But the debate, of course, has been over how to resolve those broadly undisputed principles. On that, Mandel refuses to take a stand, insisting that it would be ridiculous to, "sitting here in Columbus, Ohio...pretend like I'm a Washington politician and cast imaginary votes."
Mandel has taken a position on plenty of other pieces of legislation, such as the TARP bailout, which he criticizes in strong terms. Weighing in on current Senate business might help voters understand what kind of senator he would make, I note.
"Right," he says. There is a long pause. Mandel stares at me.
"So, I mean, I can talk to you about the issue, you know, broadly," he says, finally. He repeats his statement about birth control and the church and rights for the fourth time.
"We could do this all night," he says, with a defiant smirk.
It is a similar story with the auto bailout, which comes up a few minutes later. Mandel will not say whether he believes the rescue of the automotive industry has been a success -- "I think time will tell," he says, three times. Nor will he take a position for or against the rescue: "Again, one of those pieces of legislation where, you know, I'm not going to pretend I'm a Washington politician." But doesn't his reasoning on the Wall Street bailout apply, I ask? "I'd have to think about that," he says.
Mandel mentions that he's meeting the next day with retirees from Delphi, an Ohio-based automotive parts manufacturer whose workers lost part of their pensions in the industry bailout. Don't they deserve to know his stance on the issue, I ask?
"One thing I will commit to the people of Ohio is when I'm a U.S. senator and there's issues being debated in Washington when I'm a U.S. senator, they'll know exactly what my position is," Mandel says.
Mandel's position on the Wall Street bailout is clear, and he cites it as an example of a time he would have stood up to his own party. "In 2008 and 2009, if you were a lady who owned a mom-and-pop diner in Toledo, Ohio, and the diner was struggling, the federal government wouldn't bail you out," he said. "Why would they bail out the banks on Wall Street?"
What does he think would have happened without the bailout, I ask. "I think the strongest institutions would have survived and the weakest institutions probably would have been acquired by stronger institutions. And that's the free enterprise system that has worked in America," he said.
Would he have been OK with thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in shareholder value being lost as a result, as most economists believe would have happened? "I think the premise of your question is presumptuous, and it's impossible for you to sit here at Steak 'n Shake in 2012 and say you know tens of thousands of people would have lost their job," he replies.
But the question, I say, is whether that would have been an acceptable result, or whether government ought to cushion the blow of those sorts of free-market processes.