When you think of former Minnesota Governors who find themselves in the media spotlight for making controversial statements, it’s usually a certain longhaired former pro wrestler who comes to mind, Jesse Ventura.
Since January, however, our most recent former Governor has usurped that honor handily. Tim Pawlenty, in his apparent bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, has made headlines on more than one occasion already this year for statements that have raised the ire not only of his opponents, but also of many even within his own party. And the good gays and lesbians of this country again are paying the price for his political haymaking.
In January, Pawlenty promised that, if elected President, he would reinstate the military’s ban on openly gay service members. Even though majorities of the American people—as well as military service members and their families, military commanders, and politicians from both political parties—supported lifting the ban, he knows better. Less than a month later, he doubled-down on that promise, pledging to rescind any funding necessary to implement the repeal.
Yes, that’s right. In the year 2011, a serious contender for the presidency of the United States from a mainstream political party wants to walk-back legislation extending the country’s constitutional promise of equality to more of its citizens. His great vision for the future of America is one where its citizens only are entitled to equality if they relinquish their dignity, and lie to their government, their peers, and their country.
You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Pawlenty has been drinking from the same cup of crazy punch as Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
I don’t think so. You don’t have to dig deep to realize that, unlike Bachmann, Pawlenty is no conservative ideologue. He is simply an effective politician. By that, I mean your run-of-the-mill, finger-in-the-wind blowhard, willing to exploit people for his own political gain.
This time around, Pawlenty apparently is clinging to the political formula that to succeed in the Republican presidential primary, he must align himself with the far-right social and religious conservative machinery of the party. Were he to win the nomination, much like every other successful presidential candidate, I imagine you’d start to see him moderate his beliefs to appeal to a broader electorate.
I believe just that kind of cold-hearted calculation is fundamentally more dangerous over the long term than the likes of Crazy Eyes Bachmann. I have a sneaking suspicion that unlike Pawlenty, she actually believes the outlandish things she says. She stridently trumpets her gospel of crazy, regardless of the political consequences. She rarely shows any desire to moderate her own mania for strategic gain.
Hence, Bachmann is only popular so long as her beliefs are popular. As attitudes and opinions evolve, she and her fellow Neanderthals are prone to extinction.
Pawlenty, however, repeatedly has shown that ideology is a mere means to his own political end. In 1993, for example, he supported expanding Minnesota’s Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. During the 2002 Governor’s race, he “regretted” his vote—to appease social conservatives in his party. That’s but one of many times he has used Minnesota’s GLBT community to grab votes.
A politician willing to exploit his fellow citizens to get ahead may not be all that uncommon, but he’s dangerous nonetheless. History is replete with political leaders scapegoating minority groups for short-term political power. I only can hope that the very extremists within the party he’s courting see through Pawlenty’s thinly-veiled “strategery.”
I honestly believe gay people would be served better if Republicans nominated Bachmann. Trying to watch her moderate her fanatical ramblings at least would make for great reality TV.