Re: Pawlenty’s Truth

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Crowley astutely points to Tim Pawlenty’s opening theme of “truth,” interpreting it as both a way to market the former governor’s vanilla Midwestern personality and to draw a contrast with Mitt Romney’s reputation for political expediency. The latter rings especially true — the race to become the “Not-Romney” candidate is one of the more (only?) fascinating sub-plots of the Republican presidential primary at the moment — and after listening to Pawlenty’s remarks Monday in Iowa, it’s easy to interpret some other comments as efforts to contrast himself with the frontrunner:

It’s time for new leadership. It’s time for a new approach. And, it’s time for America’s president — and anyone who wants to be president — to look you in the eye and tell you the truth.”…. Politicians are often afraid that if they’re too honest, they might lose an election. I’m afraid that in 2012, if we’re not honest enough, we may lose our country.

Pawlenty also came out against government ethanol subsidies. It might have been a sop to the Tea Party crowd or a statement of principle that ignores his presumed strategic reliance on corn-growing Iowa, depending on your perspective. But he made his case against ethanol tax credits as part of a larger point:

It’s not only ethanol. We need to change our approach to subsidies in all industries.

It can’t be done overnight. The industry has made large investments, and it wouldn’t be fair to pull the rug out from under it immediately. But we must face the truth that if we want to invite more competition, more investment, and more innovation into an industry – we need to get government out. We also need the government out of the business of handing out favors and special deals. The free market, not freebies from politicians, should decide a company’s success. So, as part of a larger reform, we need to phase out subsidies across all sources of energy and all industries, including ethanol. We simply can’t afford them anymore.

As Timothy Carney writes, one growing conservative knock on Romney’s time as governor, and his political identity since, is that it included a pattern of corporate-friendly government intervention, especially when it comes to doling out tax credits:

Romney didn’t compete for business through lower taxes and regulation: He tried to entice them to the state with special subsidies. In 2005, Romney lured Spherics, a pharmaceutical company, away from Rhode Island by offering a $2.5 million direct loan from the state’s “Emerging Technology Fund.” That same year, he signed a bill creating the Massachusetts Film Office that was empowered to hand out special tax credits to studios filming movies in the Bay State.

Romney’s corporatism isn’t limited to the state level. In his 2010 book “No Apology,” he lays out a national energy plan including more federal funding for energy research and supporting subsidies for “infant industries.” He has supported that favorite of Iowa caucus-voters, ethanol subsidies.