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Pawlenty offers truisms about our problems, but little about his future

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty

I’m not saying that former Gov. Tim Pawlenty bet a friend that he could talk for an hour and half on Monday at the Humphrey Center and make absolutely no news. I’m just saying that if he did make such a bet, he definitely collected.

Pawlenty analyzed the problems facing America in terms that no one could dispute.

The federal government can’t continue indefinitely to increase spend at a rate of growth higher than the rate of growth of the national economy, Pawlenty said. The three big entitlement programs are growing at an unsustainable rate and “we have to deal with” them, although not in ways that would affect that at or near retirement.

For the generation younger than retirees and near-retirees, the retirement age for full Social Security benefits will have to be gradually raised and some means testing of benefits will have to be introduced so that, for example, wealthier retirees might not get the full upward Cost of Living Adjustment that less wealthy Social Security beneficiaries get.

More choices will have to be added to Medicare (although Pawlenty added the common Republican trope that one of the choices will be the existing Medicare structure which, if you think about it, undermines the whole idea). Medicaid (which is already a state/federal program) should perhaps be turned into a block-grant program for states to operate and use the states as laboratories to find the best way.

Big problems

But these are very big problems, TPaw allowed, and to solve them will require “consensus, crisis or gifted leadership.” He didn’t say which of those was most likely. So much for “Entitlements,” which I spell with a capital “E” because our former governor had decided to build his presentation around four “E” words.

The second was “Energy,” and on that the news was very, very good. Enough natural gas has been discovered in the United States and Canada to meet our energy needs for the next 150 years, and yes, cars can run on it. Former Gov. Pawlenty did not mention the word “fracking,” which, if I understand correctly, is not a mild expletive.

E word No. 3 was “Education,” and here Pawlenty was edgier. The best way to get better educational outcomes would be to have more engaged parents among the disadvantaged groups and classes, but “we can’t legislate good parenting.” But teacher contracts are within the reach of governments. Teachers have to be paid on some basis other than pure seniority and we have to have some ability to get rid of the bad ones, Pawlenty said.

E word No. 4 was “Enterprise,” the free kind. Seventy percent of free enterprise job growth comes from small- and medium-sized companies, he said (which I’m sure is true, depending on who gets to define “medium-sized”). And when you talk to the captains of these levels of industry and ask them what it would take to get them to create more jobs, they will all tell you some combination of lower taxes, less regulation, reduced energy costs and other things that government can influence.

But, because he did not want to lose that imaginary bet, he didn’t specify which taxes had to be cut or which regulations abolished.

The snotty tone of this post is starting to annoy even me. In fact, the paragraphs above accurately present what Pawlenty said Monday.

I should have mentioned that Pawlenty sounded good and looked really great in jeans and cowboy boots topped with a blue blazer and no tie. He spoke flowingly, without notes, and with occasional small witticisms, but mostly just like a reasonable man explaining the problems facing our country.

I suppose, since Pawlenty fairly recently ran for president, and even more recently has traveled around the country a great deal in his role as a surrogate for presumptive Repub nominee Mitt Romney, it was natural to assume that Pawlenty would engage in bombastic statements promoting Romney and/or attacking Obama. In fact, he barely mentioned either the president or the man who would be president.

Romney running mate?

There is also a certain amount of curiosity in political circles about whether TPaw sees himself as a potential Romney running mate (although he has said repeatedly that he doesn’t) or perhaps a cabinet member. (I personally asked him about that idea and he replied that a number of former governors who served in the cabinet have not enjoyed the experience.) And, more parochially, might he run in 2014 either to get his old governor job back to or try to be the Republican who will take on Sen. Al Franken? “Haven’t ruled anything in or out,” was the reply, no matter how many clever ways the question was asked.

Political scientist Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey Center and the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, which put on the event, spent the final 30 minutes of Monday’s program interrogating the former guv, but TPaw continued to stick to truisms.

He expressed perhaps mild regret about polarization, but said that small groups on the left and the right serve as gatekeepers to the political process and the only way out of that is for more people to be willing to sit through those god-awful political meetings until their influence is felt. He refused to diss the Ron Paul people. He said the presidential election is really about 15 percent of the potential voters in about eight likely swing states because everyone either doesn’t vote, always votes for the same party or lives in a state where the same party always gets the electoral votes. Sad but true dat.

He said that based on his own analysis Romney is either even or slightly ahead.

When Jacobs suggested that Pawlenty had moved right on certain issues in order to run for president, Pawlenty cracked “you mean I evolved?”

And, perhaps his profoundest insight of the day, he expressed little hope for a grand left-right compromise because the sides are too far apart and said “one side or the other is going to substantially prevail to get quantum change.”

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Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/15/2012 - 09:49 am.


    No one should be surprised that Tim Pawlenty spoke for ninety minutes and said nothing. He spent eight years as Governor doing little more than reciting Republican talking points.

    I think he was frightened by an original idea as a child, and has stayed away from them ever since.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/15/2012 - 01:13 pm.

      He can’t help it

      if you people are slow learners. Repetition is the only way.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/15/2012 - 03:40 pm.


        Timmy speaks only to friendly crowds. He is afraid to be challenged by anyone who doesn’t think he’s swell.

        His audience is made up of folks who take comfort from his platitudes.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/15/2012 - 10:13 pm.

        His “ideas” remind me

        Of the saying – garbage in garbage out.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/15/2012 - 10:18 am.

    Entitlements? No one feel more entitled to your money than the defense industry and the medical industry. 20%-25% of the US economy tied up in those two sectors.

    Energy? The never was and never will be a shortage of carbon-based energy. Oil, coal, gas, all forms of the same thing. It’s the carbon, stupid! We’ll die in the greenhouse long before we burn the last lump of coal.

    Education? Nothing encourages people to enter a profession more than job and pay uncertainty–and, hey how about the opportunity to pay for necessary supplies out of your own pocket? It says education is valued!

    Enterprise? Nothing more enterprising than the wealthy in asking for more, because they really have our interests in mind.

    • Submitted by Tim Milner on 05/15/2012 - 08:13 pm.

      I wake up

      everyday as a small business man with 60+ employees knowing that I need to perform that day by finding new and/ servicing customers by delivering a product that meets their needs. I have NO job certainty or guaranteed pay. My and my employees work determine our success. If I perform poorly – the business suffers and so does our pay. And if we perform poorly, for an extended period, we will no longer be in business.

      And you say teachers have more uncertainty than I?

  3. Submitted by Peter Mikkalson on 05/15/2012 - 10:47 am.

    Re: Rehashing T-Paw…

    Your just wrong to continue to provide a forum for this hack’s self-promotion. If denied a media outlet, trust me-he’ll go away!

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/15/2012 - 11:44 am.

      On the other hand . . .

      . . . it has to be easy for reporters to cover him. The next time he speaks, all Eric has to do is change the time and the place. The “substance” of his speech will be exactly the same.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/15/2012 - 11:27 am.

    Humble suggestion

    I’ll never read this article, but I say: Let this be the last set of keystrokes you ever waste on this paragon of mediocrity who only managed to get elected by virtue of three way fiasco’s.

  5. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 05/15/2012 - 12:13 pm.


    I’ve got a 3 year old granchild who can tell me what the problems are…it’s the solutions that are a little more problematic. But then T-Paw was never capable of the heavy lifting.

  6. Submitted by Roy Everson on 05/15/2012 - 02:46 pm.

    A call from the veep

    If you want to know what Pawlenty’s next political move is going to be, why not ask Cheney?

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/15/2012 - 03:38 pm.

    Among the many…

    …distressing things about dealing with or interviewing people who have political experience – especially if they’re hoping to have MORE political experience at some point in the not-too-distant future – is that it’s not possible to get a straight answer from them. The best way, apparently, to avoid offending a demographic group that might vote for you is to not say anything of substance.

    Thus, Mr. Pawlenty’s specialty is vagueness. Mrs. Bachmann’s specialty, on the other hand, is fantasy, as the Glean’s paragraph on her response to redistricting illustrates. In both cases, the “base” isn’t offended.

  8. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/15/2012 - 03:40 pm.

    Still spewing Reagon’s talking points

    Pawlenty’s depth ends as soon as he finishes the talking points. According to Pawlenty none of the states problems were caused by him as he was trying to look presidential. It is always someone else. Everyone of the talking points came from Reagan’s play book and they have been proven to be bogus. You will notice the politicians have stopped quoting Reagan because it has been proven he was actually a failure and couldn’t even get into the republican party today. The republicans have it down pat when it come to having a solution, but then they need have to go find a problem. They can’t solve a thing when the problem shows up first. I know the problem and it is the republicans. The solution is November and the voters have a chance to speak loudly about all the republican nonsense. It is time to end their nonsense.

  9. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 05/15/2012 - 04:26 pm.

    “Enough Natural Gas”

    I Googled the 150 year figure and found that there is enough natural gas to supply current demand for 150 years. We’ll run out of natural gas before 2160, though, because natural gas consumption continues to grow and the reserves therefore decrease exponentially (not linearly as TPaw tries to get us to assume). The only way that gas will last 150 years is if we do not increase consumption. So how can he argue that cars should be moved to natural gas, thereby increasing consumption of it on the basis of that hundred-fifty year figure? It’s as partisan and ideological as he’s ever been, the jean-wearing, common-sense facade aside.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/15/2012 - 05:27 pm.

      The problem is

      that the costs of extracting natural gas increase at least linearly, and as the cost increases, eventually the consumption will decrease. So, it’s possible that natural gas will last forever, and do us absolutely no good.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/15/2012 - 10:39 pm.

      All republicans need

      Republican politicians don’t need any facts. All they need is a podium. Prime examples Pawlenty and Bachmann.

  10. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/15/2012 - 05:28 pm.

    At least it’s an improvement

    over creating problems.

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/16/2012 - 07:02 am.

    As for Mr. Pawlenty’s future; there is a long history of career politicians being able to monetize their political connections made while in office and on the public dime. I suspect Mr. Palwenty is not about to blaze his own trail and set a new, higher standard in this regard.

  12. Submitted by Larry Copes on 05/16/2012 - 07:53 am.

    Did he make the bet with you?

    He might have won if you hadn’t written this story, but now he has lost.

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