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Tim Pawlenty’s interview-turned-debate with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show Wednesday got heated enough to go into overtime.
Everybody stayed nice. But it was easily the most combative interview of the former Minnesota governor’s New York media blitz for Courage to Stand, the book that could be the campaign memoir of a 2012 run for the White House.
After nearly 10 minutes of jocular sparring – over the comedian-host’s not-so-funny contention that the political right’s “march to tyranny” rhetoric about President Obama is disconnected from reality – the two men retired for a commercial break like exhausted fighters.
With no time left on the show, much of the subsequent 11 minutes of in-studio repartee will be reserved for the show’s website, www.thedailyshow.com. It’s worth a watch – and not for the jokes, which are few.
Theirs was not a debate about whether right-wing political rhetoric led to the Arizona shooting rampage – a quarrel that has preoccupied much of the media and political worlds in the last week. Nor did it have a lot to do with Pawlenty’s book, which does raise the specter of a “socialist, liberal” agenda under the Democrats (page 268).
Rather, it centered on a question worthy of a college seminar on political rhetoric: “What I’m asking,” Stewart said, “is, fundamentally, does the Republican Party believe we are as close to tyranny and socialism as the tone of their rhetoric would signal?”
While Pawlenty’s multiple answers were less than direct, the gist appeared to be yes. “I think there’s a lot of us in the conservative movement that view government as crowding into more space that used to be for individuals,” he said, “that used to be for private markets, that used to be for charity and entrepreneur activities, that used to be for faith organizations, and they push in and say ‘we’ll do that now.’ …There’s a lot of us who say that feels kind of like government stepping on us, pushing us to the side. There's a continuum between liberty and tyranny.”
As for the tone of the conservative criticism of Obama, Pawlenty said, “I would respectfully disagree that it’s really that different” from the left’s attacks on former president George W. Bush.
Stewart repeatedly tried to steer it back to the substance of the Republican critique, not the tone. The extended version of the debate delves into their philosophical differences over the role of government, taxes, school choice, Medicare, highway funding – the usual stuff of late night entertainment television.
At the risk of giving away the ending, Hot Dish will only observe that it ends on an up note, with the two antagonists exchanging compliments.
“Your brain is just too complex,” Pawlenty tells Stewart.
“You know what’s crazy? I don’t think you and I disagree that much,” Stewart concludes. "Do we?"
“Yeah,” Pawlenty says, to laughter.
Despite the show-ending comity, the mostly young, white, tri-state studio audience is mostly on Stewart’s side.
“Was I being obtuse?” Stewart asked after Pawlenty left the set.
Came a woman’s voice from the back row: “He didn’t answer the question!”
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