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The government you won't miss

"The government you won't miss" Continued...

Issue: "The rise of localism," March 12, 2011

Daniels recalls the early days, when he'd prayerfully go around asking for money. He'd take with him police maps of the city with different colored dots representing crimes like murder, drug arrests, burglary, and vandalism. "All those dots clustered right on top of our building," he said of the area, then known as Dodge City.

The young school endured weekly emergencies and survived just days ahead of creditors."It seemed like we were snatching the damsel off the tracks just in time all of the time," Daniels said. "Then little miracles happened."

Once a gang initiation ritual caused a fire in the school's basement, but the flames died before causing major damage. A local man called one day to say he had bought the school's old windows at an auction decades ago. He gave them back.

Daniels loves to show visitors the fully restored large, rectangular, stained-glass windows. They have returned to their original place on either side of the main entrance leading to the school's grand front hall. Their inscription is from John 8: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

Said Daniels: "From 1895 to somewhere in the 1980s, thousands of young people came to school every day, to public school, and passed between those familiar pieces of Scripture and no one thought that was strange." The school has taught him that high expectations, love, and an environment infused with character and faith can overcome the handicaps often placed on disadvantaged youth.

While stories about The Oaks Academy flow out of Daniels, it is harder to get him to open up about his own spiritual life. He calls himself a traditionalist, preferring the old hymns, liturgy, and weekly communion found at his church's small 8 a.m. service. He calls humility the "central instruction of our faith. To place God at the center of our lives and to remember that He and He alone is great." He does evening devotionals (his wife just found a reproduction of Abraham Lincoln's devotional at a used bookstore) and snatches moments of prayer throughout the day. He tries to discipline his prayer life so he asks for guidance to do the right thing and to help others ("But never anything for myself. It never seemed to me that that was the point"). Mostly they are prayers of gratitude for a life he calls blessed.

Even if he is not as outspoken about his faith as other Christian conservatives, Daniels returns to the Scriptures when asked the origins of conservative political beliefs:"The whole notion as far as I can see of human equality only came into the world when Jesus did and said 'you are neither Jew or Gentile or Roman or Greek.'"

That makes his comments last year calling for a political "truce" on social issues all the more puzzling to many conservatives. His contention that everyone needs to get along until the nation's economic problems are solved may be why he garnered only 4 percent of the vote in a recent presidential straw poll at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference. "It is just a suggestion I made once," Daniels told me days before he was to give the keynote address at that conference. "Incidentally the comment was directed to people on both sides of those arguments, not just to the people I agree with."

Daniels believes the debt problem is a mortal threat to all Americans: "If the arithmetic is the way I read it, then this has to be an all-hands-on-deck sit­uation. . . . All I am saying is that you'd like to get as many people together around those things. They threaten us all."

Ed Simcox, a former Indiana secretary of state and current board member for Prison Fellowship, said the "truce" comment may have been "inartful," but it didn't cause major waves in Indiana. Calling Daniels a strong pro-life advocate, Simcox said he is not worried that Daniels, as president, would leverage appointing a moderate Supreme Court justice to win deficit debates. And Daniels, when I asked whether he would spend the political capital necessary to nominate and confirm a conservative like Antonin Scalia to the high court, was adamant that he would, saying "strict construction" of both federal and state constitutions "is as important as any issue I can think of. It runs far deeper than any one topic a court might deal with; the question is whether the people rule or will be ruled by an unaccountable few."

"His faith is aligned with America's evangelical movement," said Simcox, who credits Daniels with giving a powerful apologetics defense of Christianity at a state prayer breakfast and with implementing faith-based programs at the state's corrections department.

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