by Dr. Jeffrey LantLet me tell you something about presidential candidates: the day they announce for the highest office in the land, they figure they'll be the top story… their mug on the front page of America's great dailies, their story featured on the three major commercial networks… and, of course, the object of endless glib commentary on Fox News and CNN.For Pawlenty, the first announced Republican candidate, it just didn't happen.To be sure, there were really major stories being covered March 21, 2011. Can you say nuclear reactors in Japan? That military dust-up in Libya? But even so, you would have thought Pawlenty would have gotten something.And what's got to irk Pawlenty good and plenty is that he has at least some credibility, not least that he was a moderately conservative governor (twice!) of a reliably Democratic state. When Pawlenty looks in the mirror, mirror on the wall… who's the one he sees most of all? Can you say Ronald Reagan?But Pawlenty got skunked… his Hollywood style introduction video ignored… his message to America undelivered.
What a revoltin' development this is. If it had been Tim's predecessor in the Minnesota governor's office -- colorful ex-wrestler and mouth man Jesse Ventura -- you can bet there would have been coverage, lots of coverage.Tim's gotta wonder…"Gentlemen prefer blondes" (1926), Anita Loos said. In the sequel, she told us "But Gentlemen marry brunettes" (1928). Tim can only hope that he's seen as the man America wants to marry. If only he can figure out how to get a date to strut his (good boy) stuff…Minnesota… always the bridesmaid, never the bride.Pity the state of Minnesota. It has had a respectable number of presidential candidates… but nary even a one-term president amongst them.Harold Stassen was the hot stuff in 1938 when he was America's youngest governor. He got a really bad case of Potomac Fever right away (1944) and never did get rid of it. He became a national joke running for president over and over again, a (bad) joke. Minnesota cringed.Then there was Hubert Horatio Humphrey Jr., who actually got the Democrat's nomination in 1968… and came within a hair of winning the presidency. "Tricky Dick" Nixon's most important trick was getting the presidency that year. A profoundly decent man, Humphrey learned the hard way that loyalty (to Lyndon Johnson and his Vietnam policy) isn't what gets you elected; hard headed realism is. Nixon had it… Hubert didn't.The next presidential candidate from Minnesota, Jimmy Carter's vice president Walter Mondale had this fundamental decency and honesty, too, and it killed him.Right out of the box Mondale, the very essence of the Minnesota boy next door, you know, the one who carries in your groceries with a smile and declines the tip, slaughtered himself. He told America the truth -- that the deficit was unsustainable and there would have to be new taxes. (Deja vu all over again….)I had to admire the man's guts… but you knew, right then, he was a goner.
Ronald Reagan crushed him… and went on to GOP sainthood, the prototype of how to finesse the truth and become the Big Winner.Get the picture?Now there's Timmy Pawlenty, and here's what you need to know about him. His original career choice was… dentist. I kid you not… and once you know it you can see him in white coat, dazzling smile, personable, confiding manner; the man who says "open wide", "little pinch", "spit here."He'd have been a cinch for president of the Minnesota Dental Association… and a lifetime achievement award from the Kiwanis.What's he bring to the table?The problem with those Boy Scout types, the nice guys, is that nice is what they've got, all they've got. Timmie's got likability all right but anything else?His ascent.He was born November 17, 1960, of German and Polish ancestry. You'll hear about his teamster father; his mother who died of cancer when he was 15. And about his meat packing neighborhood with that all-pervasive dead meat smell. (Don't mention that bit too much, Tim; it definitely puts people off. Ask not for whom the smell tolls… it tolls for thee.)Born Roman Catholic, Pawlenty became an evangelical Christian… a fact he will leverage to the max, to get those all important conservative Republican and Tea Party supporters. Powerful, they'll demand a hefty price.Pawlenty's political career shows what nice guys are capable of achieving. He was elected to the Egan, Minnesota city council in 1989, age 28. Elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1992, he was re-elected five times and was chosen House Majority Leader when Republicans became the majority party in the State Legislature in 1998.He won a hard fought victory in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2002… then beat aggressive candidates from the Minnesota Democratic- Farmer-Labor Party and the Independence Party. He was re-elected in 2006. Impressive yes. Memorable no! And the high point of his rhetoric was: "We need to be a party of Sam's Club, not just the country club." Churchillian, he isn't. And America likes its presidents to be masters of soaring speech.Now the nicest guy aims at the highest office. Everyone will like him. Almost no one with think him the Great White Hope of America, and his poll numbers will always be anemic. Just as they are now.You see Tim suffers from Minnesotitis… the disease that takes boys next door and turns them into likable cogs in the wheel… always on the team, hardly ever the captain and never ever champion. Leo Durocher summed up their plight in 1939 with his immortal line, "Nice guys finish last." Tim Pawlenty is about to discover just how deflatingly true that is, as he joins the list of nice guys from Minnesota who couldn't wow America.???