Bryce McNitt has been writing since 2007, when he blogged about his bicycle tour from Minnesota to Mississippi. He has since blogged on foreign affairs, GOP politics, and American culture, for multiple websites, and has been blogging at FrumForum since 2010. Bryce recently graduated from The George Washington University with a Master of Public Policy. The opinions expressed in his blogs are solely his own.
The Wisconsin recall battle is not just a political story. It’s a story about painful change coming to a troubled state.
In March of this year I visited my hometown, Spooner, Wisconsin — population 2,700. Spooner’s school system has about 1,300 students (which may seem high for a city that small, but Spooner’s school district is 550 square miles – which gives you a sense of just how rural the area is). The district is low income, with a per capita income of $22,700 a year.
These certainly are interesting times. The United States is in an increasingly precarious position. Growth at home is anemic. There’s not much in Europe to be up about either. Markets are increasingly skiddish, and yesterday plunged.
On a night when the nation listened to President Obama make his case for the U.S. led coalition’s intervention in Libya, the Libyan Ambassador to the United States made his own comments at George Washington University. Ali Aujali has served as an ambassador for Libya since 1981, but defected from the Qaddafi government after violence erupted. Mr. Aujali’s remarks were followed by remarks from Fadel Lamen, President of the American-Libyan Council. Together their words shed some light on the point of view of Libyan dissidents, whose voices have been almost completely silent over Qaddafi’s brutal forty-two years in power.
Mr. Aujali’s remarks were mostly jubilant, praising the U.S. and European powers that chose to intervene in what looked to be a certain massacre in Benghazi. “If the French had waited even three more hours to begin their strikes, the tanks and heavy equipment would have arrived in Benhghazi” leading to the third major massacre in Libya, he said. He was emphatic in his thanks to the U.S. and European military powers that chose to intervene, exclaiming that they had made the right choice. Both speakers remarked that the U.S.-led coalition was supporting the desire of the Libyan people to attain their freedom, which they said was the principle aim of the rebel uprising.
Both speakers made reference to the fact that this is the second time that a Western coalition has come to the aid of Libya. Western Allies freed Libya from the brutal rule of Mussolini’s fascist government in 1942. Nine years later, the UN declared Libya independent, after an internationally agreed upon constitution initiated a constitutional monarchy there. Eighteen years after that, in 1969, a small group of high ranking army officers took control of Libya overnight, and Colonel Qaddafi quickly consolidated total power over the state.
Mr. Lamen contradicted the widely held view that Libya is now embroiled in a civil war. Libyans are not fighting Qaddafi in a civil war he insisted because Qaddafi “is not Libyan to the Libyans, he forfeited his rights to be Libyan, he lost his legitimacy as a leader of a country when he decided to use foreign troops on his own people, to massacre them.” This is an interesting point that lends support to Obama’s decision to engage in intervention in Libya. Qaddafi has brought thousands of mercenaries into Libya from fragile and failed states like Somalia and Chad. His forty-two years in power have also left little doubt about his resolve in crushing his own people. One Libyan-American at the event made reference to watching his seventeen year old friend hung in the street on live state television in the 1970’s.
Yet neither speaker had much to offer on the future of Libya’s uprising and goal of freedom. Ambassador Aujali was candid in stating that there were no institutions, no freedom of speech, and no freedom of press in Libya, but did not address how these institutions would be developed in a post-Qaddafi future. Neither did the speakers make any specific reference to leaders within the rebel uprising. The group continues to be a largely nameless, faceless group. Mr. Lamen was more dismissive of questions about the ability of Libyans to develop a government with civil institutions after Qaddafi, asserting that Libya had enough human and financial capital to set up a state for themselves. He did not offer any evidence, however, as to how this human capital could be coordinated, or who represented it.
These questions are too big to be ignored. The ability of Libyans to erect a functional state after Qaddafi is pushed from power, if indeed he is, is not clear at all. If Qaddafi goes, there are no institutions to fill the void. There is no unified military to set up a caretaker regime as has been done in Egypt. There will be thousands of foreign mercenaries left in the country, armed and well trained, and loyal only to the highest bidder. As President Obama gave his speech tonight, he remarked that expanding the mission to bring down the Qaddafi regime would splinter the coalition, but has the administration and NATO begun to plan for a power vacuum should Qaddafi fall? Surely a failed state filled with well armed militias, mercenary gangs, and freedom fighters would pose a serious threat to regional stability, one serious enough to justify the deployment of ground troops. Will this failed state not be the responsibility of the US and NATO? Would this responsibility not also splinter the coalition?
The presence of these unanswered questions does not bode well for the future of Libya. Yet, that Libyan leaders such as Ambassador Aujali and Mr. Fadel are asserting that Libyans truly are fighting for freedom and dignity, and that they do not view themselves as engaged in a civil war is encouraging. It is only a matter of time before Qaddafi is pushed from power. Perhaps weeks, perhaps years, but it is inevitable. President Obama and NATO leaders should begin asking themselves these difficult questions, because walking away when things fall apart may be worse than never having gotten involved in the first place.
That Governor Scott Walker chose to fire the first shot in Wisconsin’s budget battle at teachers unions should not come as a surprise to those familiar with the popular conservative, or the tea party. Both hold the conviction that the relationship between public education spending and education quality is dubious at best.
Teachers unions have long been the target of conservative ire, being blamed for protecting obsolescent teachers, absorbing too much state funding, and more. With the rise of the ideologically zealous tea party baptized GOP class of 2011, the attack on education unions should come as no surprise. And of course there is that winner take all detail: police and firefighter unions supported Walker, while Wisconsin teachers unions spent $200 million opposing him.
While Walker battles unions and seeks to balance the budget, the greater question is one of vision. What do Wisconsinites want from their government? Wisconsin boasts one of the best education systems in the union, both for secondary education and higher education. While forcing teachers to double their healthcare contributions and increase their pension contributions – a pay cut of about 8% – won’t degrade the quality of education in the state, Wisconsin Republicans had better realize that they now own the quality of Wisconsin education, and letting it deteriorate would lead to enduring negative consequences not only for Republican lawmakers, but for Wisconsin residents.
One state to the west, former Governor Tim Pawlenty dealt with big deficits in another way. He did not hesitate to cut spending on a slew of state programs, including politically sensitive ones like food and healthcare subsidies for the poor. However, he always protected two things, security and education. While he prioritized what was most important to the state, he also used innovation to bring down costs in other areas like state employee health plans, while not sacrificing quality. He was also an early proponent of merit based pay for teachers, in an effort to improve the already high quality of education in Minnesota. While Pawlenty earned the wrath of Minnesota’s liberals, his legacy is not that of a reckless budget slasher who cut for the sake of cutting. The crucial detail of his legacy is that he coupled tough fiscal conservatism with an innovative vision. The takeaway here is that Pawlenty, and other conservative innovators like Mitch Daniels, have grafted market innovations into government policies to improve the situation of their citizens; they have not simply hacked at budgets to get the government out of people’s lives.
For Walker and Wisconsin’s tea party class, the biggest battle will not be the current clash with teachers unions. The crucial point will come with Walker’s next move. “Where are you taking us?” will ask Wisconsin residents. Let’s hope he has an answer.
Mubarak has gone. America’s firm ally, an icon of stability and cooperation in an otherwise volatile region, was the lynch-pin for containing the myriad doomsday scenarios that pundits love to mull over. And yet, at the end of his thirty years, we learned that Mubarak’s stability was nothing more than a pressure cooker. Locking up free speech, running a corrupt economy that shirked investment, was empty of opportunity and unable to change with the rest of the world, stifling a burgeoning population fully aware of the better lives to be had in a freer society. It should come as no surprise that the regime shattered in the fantastic fashion that it did. Repressive regimes built upon rapidly growing and engaged societies slowly calcify. After decades of economic stagnation, institutional decay, and social humiliation, things fall apart. Now all eyes are on the Middle East, but there are other, less Western friendly Mubaraks across the globe. One, to our south, resplendent with his newly attained dictatorial powers, seems to be rapidly projecting his country on a similar path.
Last week was the twelfth anniversary of the beginning of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. Those twelve years have brought increased crime, deterioration of infrastructure, and rapid inflation, as well as substantial emigration of the middle and upper class citizens that settled there in the mid 20th century. The following is an account of my recent experience as I passed through Caracas on my way to Ecuador. The experience was, to say the least, strange and disheartening.
As we exited the airplane from Miami to Caracas we were met by a disinterested looking man in a black Santa Barbara Airlines polo asking “¿Vas a Quito? ¿Vas a Quito?” (Going to Quito?) “Sí” we answered, joining a small group of others making the journey. A few minutes later we were escorted to an empty lobby adjacent to a much larger area for immigration.
We were told that at the moment there was no plane to Quito, and that they expected to have a flight available for us by 11:00 pm that night. We were then told that while we waited we would be taken to a hotel and given dinner, and then brought back for the flight.
“We’re not going anywhere,” said a man standing beside us with his wife and two kids. “We’ve been through this before. I doubt they even have a plane available to fly us to Quito.” The man, Marco, who works for an American airline company and lives in Miami, then proceeded to tell us that two years ago he and his family were told the same story and were taken to what the airline personnel told them was a “five star hotel”. Arriving at the hotel they learned to their chagrin that the hotel was actually named “Five Star Hotel” and was in reality a run-down building situated in a violent slum north of Caracas, near the beach. They waited more than a day, unable to leave their room, the door to which had to be kept shut with a suitcase. They were also warned that the neighborhood was dangerous and there had been a murder the night before. Finally they received a call, were picked up in a bus, and flown to Quito.
In any other city the prospect of being driven around in a bus and dropped in a crummy hotel would certainly have been an inconvenience, but not something unusual. In Caracas however, it is another matter. Caracas is a dangerous place. In fact, it is the most dangerous city in the world by numbers, more deadly than Baghdad. In 2009 4,644 civilians died from violence in Iraq, in the same year more than 16,000 died in Venezuela. Caracas itself has a murder rate of 200 per 100,000, which makes it the murder capital of the world.
At the airport, as we pondered our darkening future, we were joined by sixty or seventy more Ecuadorians arriving from Madrid. They were told the same story; that there was a delay, and that we were all going to a hotel to wait things out. They were unhappy. Soon many of them had encircled the man who had greeted us and the short, stocky, unfriendly looking woman that had joined him. Tensions began to rise and the group began yelling at the representatives, demanding to know why there was no plane, and if we were really going to fly at 11pm. It was now nearly 5pm and many of us wondered what rationale lay behind taking us to a hotel for just a couple of hours, unless of course they intended simply to get us out of the airport and out of their hair. A soldier and a police officer entered the circle, the group dispersed.
A half hour later we were standing on the street waiting to be loaded into buses. The air was heavy and hot, and smelled of diesel exhaust. Young men with tight clothes and heavily gelled hair were driving up on dirt bikes and whispering “What do you need? What do you need?”
“They are changing dollars”, my friend, a better Spanish speaker than I, told me.
As families strolled out of the airport they would saunter by the men on motorbikes, seeming not to speak at all, and after a subtle exchange they would hop into their taxi and be gone. The guards nearby were either bored or unaware. Inflation in Venezuela is the highest in the South American continent, hovering around 30% a year. In an attempt to control the rapid devaluation of the Bolivar, Chavez has set limits on the how many dollars can be exchanged for the currency. On the black market, which we had just stumbled upon, and which did not seem to be too concerned about secrecy, the exchange rate is much more forgiving for Venezuelans trying to hold on to their wealth.
It was 6:30 and already dark when we were loaded onto the bus. We wound through the barrios north and west of the airport. The city was thronging with life, cafes and fruit stands were packed, traffic was thick and slow, the streets were dirty and crowded, and the sweltering humidity had the effect of making the barrio feel as if it were alive itself. On the walls and buildings were tile mosaics, and painted portraits of socialist all-stars like Ché. Further along, on a collapsing retaining wall was scrawled in spray paint comunismo es pobreza, “communism is poverty.”
We entered the hotel to find that it was, surprisingly, a very nice place. The walls were stone, and on the second floor there was a balcony with a pool, blasting Michael Jackson’s music. Across the street were the shores of the Caribbean, adorned with a nearly empty tiki bar bordered by a sidewalk that was falling into the sea. It was now nearly 7:30, and we were convinced that we would be here for at least the night, if not several days. We were fed a meal and given a room.
Ninety minutes later we were back on the bus and on the way to the airport. The whole group, which numbered around one hundred, felt relieved, but was also puzzled. How can the airline profit when it spends a couple thousand dollars bussing people to a hotel for less than a two hour stay? Santa Barbara Airlines is a private company based out of Venezuela. However it seems that their operations are heavily interfered with by the government. According to another travel account I found, Santa Barbara uses US dollars to make payments on maintenance or other company purchases. The dollars are purchased with an account in Miami, but the Venezuelan government has to approve the transfer of dollars before the purchase can be made. An inefficient process to say the least. It certainly seemed that something equally illogical, and probably corrupt, was behind our runaround in Caracas.
Upon returning to the airport we were placed in a line for nearly two hours, while the staff of the airline tried to get us over our next hurdle. The government had charged each passenger a $40 airport tax. This tax, ubiquitous in Latin America, is charged to everyone who leaves the country via airport. Those on layover are not charged, as they never leave the airport itself. We had, however, left the airport, so the tax was enforced. This precipitated another angry crowd, and more angry insults. This time the staff hid behind the counter, at times laying down to rest while waiting to hear from some higher up. Eventually, again to our surprise and relief, the airline paid the tax, another $4,000 out of their pocket, apparently to keep us comfortable for all of two hours.
In the airport Chavez has gone to great lengths to advertise the revolution. Huge banners hang from the ceiling with slogans hailing the accomplishments of the revolution. Diminished infant mortality says one, Increased the production of corn by 132% says another, and perhaps the best states Increased the size of the growth of our children. I had to ask a friend if I was reading this correctly, but literally the revolution has made children bigger, if you believe it. Each banner had the large title Vivir en Socialismo “to live in socialism.” Having only been in the country a handful of hours I felt as though I saw quite a bit of the revolution, enough to see what happens when one person slowly squeezes the life out of a country for the sake of a revolution discarded by the rest of the world, even by its most famous living relic, Fidel Castro. Last week marked the twelfth anniversary of the beginning of Chavez’s revolucion. One can only cringe to think of what twelve more might bring.
It seems that very little one hears from Venezuela, the Latin American pariah state, will raise eyebrows in a world grown accustomed to the bombastic rhetoric of its socialist president. However, the recent revelations from cables leaked by Wikileaks to El País, the Spanish newspaper, bring to light some unsettling developments that may force the South American community to rethink its position toward its oil rich neighbor.
The cables reveal that Hugo Chavez has successfully secured one hundred man-portable anti-aircraft missiles as well as one hundred Igla missiles, one TOR M-1 air defense system, and an unknown amount of S-300 missiles – all from Russia. The man-portable anti-aircraft missiles are particularly concerning should they fall into the hands of a group like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). The anti-aircraft missiles have been described by the US as “one of the deadliest portable air defense systems ever made,” and with a “range of 2.5-4 miles, the Blackhawks operating in Colombia would be an easy target.”
These revelations are of particular concern in the context of Chavez’s increasingly weak position. His social program continues to fail and the economy continues to languish, even while the rest of the continent has enjoyed almost unprecedented growth. Next year his party will have a minority in congress, and Chavez’s own election, held in 2012, may be at risk.
The gravest concern is what Chavez may do to remain in power should his Bolivarian revolution continue to crumble around him. He has been known to create crises to boost his popularity in the past, and armed conflict, most likely within his own state or with Colombia, is a real threat. The South American continent has been one of the more stable regions on the globe for the past several decades, and the need to increase arms is not apparent in the absence of belligerent neighbors.
Faced with the prospect of a desperate leader lashing out in a last effort to cling to power, it may be time for the region to rethink its strategy of largely ignoring the Venezuelan problem in order to avoid a threat to the rapid growth and consolidation of democracies in the region. The cables reveal that at least one leader has made such an effort, albeit not publicly. In 2009, President Calderón of Mexico pressed the then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair for the US to lean on Brazil to take steps to restrain Chavez, who according to Calderon, “is active everywhere, even in Mexico.”
South American leaders must be aware of the consequences of an increasingly armed and potentially unstable Venezuela in the region. They should take all of the necessary steps to prevent conflict, and avoid a situation where the US, unable to engage the greater South American community, may fall back on supplying weapons to Colombia to balance against Venezuelan arming. The specter of a major armed conflict between the two states could undermine two decades of growth and stabilization, and compromise what looks to be a bright future for the continent. If the continent desires to continue on its current path, the time has come where it must actively defend what has been built. Although this does not imply a direct confrontation, the community must begin to build a framework for dealing with destabilizing threats.
President Obama was in Minnesota this weekend and Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota governor and unannounced 2012 hopeful, prepared a short video welcoming him. In it,Pawlenty introduced the president to a number of Minnesota phrases like “ooftah” and “yikes” and then used them to knock him on items like federal spending increases and the deficit.
Certainly there is nothing new about a presidential hopeful taking shots at the current officeholder over policy, but Pawlenty and his Midwestern pleasantness offers a peculiar specimen. Pawlenty employs quaint, inoffensive colloquialisms, combining them with what should be biting attacks over policy failures. The result: instead of feeling his or her blood boil, the listener feels a sense of calm optimism. Pawlenty goes on to contrast Obama’s record with his own very impressive and very innovative record in Minnesota. It’s this quality that led Michael Gerson to coin Pawlenty as “Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan.” It’s this same quality that brings into question whether Pawlenty, or any other mild-mannered and thoughtful candidate, can really be the man of the hour in today’s volatile political climate. When Pawlenty bites, especially when he bites with his Midwestern idioms, you just can’t get angry. The Cohen brothers, Minnesota natives themselves, masterfully demonstrated this phenomenon in the movie Fargo, where you couldn’t help but chuckle while crazed Minnesotans performed terrible acts of murder.
The question then becomes, can Pawlenty win this way? More specifically, can Pawlenty channel the anger of the Tea Party, a group that he defends and supports enthusiastically, into something positive? Furthermore, can he bridge the gap between the angry Tea Partiers and the increasingly overlooked body of GOP moderates and (most importantly) independent voters that have grown tired of Obama’s rhetoric and lack of progress on the economy? When you listen to Palin go after Obama, using the same sorts of phrases Pawlenty does, the result is so strikingly different. She has built her image upon scorning the liberal elite and “lamestream media” for their inability to use “common sense” solutions to our nation’s problems, but laces the message with a healthy dose of bitterness and spite born of the sense of marginalization that is such a motivating factor for much of the Tea Party.
Palin gets people riled up, she throws punches and they land. People like that. Pawlenty does not have that ability. But America does not rally, at least not en masse, behind angry candidates. Ultimately Palin cannot win enough hearts and minds to take a credible shot at the White House. Pawlenty’s hope lies in being the man that can bridge the gap between the anger of the Tea Party, the mainstream GOP, and the disenchanted voters in the middle. Can he do that? Can anyone do that? Some seem to think so, or at least hope so. He has received flattering columns from Michael Gerson, and George Will. As Will notes, Limbaugh ranks him number two to Palin, and Dick Armey has his eye on him. At the end of the day though, this attention isn’t worth much if his voice can’t be heard.
The Minnesota gubernatorial primaries have concluded with a somewhat unusual result, a sharply partisan field. The Governor’s mansion has in the past tended to be occupied by moderates, from moderate Republican Arnie Carlson, to the bombastic independent Jesse Ventura, to the conservative yet innovative Tim Pawlenty, who has opted not to seek reelection. The field pits the tax cutting Republican, Tom Emmer, against the “tax the rich” (this is literally his slogan) former U.S. Senator, Democrat Mark Dayton. In proper Minnesota fashion, the independent Tom Horner fills out the field. Independents almost always pull significant portions of the electorate in Minnesota. Dean Barkley garnered 15% of the vote in the infamous Coleman vs. Franken senate battle, which dragged on for nearly a year.
The aggressively conservative Tom Emmer was a relative unknown statewide when GOP hopefuls began their campaigns last summer, Marty Seifert, the Minnesota House Minority Leader began as the presumptive favorite. Through the winter though, Emmer’s stock rose, and he emerged with the GOP nomination on April 30th, which is effectively when he won the primary, facing scant opposition on Tuesday. Significantly, Sarah Palin endorsed Emmer just one day earlier, on the 29th. Emmer’s campaign is centered on reducing the size of government in Minnesota and continuing to reduce taxes. He has interesting ideas on healthcare, including allowing purchase of health insurance across state boarders. On social issues he is conservative, including being opposed to marriage equality.
Mark Dayton is quite the opposite, steaming ahead with a soak the rich theme. On his website he proclaims “read my lips, ‘Tax the rich”, promising that “As Governor of Minnesota I will raise taxes on the rich of Minnesota, NOT the rest of Minnesota.” Dayton, a former U.S. Senator from Minnesota, upset the DFL endorsed favorite, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, in what has been an unorthodox primary season nationwide.
Perhaps most interestingly, as ABC reports, this race is becoming a focal point of the new realities of campaign finance following the Citizens United case. Target, Best Buy, and the snowmobile manufacturer Polaris have contributed a combined $350,000 to the pro-business group MN Forward, which supports the Emmer campaign. Target, which markets itself as a socially responsible corporation, quickly came under significant pressure for supporting Emmer because of his opposition to marriage equality. Interestingly, this forced Target CEO Gregg Steinhaffel to issue an apology for Target’s donation to MN Forward. While many news outlets have noted this apology, the actual text of the release reads as though Target will continue to contribute to Emmer, as they decide how best to frame it as a purely pro-business oriented decision. It seems to me that this episode demonstrates the beauty of direct, transparent, corporate participation in an election. Target supports a pro-business candidate, but catches fire for a sensitive social issue, and potentially suffers for it. Much better than Target funneling money for favors through a lobbyist in a chintzy hotel bar.
Whatever the result may be of corporate and union participation (Minnesota has a very strong and politically active teachers union) in the gubernatorial contest this year, the race is worth watching for the politics. Minnesota has a tradition of being a civil, and moderately progressive state. This year politics are black and white, either support slamming the rich with new taxes to pay for healthcare and close the yawning budget deficit, or shrink government and slash taxes. If Minnesota faces options of such stark contrast, the rest of the nation is most certainly in turmoil.
Pawlenty is among the least known of Republicans angling for his party’s presidential nomination in 2012. He estimates that 75 percent of the GOP has no idea who he is. But he exhibits the confidence of a man holding at least a few aces.
So wrote Michael Gerson in his profile of Governor Tim Pawlenty in yesterday’s Washington Post titled Tim Pawlenty: Minnesota’s Ronald Reagan? Gerson’s piece is another block laid on the national image Pawlenty is trying to build for himself. Gerson’s piece focused on what are arguably Pawlenty’s two strongest suits, his record managing Minnesota’s budget, and his personal story. The timing of Gerson’s piece seemed especially appropriate, given two big announcements concerning the Governor in the past couple of days.
One, concerning the budget, is that Wednesday Minnesota’s Supreme Court voted that Pawlenty exceeded his authority through his unilateral “unallotment” of $2.7 billion in spending from the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) dominated legislature’s proposed two year budget. In response Pawlenty was defiant, remarking that “I strongly disagree with this 4-3 decision by the court. Nonetheless it will require the legislature and my administration to address its budget impacts. The funds do not exist to reinstate my unallotments and the state budget needs to be balanced without raising taxes.” This setback is an opportunity for Pawlenty to draw national attention as he enters a sure-to-be bitter battle with his DFL legislature over spending cuts versus tax hikes.
Two, concerning his life story, is the this week’s announcement that Pawlenty has signed a deal with evangelical literary agent Alive Communications and Tyndale House Publishing to write his memoir. Interestingly, according to the Minnesota Independent, Alive Communications is the agent for Sarah Palin and her book Going Rogue, and has represented Billy Graham and works by the Promise Keepers. The book will be an authentic tale of personal transformation and the American success story, especially appealing to evangelicals, but if written well, a much wider national audience.
With a book deal in hand Pawlenty is poised to make a serious national push next year. Furthermore, as the EU debt meltdown progresses and domestic attention continues to focus on our own coming debt crisis, Pawlenty may be the ‘man of destiny’ for a GOP searching hard for lost credibility. But, as Gerson asks, can Pawlenty and his “disarming, beer-sharing niceness” get in front of a party marked by anger, and a Tea Party exploding with it? The answer is it’s his only choice. As funny as his CPAC speech “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government” just like Tiger’s wife comment was, Pawlenty does not excel at whipping the crowd into a mouth-foaming frenzy. He instead thrives on optimistic confidence backed up by a strong record and a firm backbone. One must, I suppose, hope that as 2012 draws near angry tea partiers and debt conscious conservatives will take a sober look at their options for leadership, and find Pawlenty. But, then again, they may continue to dump their tea and drink it too.
Tim Pawlenty appeared with Sarah Palin at a Minneapolis rally for Rep. Michelle Bachmann yesterday. A throng of conservative voters turned out, filling the entire floor of the convention center. Sean Hannity also attended the event, and concluded it with live interviews, first of former Governor Palin and Rep. Bachmann, and then Gov. Pawlenty.
Palin and Bachmann were adamant about dispelling fears about the current conservative pushback following healthcare. Palin made an effort to address the controversy over the “we’re not going to retreat, we’re going to reload” slogan, saying that people “know their arms are their votes.” The two were very enthusiastic about discussing the budgetary problems the U.S. is facing, and about demonstrating that the Tea Party movement is the new face of conservatism in this country, and that it has come about in part as a result of problems related to the budget, and the sweeping progressive reforms currently being undertaken by President Obama. Regarding those sweeping reforms, Bachmann was optimistic that Obamacare could be repealed in February 2013.
Pawlenty followed the two by discussing first his lawsuit against the new healthcare bill. After the bill was initially passed Pawlenty requested that his Attorney General, a Democrat, file suit. Pawlenty argued that the bill was unconstitutional. The Attorney General declined to file suit and she would file a brief in support of the new bill, but gave Pawlenty the green light to file suit himself. He has decided to do just that, remarking that:
We live in a country now, where the federal government is going to say to us individually. You either buy a good or a service or we’re going to fine you, and by any definition: constitutional, common sense, that’s an overreach.
Some have speculated whether Pawlenty’s joining Palin and Bachmann is a sign that he’s throwing his hat in with the Tea Partiers. This is an interesting point to consider, as it would have major implications for his image in the lead-up to 2012. Not too much should be read into this appearance however, as he is first and foremost supporting a fellow Minnesota Republican, and a very popular one, both within the state and across the nation. Still, it raises the interesting question of who will make the strongest effort to absorb the Tea Party into their voter base for the 2012 primaries? If Palin does not run there are really no obvious choices.
Pawlenty has staked out fiscally hawkish positions that would put him in good standing with Tea Partiers, proposing a balanced budget amendment (although he hasn’t been discussing it much lately), and saying that the country needs to cut taxes and grow the economy. He has also said in the past that he believes Medicare is a good program and that it should not be touched. These statements are popular with fiscal conservatives and Tea Partiers. However, these two statements are also entirely irreconcilable. There is no balanced budget without entitlement reform, period. This reflects the startling paradox facing any candidate looking to tap into Tea Party votes. You can say you will give them what they want, but you can’t actually give it to them, because they don’t want it.
Pawlenty is a true budget hawk who knows the realities of the country’s problems. If a GOP leader as smart and down to earth as him has to stake out territory as untenable as what he has signaled above, then the GOP is not out of the woods yet — not even close.