Christy DeSmith: Tim Pawlenty, bigger than life and just as confusing

  • Article by: CHRISTY DESMITH
  • Updated: March 22, 2011 - 6:53 PM

His image-making taps America's proud moments -- which, as it happens, also tapped his dreaded government.

Commentary

I can't help myself, every time I see Tim Pawlenty's online campaign trailers, I get goose bumps.

Perfectly crafted for Midwestern saps like me, these Internet-only videos feature montages of good-looking Americans--Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, a soldier and his wife, a newborn, a truck driver, a scruffy fellow wearing a hard hat.

Making these minimovies all the more powerful are the soundtracks -- swelling backdrops of strings and bold brass, exactly like an action adventure film, with Pawlenty poised to save the day.

From an artistic standpoint, the first of these videos is the stronger -- it was launched two months ago, long before Pawlenty's announcement Monday of a presidential exploratory committee.

In that premiere video, the former Minnesota governor's thin voice feeds through a high-tech audio-editing suite, only to emerge as thunderous as a drill sergeant's.

"Valley Forge wasn't easy," asserts the reverberating Pawlenty-like voiceover.

And that's fine by me. Though no battle was fought there, the Continental Army's six-month encampment at Valley Forge was characterized by brutal cold, hunger and mass desertions. Nevertheless, George Washington and his troops emerged a stronger, more unified force.

After all these years, Valley Forge has come to symbolize sacrifice, perseverance and togetherness.

"Going to the moon wasn't easy," says the Super-Pawlenty.

Uh-oh -- here is where the video starts to lose me. Sure, that first moonwalk was impressive. Too bad it cost the U.S. government $24.5 billion, or more than $150 billion in today's dollars.

So Pawlenty is right -- going to the moon wasn't easy, especially for taxpayers footing the bill. When did he start cheerleading for expensive government programs, anyway?

"Settling the West wasn't easy," booms the Pawlenty. "We are the American people."

Opening the door for western expansion, the Homestead Act of 1862 was a government dole designed to push the frontier: up to 160 acres of cheap, often worthless farmland for anyone so poor and desperate as to cross the Mississippi.

The actual cost of the Homestead Act was negligible, but so what. It was still a form of social welfare, something Pawlenty supposedly opposes.

That first video left me wondering -- why can't a small-government guy like Pawlenty list a single feat of, say, the free market?

After all, he claims capitalism can solve America's most urgent problem: the soaring cost of health insurance for individuals and companies alike, as well as the lack of access for an increasing number of families.

Launched Monday, the forward-looking sequel finds Pawlenty back to his usual self: "We know what we need to do," says the mere mortal, in his normal speaking voice. "Grow jobs, limit government spending and tackle entitlements."

Again, I can't help myself. Like many of my countrymen, I'm soft for soldiers, babies, hourly wage earners and mere mentions of the word "freedom."

Just as American, though, is my distaste for pandering and the political inconsistency between these videos.

If the federal government is so loathsome and bloated, why then do our proudest moments include costly taxpayer-funded space travel and the Homestead Act, the most momentous welfare program in our nation's history?

Christy DeSmith, a former editor at The Rake and Mpls.St.Paul magazines, is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.

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