I Got Pawlenty O' Nuttin'

Before John McCain selects Tim Pawlenty as his running mate, he should keep in mind that it is very unlikely that Pawlenty will flip Minnesota. Patricia Lopez of The Star-Tribune raised some tough questions about whether Pawlenty had the follow-through to succeed as a policymaker. At one point, Lopez quotes Larry Jacobs, a well-regarded left-of-center political scientist, who raises an intriguing point.

Another view of Pawlenty is that he is not so much a headline-grabber as an instinctive innovator trapped in his own small-government, low-tax ideology.

“What we’re seeing here is Tim Pawlenty at war with himself,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance. “He’s taken strong, bold positions that the political marketplace has a hard time digesting. Then he retreats.”

It is very tough to be truly innovative at the state level, particularly when you’re facing a Legislature dominated by the opposition, a tough economic climate, and a toxic national political climate. Pawlenty, lest we forget, barely won reelection. So we shouldn’t be too harsh with the guy. More than anything, Pawlenty’s experience reinforces John Kitzhaber’s notion that what the states need most is greater flexibility — a loosening of the federal straitjacket. I often sense that liberals are making a mistake when they push strong federal policies on climate change, for example. Better to provide frameworks that will allow the states to race ahead, rather than have the feds preempt promising policy innovations.