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Pawlenty Meets the Press, tapdances on a big stage

David Gregory
REUTERS/Fred Prouser
David Gregory

Gov. Tim Pawlenty tap danced skillfully across a series of minefields last night at the U of M’s Ted Mann Concert Hall.

Ugh, what an awful lede. What I’m trying to say is that “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory was in Mpls Thursday to interview the guv in front of a sold-out and mostly hostile audience. In the liberal fantasy of how such an encounter might go, Pawlenty, forced to give full answers and face follow-up questions from a prepared, skilled and fairly tough interviewer, would be unable to paper over the inconsistencies and logical contradictions of contemporary conservatism/Republicanism.

But Pawlenty never stumbled. Whether TPaw “papered over” the afore-mentioned inconsistencies or just demonstrated the coherence of Pawlentyism would be in the eye of the beholder. The hour flew by with very little news being committed. In the latter portion of the hour Pawlenty faced mostly hostile questions from the audience, including one that accused him of a being a haughty, uncompromising bully who seems to think he is "the only adult in the room." But Pawlenty stayed cool and fairly substantive in his replies.

'Creeping tyranny'

Here’s one good example. Gregory quoted a previous Pawlenty statement to the effect that Obamaism consists of “creeping tyranny.” Really? Gregory asked, “creeping tyranny?” How do you justify this kind of "revolution talk?" Replied Pawlenty:

"The more the government does, the more it usurps traditional space in the private economy.

"So If I took a dollar from you, David — this is what government does — I’m extracting a dollar from you, in the form of taxes.  I’m the government. I take it from you, subtract 20 or 30 percent for overhead, because I’m going to manage, squirrel around, do compliance checks, audits, bureaucracy and the like.

"Then I’m going to redeploy your dollar back into the economy at say 70 or 80 cents on the dollar, based on a politicized agenda or a politicized set of priorities. That’s a model of decision-making that’s not efficient. It’s political, plus, it’s not growth. So what I mean by that is: You were gonna spend your dollar anyhow. Your dollar in your pocket was gonna buy you dinner that night. Was gonna pay for your kids’ college. You might’ve bought a car. You might’ve bought an iTunes, who knows? But your  dollar was gonna circulate in the economy.

"The notion that the federal government is gonna take money from you or anybody here, bring that into government and send that back out and declare that to be economic growth is a flawed decision-making. It’s what the economist call substitution or transference effects.

"But the more corrosive part of it is, if you take that to an extreme, and it happens in increments, you take away entrepreneurial spirit; you take away individual responsibility; you take away the need for people to be innovative and industrious.

"If you look at the recent comparisons between Greece and Turkey in terms of the culture of their people as it relates to entrepreneurial activity, productivity, innovation and efficiency, it’s remarkable. Greece is a great example of not just of a financial  disaster but of a cultural disaster as it relates to the deployment of capital, entrepreneurial  activity, industriousness and life.

"Government has so nanny-stated the people of Greece, so usurped the private economy, so issued entitlement mentality.  It has affected the culture to the degree that the tyranny is the suffocation of the human spirit, suffocation of the private market, all happening in increments. It is a form of tyranny. It’s not an overstatement to say that.”

Gregory pushed back. The United States is not Greece. The bailouts started under Bush. The growth of government has occurred under many presidents of both parties. At least Obamacare is paid for, which is more than you can say for Bush's Medicare drug benefit. Will Pawlenty still denounce Obamaism if the economy recovers?

Pawlenty replied, calmly and civilly to it all. Not to say that his answers were correct or convincing, but they had a certain internal logic and consistency and they would have convinced a contemporary Republican that this guy is smart and on their side. Which he is. He was certainly smoother than anyone currently running for governor.

Little red-meat rhetoric

That’s not to say that Pawlenty’s presidential campaign is about to soar. If the times call for red-meat rhetoric, Pawlenty seems more reluctant than many of his chief competitors to throw it around. He was, for example, reluctant to start blaming Obama for the Louisiana oil spill/cleanup disaster until more facts are known (with a passing, somewhat personal, reference to those who rushed to judgment on the cause of the Minneapolis bridge collapse). His caution on this one was such that esteemed colleague Bill Salisbury’s coverage of the event was headlined “Pawlenty turns moderate for Meet the Press.”

I wouldn’t go that far. Pawlenty called for the repeal of the Obama health care bill; embraced and defended the Arizona illegal immigration law (he says it specifically prohibits the cops from relying on race in deciding whom to investigate), and says he would have allowed AIG to go bankrupt (he didn’t comment on the potential domino effect from that one). And when Gregory asked whether Pawlenty's alarm about deficit and debt might cause him, if he becomes president, to seek a tax increase, the audience laughed spontaneously and Pawlenty replied: "The people of Minnesota know the answer to that one."

Of local interest, when Gregory pressed him on leaving a multi-billion-dollar deficit for his successor to face next year, Pawlenty blamed the Legislature. If the Legislature had made permanent his (unconstitutional) unallotment cuts, the projected deficit would have been cut in half, but they insisted on adopting the cuts on a one-time basis. He stated flatly that this is part of a DFL plot to make the deficit look bigger so they can advocate for higher taxes. Hmmm?

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Comments (34)

I'm going to go ahead and presume that was a skeptical "Hmmm."

Pundits to the contrary, I still say TP does NOT seek the presidency, though VP might be just fine.

Viewed in that light, it sounds as though he did a good job of furthering what might be his real ambition.

If they'd done it my way, there wouldn't be a problem, eh? The governor seems to ignore that the $2 billion or so that was 'borrowed' from the schools to balance this biennium's budget. Or did he intend that those be permanent cuts and not simply 'deferred'?

I have to say it again, is Pawlenty really this ignorant about basic economics and multiplier effects of government spending or is he just playing an idiot for the crowd? The problem is it doesn't matter because either way he plays to his base. Still, I can't help wondering if he really believes this crap?

From Eric's description, it sounds like if there was "paper overing" going on, it was Gregory doing it.

Couple of technical corrections, if I may:

"Not to say that [I found] his answers were correct or convincing, but they had a certain internal logic and consistency [that led me to believe that] they would have convinced a contemporary Republican that this guy is smart and on their side."

" If the Legislature had made permanent his [statutatorilly unallowable] unallotment cuts.."

"Pawlenty called for the repeal of the Obama health care bill; embraced and defended the Arizona illegal immigration law (he [noted] it specifically prohibits the cops from relying on race in deciding whom to investigate).."

"and says he would have allowed AIG to go bankrupt (he didn’t comment on [what I have identified as a] potential domino effect from that one)."

Commentary, even commentary on Minnpost, should be held to a minimum standard of accuracy, don't you agree, Eric?

[statutorily unallowable]"

Comments, especially those corrective in nature, should be held to a minimum standard of spelling and grammar as well...

I did not find Pawlenty's dollar argument very convincing. While he is right that there is some reduction in the use of tax money once it is collected (not extracted)the same thing happens if that dollar goes to the private sector. The deductions are called auditing, compliance checks, bureaucratic squirreling around just like in government. The dollar that goes to government goes to salaries and so it circulates just like the dollar sent to the private sector.

If for example the dollar is a health care dollar does anyone believe that paying it to Blue Cross is more efficient than paying it to a government run system?

My biggest objection to Tim Pawlenty as a president goes to temperament. The tantrums and name calling we have seen on TV when he doesn't get his way is alarming. Let's keep him a long way from Washington and the various red lights and buttons that can activate so much destruction.

No, Paul: That was a reporter's "I get the last word Hmmm." However, it was a good piece. But this is another example of Gregory not really being up to the job. He got not "gotchas" in his "gotcha" attempts/

Oh, by the way, Eric, you're correct, that was "an awful lede."

I listened to the interview over the noon hour and thought the governor did quite well. His rhetoric incorporates the touchstones of the conservative movement and he does a good job delivering them. Although his ability to think sequentially was tested by a few challenging questions.

I agree that Gregory is not up to the job, or perhaps it is because Tim Russert set the bar so high. The passing of Tim Russert leaves a huge hole at NBC that has yet to be filled.

The magic "dollar" in the hands of everyman, but Pawlenty's folksy generalization hides some important truths.

"So what I mean by that is: You were gonna spend your dollar anyhow. Your dollar in your pocket was gonna buy you dinner that night. Was gonna pay for your kids’ college. You might’ve bought a car. You might’ve bought an iTunes, who knows? But your dollar was gonna circulate in the economy."

Who knows, maybe you were going to use that magic dollar to buy yourself a hospital that would finally give you that operation you need, but can't afford. (Pawlenty wants to repeal the recent Health Care Reform legislation and replace it with what?)

Maybe you were going to use your magic dollar to pay off the mortgage that's threatening to take your house away because your job was one of those washed out to sea by Wall Street's economic tsunami, not a natural tsunami but one created in part by a 30-year extreme makeover of our political economy into an unregulated financial casino.

But according to Pawlenty, someone nefarious has taken 'your' magic dollar away! Ohhhh. Ohhhh. The humanity! But wait.

For 95% of the folks out there in that audience and this one, whose federal income taxes were either cut or not raised by Obama, whatever magic dollars are coming in are still out there happily humming around because they didn't get taken by an increased tax and frankly most of us have no choice but to spend them because pretty much every dollar coming in is already spoken for.

And when you look a little more carefully than Pawlenty's example would tempt you to do, you realize that we probably still have that dollar and maybe a couple more, because the Obama stimulus bill gave many of us on the 95% side of the teeter-totter a few more dollars in tax cuts or unemployement benefits or jobs which we can use to try to cover our necessities till things turn around. (Pawlenty wouldn't have done that either?)

But for that 5% on the other side of that income teeter-totter, especially for those way out on the far end of the income board of 1% or higher, who are seeing tax increases under Obama (long overdue), that "dollar" might have been spent or even invested in a real business, or it might have just been socked away for better times or used to place a wager on whether other people's real investments would succeed or fail. For those with that level of extreme 'discretionary' income it's a little tougher to say these days.

So we're taking a few more magic dollars out of the yacht-buying money jar to make sure other folks have the necessities of food and health care. If that is what we need to do, that's what we should do and that's the direction Obama has gone.

Would Tim Pawlenty do that?

Unfortunately "The people of Minnesota know the answer to that one."

I also heard the interview on the radio. It was a bit like a boxing ring out there with some fair punches thrown and mostly deflected. Not that I necessarily agree with him but he did pepper his answers with some techy phrases like "I phone nation" sorta makes you want to believe him. I think he can easily use the Arizona debate to his advantage. For me though he was dangerous in his almost cavilier responses to the big fall/crisis of 2008 and 2009. Its like the guy has forgotten or can just be so darn pleasant and folksy without being a ditz like Sarah Palin. I also think he can be a bit of a fear monger. Interesting mix will be somewhat interested in his next big media moment. Larry Jacobs thought Pawlenty did very very well.

The bar seems low for these post-interview quickie analyses. If the candidate does not rip off his microphone and call the interviewer an expletive deleted, "he did well". I liked your more nuanced eval, Eric.

To build on Joel's comments, this talk of "magic" dollars only confirms the Republican belief in magic economics. We actually know for a fact that public dollars are circulated more efficiently than private sector dollars. According most tax incidence studies we get $6.00-$8.00 of economic benefit for every $1.00 we spend on taxes. Far fewer public sector dollars disappear into investment portfolios and offshore bank accounts like private sector dollars. A much larger proportion of public sector dollars are recycled back into the real economy. I don't think any government employee in the state makes more than $120,000. Compare that with the private sector where single individuals capture million and tens of millions.

Gregory is just a weak interviewer. The odds are always against the possibility that he might extract anything from a reasonably sophisticated politicians like Pawlenty.

It will be interesting to see tomorrow how the editorial scissors cut the interview.

Or maybe I'll watch Channel 5.

Pawlenty is the Tin Man. He has no heart. Or if he does have one, it's color is darker than that of any other Republican running for national office. Call him on it.

Been thinking about this "magic dollars" thing.

Assume for a moment that government dollars have now gradually come to provide ALL dollars available to ALL citizens.

Of course, to provide these dollars, ALL income from any other source, and at least SOME of the income from government sources must be taken by the government.

Now, no-one needs to work or produce wealth to have an income, and if any is in fact generated it will be taken by the government.

Businesses, lacking any incentive, shut down or move out of the country. Corporate farms, similarly burdened, discontinue operations and stop paying real estate taxes, allowing unplowed fields to revert to the state. Small farmers raise only enough to feed themselves (and a little to sell on the black market), and do not report any "income."

Jobs disappear by the millions, but no-one minds because the government will provide.

Stores have no goods to sell and close, but no-one minds because the government will provide.

Government opens state-run dispensaries, where payment is in the form of government credits.

Faced with steeply declining tax revenues, government resorts to borrowing, until it's credit rating sinks to junk bond status because no way to repay is on the horizon.

As goods disappear from the marketplace (except in the black market, which of course thrives by bringing into the country goods produced elsewhere) and repairs of existing goods become impossible to obtain because no-one works anymore, the government drafts able bodied citizens into work battalions to provide essential products and services. Those who refuse are sent to internment camps for "re-education."

Finally, with no source of funds for its programs, the government cuts benefits across the board. The average citizen, like the Pole of the 1960's, says bitterly "The government pretends to pay us, and we pretend to work."

But the economists on government paytolls are mystified, because government dollars are SUPPOSED to recirculate in the economy, providing the same "boost" as dollars from real wealth produced.

John Iacono writes
"Assume for a moment that government dollars have now gradually come to provide ALL dollars available to ALL citizens."

Thank you for underscoring the ridiculousness of extreme arguments. Your example is essentially one of soviet style communism where everything is run by the state, asking from each according to their ability & providing according to their need. Of course, the other extreme is that government provides no dollars, and collects no dollars, and therefore pretty much doesn't exists - i.e. anarchy.

The problem, as I see it, with the existing GOP is the apparent belief that government spending is always a drain on the economy compared to private spending. So Governor Pawlenty, while accusing liberals and/or the DFL of aspiring to a wholly state-run economy, he also seems to be touting the opposite extreme - anarchy - by failing to admit that some government spending is, actually, good. In short, the guy is utterly disingenuous & interviewers seem incapable of exposing this fraudulent argument of Pawlenty's. I neither saw nor heard Gregory's interview; Eric's review leads me to believe it was much like Eichten's, on MPR a couple weeks ago.

I give a dollar to my health insurance company. They keep 20-30%, wasting it on adminstration, marketing, profits for owners ... so really only 70-80% goes to my health care.

But i should praise that private sector business, while chastizing my government, which does it's work at about the same percentages

Brian,

Always love those comments that lead off with words like "ridiculous", "idiotic", "extreme" and such like. I can tell the discussion will be reasoned and calm -- or maybe not.

The problem is, though, that recent grabs of significan portions of our total economy, on top of the cumulative impact of previous significant such takeovers by every segment of government lead to fears of JUST the scenario my musings envisioned.

I don't find in your comments any reassurances that it will NOT come to that, with the bad consequences that, as you mention, have happened with now discredited government systems, not only in Soviet Russia, but in Greece and many of the European countries.

I don't recall suggesting the opposite extreme which you describe, nor do I have any fears or examples of it in living memory.

Hiram,

All dollars do come form the government, what- you print your own in your garage? ;)

I've always thought it amazing that republicans, who tend to champion Christian "family values", promote one of the seven deadly sins as the primary purpose for human existence. Greed is the solution to all problems and primary principle around which all public policy should be organized.

Obviously a Soviet style economy is not a viable option, but the idea that greed is the primary motivation for all people is simply mistaken. In fact it's pretty clear that most people do not aspire to unlimited wealth. The vast majority of humans would be content with reliable health care, a middle class living, and a retirement that maintains their existing lifestyles. There is an endless variety of human motivations, and most people get bored with any endless drive to make more money. In fact historically most of the great innovations and human accomplishments have not been motivated by greed. On Sept. 11, 2001 those fire fighters weren't climbing into the Trade Towers because they thought there was a pot of gold at the top. This idea that civilization collapses without completely unfettered and unlimited surrender to greed is simply ridiculous. These economic non-theories organized around magic dollars are simply infantile. As long as government isn't corrupt, and an economy remains sustainably productive, it doesn't matter how many of the circulated dollars are government dollars. The Soviet Union didn't collapse because no one was motivated. It collapsed because command economies eventually become too corrupt and inflexible to be sustained.

The problem is you can't have a command economy outside a totalitarian government. Which is why Hiram's thought experiment doesn't wash here in the US. The only way we're going to end with a totalitarian state is if Republicans keep winning elections.

Sorry, I meant to reference John I. not Hiram in my previous comment.

"I am for preserving to the states the power not yielded by them to the Union, and to the legislature of the Union its constitutional share in the division of power; and I am not for transferring all the power of the state to the general government, and all those of the government to the executive branch. I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans, and for increasing, be every device, the public debt, on the principle of its being a public blessing..."

Thomas Jefferson, Presidential Campaign of 1800, in a letter expressing his political position to Elbridge Gerry.

I'm with Jefferson, Paul. You, not so much?

And what would Mr. Jefferson said of our military budget John?

Speaking of Jefferson, one of my favorite ideas of his was national education standards. He was worried about the capricious and perverse effects of local control. Smart guy, he saw Texas coming decades before it was even a state. Hard to believe he'd be in favor of such a big government idea though, what's up with that?

John Adams: "There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public Passion must be Superior to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest connections, when they Stand in Competition with the Rights of society."

I'm with Adams. John, not so much.

>On Jefferson & military budget:

Jefferson, fearing the influence of a military-industrial complex, hoped to "win" in disputes with other countries by threatening commerce. Didn't work, as he and his friend/VP/successor Madison found out, and the country was without effective military as the War of 1812 began. Sobered by this, no Jeffersonian since has held his view, which Jefferson himself changed as war loomed, as I am sure you already know.

>On Jefferson & Education:

Have not run across his views on local education. But I doubt he wanted the central government control we now see, as fearful of aggregation of power in the federal government as he was.

>On John Adams quote:

This was a typical Federalist view at the time, which resulted in Jefferson's victory over them, and their subsequent decline: "the people" did not buy it, then or now. It does, however, echo the thinking of twentieth century totalitarians.

Along with most of my fellow Americans, I can't swallow this view. Sorry to see you so aligned.

George Will's column today speaks to this discussion:

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/will060310.php3

A while back there was an exchange here sparked by some dopey thing that Michelle Bachmann said and the idea of constitutional conservatives. I laid out an ideological framework describing such Republicans as converting documents like the constitution into religious scriptures, and deifying those who wrote them. I complained about the absurd proposition that some of our supreme court judges hold that they can make law based original intent- the idea that we are beholden to the framers' will rather than the principles they outlined. Original intent is absurd because it requires that we somehow divine not only what one or two framers would have thought about stem cell research or security derivatives, but what kind of consensus they would arrive at were they to debate it. Since we have no time machine this requirement is simply incoherent, it's historical fantasy posing as legal and political theory.

The fantasy of original intent requires an equally fanciful historical account that pretends the founding fathers were of one mind on most things. For instance Mr. Iacono declared that all the framers believed in small government and free market principles. Pawlenty derives his economic theory from this fantasy posing as nostalgia pretending to be history. This is one reason his budget plans are bereft of any legitimate economic knowledge.

This recent exchange between John and myself if a perfect example of the problematic nature of original intent and sacred text approaches to law and policy. You can see that just as religious people will end up arguing about whether or not their scriptures advocate violence, each producing passages and quotes from the same books, so too does original intent/ constitutional conservatism lead us into this intellectual dead end. Fundamentalists always assume that the text before them requires no interpretation and clearly says what they think it says. John produces a Jefferson quote that he thinks clearly proves his point. As it happens, instead of disputing John's interpretation ( I actually find no contradiction between Jefferson's words and my comment they was intended to rebut), I chose to produce another quote from a different divinity. Either way you can see the problem here, instead of sorting out deficit we're having a theocratic debate about what a bunch of long dead guys said over 200 years ago. This can go on forever, each of us producing quotes and interpretations to prove our points. If we were historians that would be expected. But the problem before us is whether or not our governor has an economic clue.

The truth is there's no way to know what kind of resolution the founding fathers would produce regarding stem cells, assault weapons, or security derivatives. Their thoughts or conclusions would be of little value in any event because they were not gods but very fallible human beings. Jefferson wrote his impressive words surrounded by slaves that he owned. Jefferson never saw the full effect of the industrial revolution let alone multinational corporations, world wars, or atomic weapons.

What we have is a really good constitution that lays out a set basic principles, and guarantees basic civil rights. It's up to us to apply that constitution, that's why we vote. Our judges and elected officials are not clergymen who's mission is to interpret the sacred text. Nowhere in the constitution will you find the words "capitalism" or "free markets", or even an allusion to them. Nowhere are there any proscriptions declaring limits to the size of government, or even any attempt to describe an appropriate size either in literal terms or economic terms. The constitution doesn't even place limits on taxation, it just requires taxation be accompanied by representation.

Despite all this you have guys like Pawlenty pretending their policies reflect scriptural authority derived from the bible and the constitution. Fundamentalism is always inflexible and impervious to reason and information. As long as folks like Pawlenty and Bachmann get elected we'll be stuck with their faith based policies.

Apparently Paul can make no room for the idea that real people in the current day might actually hold to the very same ideas presented by persons who lived two hundred years ago.

They must be mindless individuals caught up in some religious devotion to misinterpreted dogmas of a bygone time.

They are, of course, subject to the same accusation of devotion to the "dogmas" of the progressive left, though the founders of that religion are of more recent vintage.

Those of us who carefully consider what they have to say, however, do not use this argument, as we find it too insulting to the intellectual capacities of our opponents.

John,

How is it possible to have the same ideas that someone had two hundred years ago about stem cell research, the deficit spending required to fight WWII, or security derivatives?

Can real people share some of the same idea as Jefferson and Adams? Maybe. The question is why do you believe those people look like you and not me? Do you make room for the possibility that your opponents have a better handle on those ideas than you do?

And of course the relevance of ideas, be they 200 or 2 years old is never a given. Most of your opponents also believe in the principles the constitution so eloquently expresses. The difference is some of us recognize that it's our responsibility to solve our problems, and make good policy given the challenges we face today. We can't pretend those problems have already been solved by someone else 200 years ago. This is on us, we have to act according to reason, not ideological purity. And many of us think that's exactly what many of the guys who wrote the constitution would want us to do.

My experience is only the dogmatic tend to think everyone else is equally dogmatic. Even if they're too polite to say so.

I rest my case.

I rise for the applause.