Friday, January 14, 2011

Pawlenty, Palin, Podcasts, and Presidential Politics

There is a great old line from the television show Hee Haw that went: “If it were not for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.” This describes the last two weeks Tim Pawlenty has had.

Last week just as he was ready to start his book tour (aka presidential campaign) Michele Bachmann declares her interest in running for the presidency. Pawlenty becomes the other Minnesotan running for president and he is displaced in the news cycle by her.

Now this week he is eclipsed by the events in Tucson. Yes, he did a National Press Club appearance but in reality, who will remember. He was the third, fourth, or perhaps the fifth story of the week, well behind the events and collateral damage and stories that unfolded around him. Moreover, when he did get a chance to talk, the questions were about his views on Tucson, not on his narrative and agenda. In short, Pawlenty had little time to message, tell his narrative, and make his case for being a presidential candidate.

However, even without these two events, his chances were slim. Consistently I have stated that he has little chance of being a serious candidate for the presidency. I also said that two years ago when I said he had no prayer as McCain’s VP. Why? Simply, Pawlenty has no buzz and no originality. Pawlenty is a “me too’ candidate. Others talk about tax cuts, social conservatism, or what have you, and Pawlenty does the same. Palin does a book, Pawlenty does a book. Romney touts his skills as a pro-business governor, Pawlenty touts his skills as a pro-business governor. Pawlenty is always behind others, never able to find a message or theme that lets him stand out from others. Instead, he seems to a candidate in search of a message, a voice, an appeal. He stands below undecideds among GOPers.

Pawlenty’s time is running out. Think of this. The Iowa caucuses are in February, 2012–barely 13 months away. If Pawlenty is to be a viable presidential candidate he needs to be a serious candidate by the fall, 2011. This means that by the beginning of the summer he needs to catch fire. That is barely six months. His book tour is a fizzle. He is no longer governor and cannot milk that for media time. He is competing against others for money and attention. It will probably be weeks before Tucson and other major news items fade before he has a window to get attention. But it will be under the shadow of “Will she or won’t she” for both Bachmann and Palin.

Pawlenty also faces one final problem. He cannot criticize other GOP without burning bridges. With that, the events of Tucson have changed the political dialogue–everyone but Palin understands this. Pawlenty cannot go on the attack without risking backlash.

No, in the end, Pawlenty has had bad luck, but that only ices the dismal chances he has in running for president. He exited the state with it in worse debt that when he arrived. Maybe he did not raise taxes directly, but at what cost? A state in debt, a K-12 system recently ranked by Education Weekly as mediocre, and a crumbling infrastructure. Pawlenty has no real accomplishment to stand on.

Palin may be correct that blaming her for Tucson is wrong. But it does not matter that she did not pull the trigger herself. No one really believes her crosshairs over Giffords and others were not gun scopes. Her Facebook speech denouncing critics with invective and inflammatory language only reinforced impressions that she has the subtlety of a machine gun. She demonstrated not one iota of reflection that her style of rhetoric was inappropriate, at least this week, and that a vast spectrum of moderate and swing voters do think the caustic dialogue in America created the atmosphere for Tucson. It does not matter whether this is true–this is what the people think. Palin may have endeared herself to her hardcore supporters, but to the voters she needs to woo if she runs in 2012, she failed to reach them and reinforced the image of her as unqualified to be president.

Boehner and Obama
Unlike Palin, both John Boehner and Barack Obama understood the political climate of the day and responded without looking political. Boehner rallied Congress together for a few days and delayed the GOP until next week. Obama gave a masterful speech that caught the sign of the times and the feelings of a nation. He exploited a memorial service in ways that did not look political, contrasting to the Wellstone service back in 2002 that hurt the MN DFL that year, leading to the election of Senator Norm Coleman and Governor Pawlenty. A new rhetoric, at least for now, is what is politically smart. Obama won the respect of many, but especially moderates this week, helping him in his rehabilitation.

How long will the new political environment last? Free speech cannot be held hostage to nuts with guns, but maybe disagreement can stick to heated debate of policy and issues and not personalty. We need not personally attack others to win a battle. Sticks, stones, and names do hurt.

Podcasting about Corporations and American Politics
Last Saturday, I spoke to the Stonearch Discussion Group in Minneapolis about Citizens United and corporate influence in American politics. Here is a podcast of my talk.

The Impact of Citizens United
On Thursday, January 20, from 7 PM – 8:30 PM at Hamline University, East Hall, Room 4, I will be one of several speakers discussing the impact of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v FEC one year after it was decided.

Please join the Hamline University School of Business, Common Cause Minnesota, the League of Women Voters, and Minnesota for a discussion on the impact of the Citizens United decision and ways that we can attempt to mitigate its impact on our democracy.

Speakers include:
Professor David Schultz (Me)
Rep. Ryan Winkler, the chief author of the disclosure legislation that passed in 2010
Mike Dean, Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota
Allie Moen, League of Women Voters

There will be plenty of free parking and good conservation.

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