Pawlenty’s Truth

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Having just finished a big profile of Tim Pawlenty, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on his Official Announcement Day. The first is that his timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous: Mitch Daniels did Pawlenty a huge favor by passing on the GOP race this weekend, leaving the political world to focus on a thus-far overlooked candidate who may well wind up being the more-conservative alternative to Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman.

Another is the core theme Pawlenty is pushing with his rollout Monday: truth. Consider the headline of his new USA Today op-ed : “Real change is about telling hard truths.” Here’s the heart of his essay

[I]t would be easy for me to just tell the American people we can solve our debt crisis and fix our economy without making any tough choices. But we have now seen where that type of leadership gets us….

I’m going to try something a little unusual in politics. I’m just going to tell the truth. Washington is broken, our country is going broke, and our long-term financial outlook will make the pain of the recent recession pale in comparison.

Politically, my hunch is that Pawlenty’s team of sophisticated operatives have determined that, although people may find Pawlenty drab and uninspiring, they can turn his midwestern folksiness into an advantage by emphasizing issues of honesty and trust. Particularly given that plenty of Republicans see Romney as a slippery flip-flopper, Pawlenty has a good shot of being the “honest man” in the race.

Substantively, though, it’s not clear what bracing new truths Pawlenty is offering. There’s hardly a credible politician in America who denies that we’re facing a fiscal crisis that demands hard choices. Pawlenty says that Obama “would rather pretend there is no crisis,” but the President talks about it quite often.

Now, Pawlenty doesn’t think the President has offered a serious plan to solve the fiscal mess. Fine. But by this standard especially, the real test of T-Paw’s truth-telling is not whether he can diagnose the problem, but whether he can lay out a credible plan whose numbers add up. And so far he hasn’t, though he says he will. Thus far, Pawlenty has spoken in broadly favorable terms about Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint (though he says his own ideas for Medicare will be different, and Ryan doesn’t love them). And he has offered some specifics on possible Social Security cuts, primarily for high-income Americans. But for now, at least, the whole truth remains yet to be told.