Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tim Pawlenty - It's not you, it's your underlying premise

Subtitled: An Analysis of Former Governor Pawlenty's January, 2011 Appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (January 12, 2011 episode; interview avialable in full here:

Contributed by Katie Foley

Never have the words "former governor" given me more pleasure than when used in relation to Tim Pawlenty.  Jesse Ventura was embarrassing, like an uncle who gets over-drunk at a wedding reception and then talks at length about his bowl movements.  Tim Pawlenty, on the other hand, was a straight up sleaze-ball and I doubt many Minnesotans miss him.  
Unfortunately, the rest of the country does not know T-Paw as well as we do.  Hoping to drum up support for a presidential bid, he has been touring the country and introducing himself to the rest of the American public. He has even wrote what has become the requisite pre-presidential campaign memoir, his entitled Courage to Stand: An American Story, published by Christian publisher Tyndale House.  (Side note: Aren't all of our stories "American Stories"?)
As part of his book tour, T-Paw was appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The interview, however, happened in the wake of the shooting of an Arizonan Congresswoman  and Jon Stewart seemed to be feeling particularly philosophical. The result was that, aside from its initial mention, the book was not brought up again. 
Rather than discuss Tim's "American story", Jon challenged him to answer whether he agrees with the claims being made by key conservatives, mainly that our march toward tyranny is a much greater threat under Obama than it has been under any other president of recent history (particularly Bush).  For the most part, Jon asks only this question in different ways for the rest of the interview while Tim declines to answer. 

Tim first dodges the question by responding that we should not do anything that would "chill" First Amendment speech, to which Jon replies, "I don't mean it from a Free Speech standpoint, I mean it from a reality standpoint." 
Tim next states that we need to wield our freedoms and rights responsibly using the information we're given, going so far as to state, "an informed citizenry is the key to democracy, and you've got to have accurate, good information to make good decisions."    (If he's aware that accurate information is the key to democracy then he must know that Fox News is not really news and that he didn't leave Minnesota with a balanced budget. This makes him a liar, not just another delusional conservative.) 

Jon tries to latch onto the importance on a well-informed citizenry, asking if the current rhetoric is "a cynical attempt by the right to whip up a voting block, or do people really believe there has been a fundamental change in our government towards tyranny and socialism?" 
Tim dodges again, declining to answer Jon's direct question, instead deciding to talk about the 2008 Republican National Convention, held in Saint Paul during Pawlenty's tenure.  He describes the area around the convention as a "semi-militarized zone" set up because protesters "mostly on the left" were "yelling and screaming and in some ways creating a security threat."    
Jon responds by saying,  "I don't think you can conflate 18-year-olds, who've written a lawyer's name on their arm running around with bandannas with Newt Gingrich, with Rush Limbaugh, with the leaders of the Republican party..... What I'm asking you is, fundamentally, does the Republican party believe we are as close to tyranny and socialism as the tone of their rhetoric would insinuate?" 
Again Tim dodges like a pro, explaining how conservatives like him feel that government is crowding into places typically reserved for "individuals" and "private markets" and "charity" and "entrepreneurial activity" and "faith organizations".*  Eventually Stewart is able to get Pawlenty to agree that fear drives the public and the television cut of the interview ends with Jon wondering whether the fear being perpetuated on the right reflects the real fears of real people.  
It is too bad that the T.V. version ends here because the most poignant portion of the interview follows the the commercial break.  Tim incorrectly tries to restate Jon's underlying premise, claiming that Jon is trying to say that the right has been more vitriolic than the left.  Jon clarifies, saying that he just wants to know whether the right truly believes we are closer to tyranny under Obama than ever before.  The rest of the interview is both men trying to prove that their own underlying premise is the correct underlying premise.  
Tim tries to prove to Jon that the right is acting no different now than the left did then (under Bush).  Jon tries to prove to Tim that you cannot reconcile a plan to cut the deficit with a plan that allows only for tax cuts and cuts in government spending.  Tim tries to prove that the growth in government spending cannot be sustained so we need to cut government spending.  Jon tries to prove that real tax rates are the lowest they've been since the 1950's.  Tim tries to prove that government is out of control and so we need less of it. Jon tries to prove that less government is not necessarily indicative of more liberty. Tim tries to prove that we need to use blanket numbers to measure what is and is not sustainable. Jon tries to prove what Minnesota has been trying to prove to Tim for the past 8 years, that you cannot use a sledge hammer where a scalpel is needed (he actually uses the metaphor!) and that you cannot use "blanket figures" because we don't live in a "blanket world." They are both talking, just not to each other.     
The reason this is so important is that this is one of the major obstacles blocking constructive political discourse today.  At the root of the differences in political ideology are very different underlying premises.  For example, if you truly believe that human life begins at conception then it logically follows that abortion is murder.  However, this underlying premise is not accepted by many in the choice movement.  
Likewise, if you believe that the only moral Truth is offered by a particular religion, then of course morality is universal - we all just need to adhere to the correct religious Truth.  If, however, you believe moral truths can vary by belief, culture and region then you will never accept the premise that there exists a single, universal, moral Truth.  We must accept that different people are operating with different underlying premises.
But accepting that different underlying premises exist is not enough.  We also have to stop trying to prove to the opposition that our underlying premise is the correct underlying premise.  This argument is not constructive and does not help to solve the problems of society.  Whether life begins at conception doesn't really matter to an abused and pregnant young woman who cannot count on help from the government or anybody else to ensure her child has better opportunities than she did.  Whether the government or a charity is providing the food does not matter to a starving army veteran living on the streets.  Whether health care is provided by the state or through a private insurer does not matter to a person who is near-fatally wounded in a car accident.  It takes a village to raise a child, there's no reason for people to go hungry in America and an accident should not bankrupt a family. If we can agree on things such as this the underlying premise becomes less important.
The problem is that this process would require people to be honest with themselves and others about their beliefs, about which underlying premises motivate them. As stated best by George Orwell, "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."  Mr. Pawlenty, I invite you to begin the revolution in order to achieve the "informed citizenry" that you claim to be the "key to democracy."     

*This is an example of what an associate of mine recently stated, "Republicans want government small enough to fit into your bedroom."  Apparently interfering with the Constitutional and contract rights of same-sex couples is okay but telling an insurance company that they cannot drop coverage when somebody becomes expensive to cover is tyranny.

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