The Problem with Pawlenty for 2012

As we turn the last corner on 2010 rounding the bend into 2011, the list of POTUS wannabes is growing.  Some are ‘legacy’ candidates who ‘have done their time’ in the GOP and have built the feeling that they ‘deserve their chance’ at being the nominee, in the mold of a Dole or McCain of recent contests.  Some bring cred as high dollar fundraisers; some as ideologues; some tout philosophical purity; some want recognition as grass roots organizers; some wish to piggyback a POTUS run on prior political service; some tie themselves to the TEA Party movement; and some are single issue folks who think their one issue is the one sure winner.  A few have more than one of these qualifying reasons.

Reading a post today over at HotAir by Mitch Berg from Sunday, laying out some of the reasons that Tim Pawlenty should make the serious list of POTUS candidates, I have to agree with Mr. Berg that there are certainly reasons to respect his accomplishments in Minnesota over the last 8 years.  However, I have a few issues that I believe will ultimately turn the electorate ‘off’ on Pawlenty and others, like Mitch Daniels.

Just because he came along at the right time to be nudged into fiscal discipline by his needing to appeal to the more conservative elements in the state of Minnesota, does not generate equivalence with an innate strength of core philosophy on monetary issues.  Necessity is the mother of invention, not the wellspring of bedrock beliefs motivating behavior.  A policy position is important for the many implications for implementation, but also for the ‘why’ that position is taken.  One taken simply for political expediency may be changed or discarded when the political climate changes, for instance.  And, a position taken out of expediency will not ultimately stand up when other options are seen as equally legitimate or available which more closely match the inner core beliefs of the candidate or elected official.

This is the essence of the problem with the electability of Pawlenty and his lack of appeal in the conservative movement.  Was he forced to walk the fiscally responsible line because there really wasn’t another adult position to take in the face of the legislators’ profligate teen-like spending habits?  Was he forced to veto or delay anything with spending attached when he would have been much more comfortable with a more nuanced response to the state finances?  Was his perceived fiscal conservatism forced on him by the complete polarization of the legislature, or would he have chosen that path anyway out of a strong personal conviction to smaller government and less taxation?

And, what about the perceived lack of backbone in standing up on more than just fiscal issues?  Perhaps he had some conservative viewpoint about the blatant corruption and fraud that accompanied the 2008 race for the Minnesota Senate seat between incumbent Norm Coleman and challenger Al Franken, but I can’t recall anything being reported that was attributed to Pawlenty supporting reformation of the process or pointing out the biased hand the State’s officials and Judiciary played in throwing that race to the Democrats like a thick juicy steak.  In not defining himself in any way for anything outside of a lopsided fight against the spending class, he has allowed himself to be painted as ineffective and obstructionist, instead of pioneering and strong.  He had a bona fide opportunity to shape his legacy with a national fight on the national political stage, and fight for the rule of law, and he threw the match by never even showing up.  He looks small and self protectionist by comparison.

Mitch Daniels faces some of the same tendency to small thinking in his ill-timed and poorly enunciated comments about putting social issues aside for the next election cycle while the fiscal issues take center stage.  As most folks know, it is impossible to deal with one without attention to the other; look at the drivers of financial issues, as social philosophy informs the problem.  High taxes have a financial cost as well as a social one; issues dear to the hearts of social conservatives have accompanying financial burdens which do need to be taken into consideration.  It is like looking only at heads, but not tails, when a coin is tossed; they are different sides of the same issues, and have interrelated effects on society.  One takes a hard slap at a significant percentage of the conservative population when you say before you even get started that one side is completely disqualified from entering into the competition, and is just going to impede the progress of the remainder.  What a great way to win friends and influence people!

These are two men who appear to have the clean personal slate that would make it difficult for the opposition to throw much personal dirt, and could have kept the focus on the issues and outright lies of the Democrat party during the last 20 years. They bring fiscally responsible policy success to the table.   Unfortunately, they both made up for their personal likability by making insurmountable policy and opinion missteps that will keep them from even getting close to a nomination to the national level.