T-Paw on “The Daily Show”: What doth it profit this man?


It’s not simply that, in service to his ambitions for higher office, Tim Pawlenty is leaving Minnesota, the state he claims to love so much, in danger of losing its top-level credit rating—a move that will greatly increase the indebtedness into which he has already plunged us.

It isn’t even just that he has sold out thousands of Minnesota’s most vulnerable inhabitants, those enrolled in GAMC—a high percentage of whom are the children anti-choicers like Pawlenty claim to care about so passionately—in the service of those political ambitions.

And it isn’t even that he has demonstrated a willingness to do anything to serve those ambitions, like abandoning the faith of his childhood—Pawlenty was raised Catholic in South Saint Paul—so that he could turn around and embrace the non-denominational, megachurch fundamentalism that is all but de rigueur for GOP office seekers.

No, if Pawlenty had merely committed all these transgressions he’d still be a heartless opportunist who compares unfavorably even to Tom Emmer and Michelle Bachmann, who at least appear to have the courage of their nutty convictions.

It’s that he’s a heartless opportunist who is also self-deluded.

That’s what makes it all so infuriating: he has trashed Minnesota in the service of a vain ambition for higher office. In a bootless, DOA quest for the GOP Presidential nomination.

On Wednesday night, Pawlenty came on The Daily Show and revealed before a national audience what we in Minnesota have come to learn over the last eight painful years.

He is an empty suit. The Scarecrow mouthing Tea Party talking points identical to what spills out of the mouth of every GOP Presidential hopeful, from A-listers like Palin and Romney to yapping terriers like Tom Tancredo trying to keep up with the pack.

The sole area in which Pawlenty managed to distinguish himself in his chat with Jon Stewart was the talent he shares with that other great empty suit of American politics, Ronald Reagan. That is, the ability to deliver dubious assertions in a soothing tone that discourages the moment of reflection it takes to demonstrate his assertions are false. More than false. Disingenuous and counter-factual.

Let me just take two examples from Wednesday’s performance.

Exhibit Number One: While coolly trashing Minnesota’s public system of colleges and universities, Pawlenty indirectly cited as an instance in which “government” can “live within its means” by spending tax money “effectively,” the proposal he floated last year that up to 25 percent of all classes at the state’s public colleges only be offered online.

Why should students at the University of Minnesota schlep across campus on a cold winter morning and be bored to death sitting in, say, an Intro to Economics class, Pawlenty asked in his most reasonable tone, when they could just as easily—and effectively—download the contents of that class on to their iPhones or laptops and complete the course in the comfort of the local coffee shop? Why pay $199 per credit, he asked rhetorically, when you could be paying $1.99 a download?

Why indeed?

Could the fly in this ointment be the fact that, even as Pawlenty casually offered up this nugget of “common sense conservatism,” our statewide college system is wrestling to find ways to improve the miserable success rate of online classes—a poor record shared, incidentally, by online college classes offered everywhere by every institution, private or public?

Would one reason, then, why this might not prove to be such an effective way to reduce and redirect state funding be the inconvenient fact that over 50 percent of those students downloading courses on to their iPhones would either drop out before completing the class or—what’s proven to be even more likely—fail to complete the required assignments and end up with an F as their final grade? Is this really such a “common sense” way to expend state funds when that 50 percent-plus failure rate happens to be more than four times higher than in traditional “seated” college classes?

Exhibit Number 2: After enumerating the handful of vital services the state of Minnesota must fund no matter what, like the National Guard, state police, and primary and secondary education, even while it should be free to nickel and dime luxuries like state parks and poor people’s health care, Pawlenty dismissed the complaints of city and county governments who claim that, in the face of radical cuts in Minnesota’s state aid to local governments, they have no choice but to raise marginal rates on regressive sources of revenue like sales and property taxes.

Stuff and nonsense, said the Governor. All they have to do is learn to live within their means just as he has forced the state of Minnesota to learn how to do.

Let us leave aside for a moment that the principal way Pawlenty has forced us to live within our means is by floating billions of dollars of state bonds, driving Minnesota to the aforementioned dangerous levels of debt. Like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush before him, Pawlenty has chosen to realize the dream of fiscal responsibility by passing the bill on to future generations.

No, the real duplicity in Pawlenty’s dismissal of the plight of local governments is that those increased sales and property taxes are needed to underwrite precisely the kinds of non-negotiable vital services he declares are sacrosanct on the state level;  you know, little things like fire and police departments, health and safety inspections, etc., etc. When it comes to luxuries—like public libraries and rec centers—local governments have cut funding as much as possible without eliminating those services entirely.

Predictably, the local mainstream media this morning fell all over itself offering up Minnesota-modest praise for Pawlenty’s appearance on The Daily Show, citing his relaxed posture and spontaneous manner as if these qualities were all you really need to serve as President.

But having sat through the interview (I, frankly, don’t have the stomach to view the full, unedited interview posted by Comedy Central), I have two other, plain-spoken, common sense words for Pawlenty’s appearance—words that apply equally well to his eight year term as Governor.

Shameless. And Stupid.

Shameless because, to borrow what Mary McCarthy once said (quite accurately, by-the-by) about Lillian Hellman, every word that he spoke on The Daily Show was a lie, including “and” and “the.”

And stupid because his shamelessness is going to get him nowhere. T-Paw long ago sold his soul—but is not even going to gain the world in return for his trouble.

And for ours. For however unlikely that Pawlenty will realize his Presidential ambitions, one thing is certain.

We here in the North Star State will have to spend years and years digging out of the wreckage that his shameless stupidity has visited upon us.