23 May 2011

A time for truth?

A Republican actually willing to run for President in 2012 is such a rarity lately that it's worth recognizing the appearance of another one. Today's contestant is Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, who bills himself as the teller of tough truths -- which would certainly put him outside the GOP mainstream if he keeps his promise. Let's see how he started with today's official campaign launch.

"I’m Tim Pawlenty, and I’m running for President of the United States." Truth.

"We live in the greatest country the world has ever known." Subjective, unfalsifiable.

"But, as we all know, America is in big trouble, and it won’t get fixed if we keep going down the same path. If we want a new and better direction, we need a new and better President." Broadly true.

"President Obama’s policies have failed." Subjective. While recovery isn't coming fast enough to please most people, Pawlenty gives us no objective frame of reference to show that recovery could have come faster, or if it will come at all.

"But more than that, he won’t even tell us the truth about what it’s really going to take to get out of the mess we’re in." Conditional. This depends on whether Pawlenty himself knows the truth.

"Fluffy promises of hope and change don’t buy our groceries, make our mortgage payments, put gas in our cars, or pay for our children’s clothes." True but meaningless, since no one has proposed to pay or provide for us with promises of any texture.

"Our country is going broke, and the pain of the recent recession will pale in comparison to what’s coming, if we don’t get spending in Washington D.C. under control. " Speculative on both counts. Pawlenty assumes that government spending is the necessary and sufficient cause of whatever economic disaster awaits, but austerity alone may not stave it off.

"President Obama doesn’t have an economic plan. He just has a campaign plan." Lie. The President may not have a good plan, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have one. The last sentence is pure ad hominem.

"But the truth is, since President Obama took office, massive numbers of Americans can’t find a job." Incomplete information. There was no full employment as of January 2009.

"We’re four trillion dollars deeper in debt." Truth.

"And his health care plan is an unmitigated disaster for our country." Conjectural, unproven.

"[T]he cuts we need to make – the cuts we must make – can’t just be to somebody else’s programs. The changes history is calling on America to make today cannot be shouldered only by people richer than us or poorer than us – but by us, too." Truth.

"If we want to grow our economy, we need to shrink our government." Non sequitur.

"If we want to create jobs, we need to encourage job creators." Vague. If someone has something he thinks he can sell, he'll need no encouragement from "us" to create jobs. Likewise, if he has no idea he can sell, no amount of encouragement from "us" will create a single job.

"The truth is, people getting paid by the taxpayers shouldn’t get a better deal than the taxpayers themselves.
That means freezing federal salaries, transitioning federal employee benefits, and downsizing the federal workforce as it retires." Conditional, opinion. If we replace "taxpayers" with "consumers," would Pawlenty still agree? Or is his assertion relevant only when people are paid by taxes? Even if the candidate elaborated, however, this would remain a value statement, not one of fact.

"The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs." Truth, but incomplete. This was Pawlenty's preface to a round of tough talk to his Iowan audience, during which he informed them that he intended to cut their precious ethanol subsidies if elected. Leaving the merits of that policy aside, I'd be more convinced of the truth of his toughness had he said in this speech that he'd cut military spending, but he didn't say whether he would or not.

There follow numerous campaign promises, the truth of which can only be verified later, and references to his record as governor of Minnesota, verification of which must be left to the experts. Pawlenty returns to "truths" as he nears the end of his talk.

"If prosperity were easy, everyone around the world would be prosperous." Conditional. This depends on what Pawlenty means by prosperity.

"If security were easy, everyone around the world would be secure." See above.

"If freedom were easy, everyone would be free." Ditto.

* * *
A truth check on myself is in order. Since this is the first time I've done this for a campaign speech -- Pawlenty's choice of "A Time For Truth" as his slogan pretty much asked for it -- I have no way to tell you how the new candidate's truthfulness or "truthiness" compares to anyone else in the 2012 field. The Minnesotan's speech has some indisputable and even admirable points -- but if you could look hard enough, you could probably salvage something creditable from any campaign talk. I also approach Pawlenty from a stance of hostility toward the Republican party and the barely-veiled plutocratic values for which it stands. That means that I won't accept as truth certain assertions Pawlenty himself obviously takes for granted. These could be dismissed as mere conflicts of values, but many Republican claims these days are based on assumptions disguised as economic laws that should be subject to historical verification or refutation. Pawlenty's announcement blends facts and values in a dubious mix, but any Democrat would do the same thing. I welcome his call for truth, but truth, if it be told, can only be a starting point for the necessary debate on a new direction for the country, and the debate must be waged among competing sets of values -- rival visions of the individual, national and common good. It would be great if one's values could be proven correct, but none of us can depend on that -- yet the debate must go on regardless. What we need is for candidates to tell us the truth about their values: how they expect us to behave, what they think we have a right to expect or demand, etc. Pawlenty takes a few steps in that direction but, like every other candidate, he has a long way to go.


d.eris said...

Excellent breakdown and analysis.

I'm looking forward to hear more from Gary Johnson, though many in the corporate media appear to have already written off the libertarian-leaning wing of the Republican field.

btw, Sam, I'm working on a couple new and interconnected projects, and was wondering if you'd be interested in participating, but you don't have any contact info here at Think3. Send me an email for info if you're interested (damoneris at gmail.com)

Anonymous said...

""[T]he cuts we need to make – the cuts we must make – can’t just be to somebody else’s programs. The changes history is calling on America to make today cannot be shouldered only by people richer than us or poorer than us – but by us, too." Truth."

How, exactly, does history call on the present? That is a statement which contradicts itself. Had he said "the future is calling on us" that could be taken for a truth. What this proves is that Pawlenty - and the rest of the right-wing scum - are backwards thinking, not forward thinking. Do you really want someone driving who's eyes are glued to the rear-view mirror, not the road ahead?