Subscribe for 33¢ / day

CHICAGO | Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Monday issued a self-styled common-sense call for staving off the "Red Menace" of our national debt to 260 appreciative listeners at Chicago's Union League Club.

"In every way, the Red Menace of our debt is every bit as mortal a threat as much as the Soviet threat was," the Republican governor said in calm tones from the lectern in the club's sixth-floor ballroom.

The audience of Chicago business leaders and others listened to the governor's brief noon luncheon talk with rapt attention, with audience members plainly aware Illinois faces the same type of menace.

"I think he's right on and that this really is an emergency," said George Starmann, a retired Chicago-area banker. "The only thing that scares me is we can't get any of this done before 2012."

Presidential politics were in the air from the get-go at the club. From 11:30 a.m. to noon, people stood in a line 50 deep to have Daniels sign copies of his book "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans."

Many, including Leonard and Kathy Wass, of Oswego, Ill., told Daniels of their disappointment when he decided earlier this year not to run for president.

"So we asked him how about (New Jersey Gov.) Chris Christie? And he said he talked to him just last week," Kathy Wass said after getting two books signed. "And we said: 'Well, he's got two votes in Illinois.'"

Daniels is just one in a star lineup of writers the club's authors series is bringing in, with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and noted journalist Jim Lehrer on deck for coming talks.

Daniels did not hesitate Monday to offer sharp attacks on the policies of President Barack Obama, as he does in his book.

"The president and his allies believe, and I'll credit their complete sincerity about this, that life is just too darn complicated for our fellow citizens," Daniels told the audience.

He accused Obama and his ilk of wanting to make decisions for ordinary citizens ranging from the best health insurance to the "best light bulb to buy."

But while Daniels' book contains sharp attacks on Obama's policies, it also offers some of the provocative proposals for which Daniels has become known.

That includes a chapter near the end in which he warmly embraces the idea of a negative income tax for the nation's poor and vulnerable.

A favorite of free-market economist Milton Friedman, a negative income tax would basically result in direct cash payments from the government to people making less than subsistence incomes. That payment would replace the "vast array of social welfare programs we have today," Daniels writes.

The governor's penchant for pitching such bold ideas has landed him in hot water with fellow conservatives before. But on Monday, Daniels stuck by the negative income tax proposal, saying it isn't by accident that the idea landed in the chapter "Change That Believes in You."

"If you believe as I do that Americans — whether poor, or minority, or young — are capable of making their own decisions and that society will work better if we treat them that way, then the negative income tax, it seemed to me, is a real good example of that," Daniels said.