14 August 2011

Straw polls and hollow men: Farewell to Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, has discontinued his candidacy for President of the United States because he finished third in a non-binding "straw poll" held at an Iowa county fair. If anything can illustrate the idiocy of the American system of choosing national candidates, this should. I don't regret Pawlenty's departure for his sake; his only good point, it seems, was that he was the relatively sane Minnesotan in the race. But Pawlenty aspired to national office and was presumably appealing to a national constituency, so why should the disinterest of a gang of Iowans deter him from his quest? The answer is that the media assign disproportionate significance to news from Iowa because the Republican and Democratic parties allow Iowans to have their say on the presidential candidates before anyone else. They persist in this tradition, I suppose, because Iowa is deemed a test of "retail politics," the ability to cajole voters to caucus sites. A national primary, by comparison, would be a mere popularity contest that might give rank-and-file partisans the candidate they really want, but that candidate might not be the most effective campaigner from the party's point of view. Of course, I'm sure that Rep. Bachmann would be eager to have a national primary right now, before Gov. Perry's patriarchal charisma eclipses her moment in the sun, but too bad for her. In any event, whatever you think of Pawlenty, it should be self-evidently false that he's exhausted his national base of support in Iowa, but the straw poll apparently did fatal damage to his credibility as a campaigner for the Republican nomination. After all he's said about Bachmann, it's hard to imagine him endorsing her as a nominee, but as a good little partisan he must -- even though he obviously considers himself more fit to be President for a number of good reasons apart from any of their announced policies. Partisanship forces him now to defer to the verdict of the primary campaign trail, but shouldn't a sense of duty to country oblige him to rise against Bachmann in the unlikely event of her nomination? Even, as is somewhat more likely, Bachmann becomes the nominee's running-mate to secure the Tea Party vote, can Pawlenty accept the prospect of his enemy being a heartbeat away from executive power? As a partisan, he must accept that prospect, but Pawlenty himself must wonder whether his duty as a partisan is a dereliction of duty to his nation.

This analysis of Pawlenty's failure reflects even more poorly on Republican base voters. The author may be no Republican sympathizer, but his point seems valid. It's that the GOP base seems so far more interested in attitude than actual achievements or objectives, and that Pawlenty failed because, despite advocating the same austerity and trickle-down dogma as everyone else in the field, he somehow seemed too "nice" for the base. I can believe that. The base intends to pass judgment not just on the President and the Democratic party but on millions of Americans whose perceived (and actual) failures will be blamed for our economic troubles, and they want a hanging judge to represent them. They want "shock therapy" for the United States and withdrawal from "addiction to government," no matter what the toll. They are in no mood for lenience -- I only wonder what led them to think Pawlenty would be lenient?

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