for preparing prescriptions for the morning-after pill (which he didn't do) and attacking him by extension as an abortionist (remember, the attack came from Democrats, who vigorously defend abortion at virtually every level of government). Mitch notes that the Republican candidate for the legislature won the election anyway.
I happen to know that candidate was Steve Davisson of Salem, who is now State Representative for District 73 (which includes part of Harrison County). Mitch didn't mention him by name, but he didn't need to. Name-dropping is incidental to the points he is trying to get across, so he didn't do it. It's very rare for books by politicians to not "name names" (which, I suppose, makes his mention of Richard Mourdock that much more interesting, but I digress).
The book is pithy and full of the wit and wry humor Hoosiers have seen from their governor for the past six and a half years. It's also full of a healthy dose of good Hoosier conservative common sense. The second portion of the book includes a program of ideas for setting America's fiscal house and economy back to rights as innovative as anything we've come to expect in Mitch's time as Governor of Indiana.
The slogan for the presidential campaign that never was would have been "change that believes in you," and the underlying theme of the campaign would have been a simple one. Liberals, Mitch notes (he calls them "our Betters" and Better is always capitalized), think people are stupid. They can't be trusted to make wise decisions about their individual well-being. Mitch proposes a program that trusts people to make decisions for themselves, with their own money.
We are left to ponder the campaign and presidency that would have been had Mitch run, won, and this program been implemented. The result would almost certainly have been a better, more prosperous, more conservative America.
As much as the first part of the book is depressing for its detailed discussion of the challenges we now face as a country, the second portion of the book is not much of a counterpoint, since there is no one in the current Republican field I see as capable of carrying this message or advancing a similarly innovative program to fix our problems.
Early in the book, Mitch observes that the challenge with our problems is not that they cannot be solved. It has more to do with our politicians believing that they cannot do what everyone knows needs to be done and still get reelected. Thus the American republic is imperiled, and its fortunes even still worsened.
Mitch has a record of seeing what needs to be done and doing it regardless of the political consequences (and getting reelected anyway, because people decided they agreed with him doing what needed to be done). I am not certain anyone cut from similar cloth is currently running for president. I hope so. We're going to need them.
At one point in the book, Mitch notes that early American currency used to bear the Latin motto "Exitus in dubio est," which translates as "The outcome is in doubt."
In both its message and as a sad reminder of the absence of a messenger, Keeping the Republic is a voice in the wilderness of modern American politics warning us that today, it very much still is.
Disclosure: I received a free advance copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of writing this review.