The state of the state is not good. But Minnesota isn’t unique. When Gov. Tim Pawlenty gives his State of the State speech tomorrow, he will have a significant opportunity to change the tone of our politics and offer a different level of hope for the state and its citizens. The question is: Will Gov. Pawlenty take the chance?
Last week, when addressing the annual Session Priorities dinner hosted by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Pawlenty missed an opportunity to truly connect with the audience. (And it was an audience that historically favors his policies.) Instead, he stuck to his tried and true style of talking fast and showing little emotion. It’s not that it was a bad speech. But there needs to be something more, something deeper.
During trying times, the human soul and spirit needs to begin to show itself. In this case, we need to see Pawlenty’s soul. During the last budget crisis, Pawlenty was hopeful and optimistic; now he seems irritated and impatient.
Minnesotans are patient and determined, and we are used to leaders being hearty and hard working. If Pawlenty can convey the depth of the hard work that’s needed and build a non-partisan vision for leading the state out of its economic funk, he could change the session and his political career.
Recall, for instance, the criticism President-elect Barack Obama received for only being a good orator. The truth is that there was a depth to his feeling that clearly resonated with people. This was most evident on the long trail of Democratic primaries when his authenticity and depth of connection ultimately defeated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Pawlenty could do the same and build momentum for what will be a difficult re-election to a third term (if he chooses to seek it) and to further prove himself as a real player on the national GOP stage.
Connecting with people
Pawlenty has the ability to connect on a personal level with small groups and one on one with people, but for some reason he hasn’t been able to do that through speeches to large audiences. It may be that Pawlenty hasn’t had to give a great speech. Now is his time to shift his style and tone.
If Pawlenty would have been Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential pick, he wouldn’t have had to give a speech like the one he should give tomorrow. Instead, he would have been relegated to being the attack pit bull, much like the role played by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. It’s not that Pawlenty has to shift his ideology in this year’s State of the State. He needs to shift his style. He needs to get personal and be human.
Remember candidate Tim with his 34-inch waist and middle-class car? That was personal. The “Sam’s Club Republican” speech at the National Press Club this summer was an audition for the national GOP, but it was also authentic and real. Think Pawlenty un-plugged.
To date no one has really dug into the deep challenges for our state and communicated a vision for Minnesotans on how to face the enormous task of building a better state. Instead, the first couple weeks of the legislative session have proven to be mostly posturing between DFL leaders and the governor. For instance, the Senate DFL leadership has suggested it is waiting for the governor’s budget, saying “he is the leader.”
That’s the governor’s opening to dig deep into his soul for the speech and into his brain trust for ideas that he can bring forward, execute and follow-through on.
Great leaders rise to the occasion during challenging times. They also put aside partisan rhetoric and compromise on ideology to make progress. Minnesota needs progress. Pawlenty has the opportunity. Channel Obama, governor, and find us some hope.