Not just because of the announcement video, which was really good stuff.
But because of this…
Tim Pawlenty announced his candidacy for president in Iowa Monday afternoon under the banner of ‘truth,’ presenting himself as someone whose campaign would not just be made of empty promises, and who will instead be willing to tell the truth, even if it makes him unpopular.
To show how serious he is, in his announcement speech in Iowa Pawlenty did just that, telling Iowans the unspeakable: that their beloved ethanol subsidies must come to end.
“I’m here today to tell Iowans the truth, too,” he said. “… The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.”
“Now, I’m not some out-of-touch politician,” he said. “I served two terms as governor of an ag state. I fully understand and respect the critical role farming plays in our economy and our society.”
“But even in Minnesota, when faced with fiscal challenges, we reduced ethanol subsidies,” he concluded.
Pawlenty’s video made it clear his campaign’s all about saying the stuff no politician will say. The ethanol subsidies statement is a brilliant way to kick that off.
And it’s also brilliant in Iowa.
Yeah, that’s right – I said it. It’s brilliant in Iowa.
Why? Because regardless of how popular ethanol subsidies might be for corn farmers there, and the public perception among the majority is that those farmers need ethanol subsidies, it’s anything but suicide to attack those subsidies.
Because you don’t need to get a majority of the vote in Iowa to win the caucus. You need 20-25 percent in a large field of candidates and you win.
Everybody else in the race will either dodge the question or they’ll do like Newt Gingrich and whore themselves out to the ethanol lobby in search of a constituency they can build.
But ranchers and hog farmers in Iowa don’t like ethanol subsidies; ethanol subsidies make animal feed outrageously expensive since those guys use corn to feed their livestock. And there are easily enough people who aren’t beholden to those subsidies to acquire a constituency of, say, 20-25 percent. So if you’re the one candidate willing to take a strong position against subsidies, which is probably the most important presidential campaign issue in Iowa, that quarter of the population really doesn’t have anywhere to go but to you.
Not to mention that the rest of the country is so sick and tired of Iowa and New Hampshire getting to pick who our presidential candidates are and exacting campaign promises from politicians – Iowa is the main reason we have those stupid ethanol subsidies in the first place – and there will be lots of people who are refreshed to see a candidate go to Iowa and take a stand most of the folks there won’t like.
Aggressively going after those subsidies, which would wipe out $30 billion in federal corporate welfare, will be wildly popular elsewhere in the country. Sure, other farm states like Kansas and Wisconsin won’t like Pawlenty’s stance. But if you don’t win Wisconsin because of this, you probably win Florida. And Florida’s more important than Wisconsin. (Kansas isn’t voting Democrat regardless of the subsidy issue).
It’s a ballsy statement, even if he waters it down by saying those subsidies should be phased out, and it’s a smart one. All Pawlenty needs is some dirty jokes or an F-bomb or something to add some sizzle, and he might start getting over this “too boring for prime time” image after all.