February 17, 2010

The problem with the Pawlenty defense

On Monday, Right Wing Nut House praised Tim Pawlenty as a potential nominee for the GOP ticket after reading an interview with Pawlenty in Esquire magazine. The article praises Pawlenty for a number of his attributes that are deemed Presidential; pragmatism, unflappability, and an understanding of the error of the former Republican majority's ways. But the article comes off as more cheerleading for the candidate of choice rather than a side-by-side comparison. And if he is trying to sell you on Pawlenty, he should have to do a lot better than that.

Pawlenty is a conservative candidate worth considering. Governing as a conservative in a state like Minnesota is tricky business, and he's done a pretty good job. Certainly that, and the Esquire article do speak to his unflappability. But anyone running for President should be unflappable. It's a job requirement. But that does not mean that Pawlenty has more Presidential timber than anyone else in the field.
Where Palin has a laundry list of resentments that resonate with the base, Pawlenty has a record of achieving concrete results by applying conservative principles to governance. That puts him lightyears ahead of Palin in my book.

Them's fightin' words. Well, not really. But there's something to be said about being the party of 'No', when 'Yes' means collaborating with policies that you vehemently disagree with. Personally, I'm more comfortable with a Sarah Palin arguing against the health care bills than Pawlenty either compromising on some of it, or 'bringing conservative principles' to governance on the issue. 

What does the latter point even mean? Palin is bringing conservative principles to bear in a forthright manner. How is that any different than Pawlenty's approach other than perhaps the fact that her points might be a little more caustic? Caustic isn't such a bad thing right now. In the face of mushroom cloud deficit spending and a hard left liberal agenda, a golf clap is certainly not in order.

Let's not conveniently forget that she was achieving concrete results in Alaska, a fact that isn't addressed in the Pawlenty piece. Let me set the record straight - I like Palin, and I support her efforts, but I am not beholden to her or any other conservative candidate either. If Huckabee ends up being the best choice, or Romney or Palin or Pawlenty or somebody else, then that's whom I will end up endorsing. Neither am I anti-Pawlenty. I like some things that he has done. He does bring the conservative viewpoint to bear in his approach to things.

...Pawlenty represents a new kind of Republican governor - pragmatic leadership buttressed by maintaining good relationships with the legislature, and plugging in conservative policy ideas to address the problems of ordinary people.

If this be the future of Republicanism, bring it on.

Here's where I get nervous on the Pawlenty sales job.  Keeping that conservative viewpoint, in the face of a liberal onslaught can be a daunting task. Being pragmatic can often involve unpalatable compromises. Some would call it being Democrat-lite.  We already know that doesn't work electorally, or in stopping the slow leftward creep.

Keeping good relationships with the state legislature is not a conservative or liberal principle. It is a matter of operational orientation. It makes sense to have a good working relationship wherever possible. That Pawlenty has displayed an ability to do that is a credit to him. But Romney managed to do so as governor as well. Sarah Palin managed to work within a somewhat hostile GOP environment during some of her tenure as Alaska governor. She had to run against the GOP old boys club to even get there. So do Pawlenty's accomplishments in this regard outshine anyone else's? Good though they are, not really. 

Getting back to the point, of pragmatism, how much compromise was required on Pawlenty's part versus other potential GOP contenders? I don't know the answer to that, but I can't stress this enough

Pragmatism at the expense of conservatism should not be the guiding principle for conservatives, or the GOP. Ever.

That is not to say pragmatism does not have a place in politics. But there has to be some threshold beyond which things cannot pass. McCain-Feingold is a good example of bi-partisanship as the form of pragmatism, trumping core conservative principles. It took the Supreme Court to strike down parts of that legislation. The point is, working together for the sake of working together is not pragmatism - it's ideological suicide.
"Education, health care, mass transit, and other issues important at the state level were addressed to varying degrees by Pawlenty by growing government as little as possible. He also addressed budget shortfalls by generally cutting spending and not raising taxes..."
Liberals, until the Obama era, were satisfied with the slow march approach to the big government encroachment on individual liberty (and yes, government encroachment matters to Main Street America). So the 'little as possible' approach is still a poison pill, even if it is a slow-acting one.

Growing government as little as possible is no longer sufficient. By that logic, growing the annual deficit as little as possible, the latest Obama trick, is okay too. It's not. We've past the point where minimizing further damage is a way out of the mess. Shrinking government is now a must. If the biggest selling point for Pawlenty is pragmatism, then I don't want to be a part of it. 

We've tried the centrist candidate approach with McCain, we tried it with Dole and even both Bush Presidencies. None of it was a screaming success, though each of those men had their various merits. In each case we either lost by not offering a substantive alternative to Democrats or we took the slow-acting-poison-pill and piled on more debt or taxes (in the case of the two Bush Presidencies).

It's not that Pawlenty is a bad option. He's got some salient things to bring to the table. But I'd prefer to let him have the chance to impress me over time than to have Rick Moran tell me about it, all the while digging at Palin as if he were a suffering from PDS like so many on the left. Ordinarily I wouldn't try imposing my own interpretive context on Moran's assessment of Pawlenty, except that in the next post, he goes on to talk about the phoniness of Palin's 'Patriot Speak';

Palin doesn’t ordinarily have this effect on me. I can usually watch her and marvel at a speaking style that makes her so approachable, so homey. But this sort of Patriot Speak makes me cringe in embarrassment. And the idea that she hadn’t thought a “darn thing about the politics of this” made me want to puke. It’s clear that unlike Humphrey, Reagan, and many others, that she disrespects her audience, cynically manipulating them rather than showing deference to their deepest feelings. Only those already predisposed to love anything that comes out of her mouth can read the above and believe she is expressing anything genuine, or honest in those words.

Ouch. It's obviously clear where Moran stands, despite his protestation to the contrary. He cavalierly has assigned nefarious motives to Palin as if he is The Amazing Kreskin and he can read her very thoughts.   The crux of my problem with Moran's Pawlenty defense - it's more about tearing down a fellow conservative in order to pump up your own guy is not a core conservative principle and not one I'm about to embrace. It cheapens debate the way you'd expect from a liberal.

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