Monday, February 07, 2011

Semi-Live with Tim Pawlenty

Semi-Live with Tim Pawlenty

Football season over, caucus season starts. The circle of life continues, and Tim Pawlenty brought his soon to be announced campaign for Secretary of Something Or Other to Iowa City.

Nah. For president, of course. The former Minnesota governor hopes to find a sweet spot in the caucus electorate: just religious enough for the Huckabee voters, just businesslike enough for the Romney establishment, and let the other candidates mutually destruct.

Monday leaned to the religious end of the equation as Pawlenty spoke in the Family Leader's “Presidential Lecture Series,” with stops in Pella, a nice Republican town, Sioux Center, a reeeealllly Republican town, and... Iowa City?!?

(Administrative note: I'm sort of chronological here: the University of Iowa seems to have improved its wireless internet policy and even acknowledged the existence of Linux, or at least “Ubuntu,” but I wasn't able to hack my way in quick enough. So this is more or less live blog structured.)

“We do not view this as a campaign stop but as an educational stop,” says Bob Vander Plaats, who to my amazement is still on speaking terms with me. Pawlenty also arrived with a few other big names: Chuck Hurley, Matt Riesetter and Chuck Larson.

Perhaps they're hoping for a confrontation in the People's Republic; they very nearly get it from the media. At one point Vander Plaaats ijumps in to grab a question aimed at Pawlenty to defend his organization: “We sperak the truth but do it with love.”

“I'm both a fiscal and social conservative,” says T-Paw (not to be confused with 80s one hit wonder T'Pau, named for a Star Trek original series character). “As I try to persuade people, I try to be thoughtful and respectful.” But thoughtful and respectful still comes down to: “We as a society should support traditional marriage between a man and a woman. It does not mean people who have other situations can't be successful. The point is what kind of environment makes it likely to be successful. I don't think it's radical or extreme to say marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

That answer, uttered next to Vander Plaats, is no surprise; Family Leader is part of the somewhat confusing network of “traditional values” groups that gave you the three fired Supreme Court justices, and it's what Bob is doing these days instead of being governor or lieutenant governor.

After press time Pawlenty was off to a closed door meeting with activists (a “clutch event” in caucus parlance). The press corps and early arrivals listened to the rally music. “I Can't go for that (No Can Do)” by Hall and Oates is presumably some sort of Republican policy statement, while Jewel singing “Am I standing still?” is a good question if you're at the asterisk level in the polls. (But Jewel Kilcher isn't the woman from Alaska that Pawlenty needs to worry about.)

Monday's event is the first in the series of “Presidential lectures” that BVP is sponsoring across the state. Thy're starting low key but the next two should be pandemonium: Ron Paul on March 7 and Michele Bachman on April 11. Bachmann. In Iowa freakin' City.

We're going photoless today – the 2nd floor IMU ballroom has terrible lighting and my hobby-level camera can't capture it. If someone wants to get me a big time writing gig I'll use the proceeds and buy professional equipment, I swear.

At 3:52 the local GOP dignitaries file in from the clutch event. That brings our body count to 75 or so– more townie than student despite the campus location. Proportionally, press interest seems bigger.

Showtime at 3:55. BVP takes the intro. “Strong marriages lead to strong families lead to a strong society. We always try to communicate in the right tone.” (Or as I said the other week, the tone is Fred Phelps with cookies).

“I really hope he does get in the race,” Vander Plaats says of T-Paw, “but that's not an endorsement,” At least not until Huckabee makes his decision, I mutter.

Tpaw takes over at 3:59. He congratulates the guy in the Aaron Rogers shirt; I applaud pretty much by myself.

As he touches on the basics of biography, Pawlenty seems to be saying one very long sentence, with lots of 'ands' connecting.

“We have been the free-est and most prosperous nation in the world's history We need to restore America's freedom, goodness and common sense.” American Exceptionalism all around, but if Obama's doing it too it must be OK..

“This is a country that was founded Under God. That's not just my opinion, it's in our founding documents. That example is repeated over and over in the early history of our country,” Pawlenty says, claiming that 49 of our 50 states mention God in their constitutions (the implication is that means preambles, but he doesn't specify.) The pauses are few – wonder how he'd handle an applause line? But he didn't get any interruptions, not even when he's talking about “traditional marriage.”

“When we talk about family matters, it also touches on other issues. It's important to have a strong economy so moms and dads can have jobs.” He doesn't say single people and childless couples can rot, but he doesn't say they need jobs either. Still, not as bad as “heterosexual couples can accidentally reproduce.” It made me wonder how much of the Pawlenty Stump Speech (still nascent in form) is being skewed by the specific demands of the Vander Plaats-led event.

“We want a culture that celebrates life. We want to do those things that protect life and I'm proud to say I'm pro-life.”

“We shouldn't ask politicians who've never been in the private sector. Ask the entrepreneurs, farmers, people with small businesses. And the thing those people say is 'make my costs more competitive.' In the United States our costs need to go down not up, to make it the kind of place where jobs want to go. You can't be pro jobs and anti business. That's like being pro egg and anti chicken.” The obvious laugh line doesn't get a reaction. Salmon are funnier.

In general, Pawlenty sounds more sincere on the economic and education stuff than on the social stuff. And as for education, he just lost my official middle of the road barometer: my retired teacher parents by talking about home schools and charter schools. “We need to break up this lethargic government monopoly.” But the caucus base should love it.

He closes by riffing on the Reagan inauguration; everyone wants to grab that mantle this week. Apperantly the force of Ronnie's sunny personality was enough to make the clouds part the second Jimmy Carter left office. Or something like that; there was a broader point but nothing that I could capture in a phrase.

Q and A at 4:20. So much for confrontation: All questions were submitted in writing and Vander Plaats is reading them. That might work for this particular event, but advice to T-Paw: real caucus goers, on both sides, like to do the asking themselves, and they like to know that the other people doing the asking are genuine. It's in the U.S. Constitution that a true test of presidential leadership is your ability to handle a question from a crazy person in Iowa City.

Greatest threat to and asset for families: “Families are stressed out. They're worried about time, money and stability.” Refers to “Sam's Club Republicans,” (meaning small business owners and families that are just getting by. “They want the best value they can get for their money, so they can save money for things that are more important that I can invest back in my family.” He mentioned seeing carts loaded with Doritos, which apparantly are the best value for your money.

But it really all comes back to tax cuts. “One thing that really pressures family is health care.” Complains that Obama broke a promise because health care was not bipartisan, which takes some real chutzpah. He also says it's “government run.” Now we're into pants on fire territory.

Next question from BVP: College affordability. T-Paw: “Why are costs at a public university going up 7 to 12% a year when the rest of the economy is hardly growing at all?” “The system doesn't require as much productivity from faculty as it should.” Wants “measurable” research results, emphasis on measurable. Works in sabbaticals as well. “Every university can't be everything to everybody anywhere.” Also talks about cutting staff benefits: “Public employes used to be over benefited and underpaid. Now they're overbenefited and overpaid. You can't have public employees getting paid better than the people paying the bill.” (Did Branstad HQ write this?)Says of college classrooms: “ridiculous prices sometimes with ridiculous propositions on the curriculum.”

Stem cells. “Most of the things that have been most promising have come from adult stem cells. The science and technogy is actually leapfrogging the debate” The question didn't specify adult vs. embryonic, so Pawlentyu gets away with it.

Deficit. “You can't spend 1.5 trillion more than you brought in. A lot of that was stimulus money that maintained govt bureaucracies.” But still says shouldn't cut military. “Anyone who says they're not going to touch entitlements is not telling you the truth. It's not an easy thing to do but we have to look the American public in the eye.”

Vander Plaats holds up a card for one last question and, incredibly, makes a joke about Karnak The Magnificent. The students in the crowd were barely born when Johnny Carson retired in 1992. It's Egypt. Tpaw discusses multiple Middle East trips (but not Egypt) “What was the plan? It's fair to say Mubarak's time was, to be charitable about it, winding down.” Team Obama's initial reactions seemed confused and conflicting. “We need to follow our principles and priorities” which are 1) minimize risk of radical Islamic regime 2) freedom and democracy (“but you can't just flip a switch when there's been no infrastructure. There needs tyo be some interim time”)

I can see this guy being a lot of people's second choice. But with a secret caucus straw vote, instead of the Democrat's complex realignment system, second choices matter less on the GOP side.

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