The real reason Pawlenty failed

The cultural and economic problems America confronts are structural. The lifelong biological family is unable to reliably function as a source of social order. The size and scope of the criminal justice system is unsustainable and corrosive. The magnitude of privately held debt spins nightmare scenarios in the heads of policymakers already hesitant to undo a system of governance dedicated above all to artificially maintaining for Americans of every class a lifestyle many of them could not accomplish on their own.

That may feel compassionate — or even merely prudent — but on anything more than the most shortsighted of timelines, it is neither. The endemic subsidization on which our virtual prosperity depends is incompatible with any fair view of Americans as a free people. And against that most serious charge, Pawlentyism — no matter how conservative in its convictions, commitments, and attitudes — has no answer.

Does any Republican approach? For now, it’s difficult to answer yes. But the contours of a satisfactory alternative to establishment drift are easy to recognize.

In foreign policy, end our indefinite military garrisons, increase our ability to poke hard with a sharp stick at key moments and help our cornerstone allies in Europe and Asia better assert a constant regional presence.

On criminal justice, legalize soft drugs, clean up the appeals and capital punishment process, overhaul our corrupt (and corrupting) prison system, and reform and reintegrate felons.

On border issues, permit brief stays for true migrant workers, and demand an immediate choice between citizenship and deportation for resident illegal immigrants without criminal records.

On social issues, embrace the Tenth Amendment, and work to defeat and reverse judges who don’t just legislate from the bench but philosophize.

And on the defining issue of our time — subsidy and entitlement spending writ large — begin the urgent task of painstakingly unraveling the cocoon of incentives, payoffs, behavioral modifications, and socioeconomic engineering that has forced well-off, middle-class, working-class, and poor Americans to choose between greater prosperity and greater independence.

There’s no reason a Republican candidate can’t embrace these or similar positions. They amount to a post-establishmentarian vision of governance that steps outside the box created by misleading categories like “extreme” on the one hand and “centrist” on the other. And they sharply rebuke the sitting president.

Tim Pawlenty didn’t flop because Iowans are crackpots or Tea Partiers are wingnuts. It’s not extremism along the traditional political spectrum that grassroots Republicans (and independents and others) want. It’s an extreme departure from that spectrum, which has become — to say nothing of the parlous state of the left — a license and excuse for a great drift into inadequacy by conventional fusionism on the right.

If the candidates counted as the winners in the wake of Pawlenty’s departure don’t grasp that fact, they might have beaten him, but they’ll have joined him, too.

James Poulos is the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV. A doctoral candidate in Government at Georgetown University, he holds degrees from Duke and USC Law. His writing has appeared in The American Conservative, The Boston Globe, Cato Unbound, The National Interest, and The Weekly Standard, among others, and is featured in the collection Proud to Be Right, edited by Jonah Goldberg. He has been an editor at Ricochet.com and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. He lives in Los Angeles. His Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.

  • writeblock

    It was both message and personality. His conservatism seemed inauthentic. And his personality was too tentative and innocuous for the times. We’re in the midst of a cold civil war. We don’t need nice guys. We need warriors–which is why Ryan also shouldn’t run.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BTFH33NCY3DXWHCQIALPK56TQ4 BobA

    American voters have had it up to here with old time politicians of either major party.  Whole TEA Party is made up of millions of angry Americans who are angry at BOTH big parties.  

  • Elrod

    What I find amazing here is how much I, a liberal, agree with James Poulos on HIS positions.  The origins of our fantasy-land social engineering-based tax credit, low-tax+social spending+endless military spending policies come from Ronald Reagan and have been followed by Presidents in both parties ever since (note how Obama doesn’t want to give up the Bush tax cuts for those under 200k). Of course, in my estimation, the best way to avoid all this social engineering nonsense is to create a single payer health system (thus removing perverse employer-based health plans). Let the well-off purchase supplemental health plans (thus providing market incentives for more elective kinds of care).

    On the rest of his issue agenda I find much to agree on outright.

    So maybe the problem here is that while Pawlenty is an establishment Republican, Poulos is just not a Republican at all. Nor is he in the Tea Party camp. In fact, Perry/Bachmann are even further from Poulos’s vision than Pawlenty.

  • Stoic Patriot

    Other thoughts about the second page and what Conservatives are looking for:

    1.) In foreign policy, end our indefinite military garrisons: Sorry, Conservatives really aren’t calling for this. If you’ll notice, folks were horrified by Ron Paul’s comments about Iran

    2.) On drugs: No, the GOP base is not seeking legalization. A bunch of liberal potheads and many libertarians may be, but it’s the GOP, not the Democrats, that harbor the largest proportion of anti-drug proponents. Remember, legalization lost not too long ago in California, which would be the place to legalize it if any would

    3.) On immigration: No, GOP voters don’t want to give illegals a choice between citizenship or deportation. They want them deported, PERIOD.

    4.) On social issues: No, GOP voters have not gone 10th amendment happy. Rick Santorum well exceeded expectations after bashing the 10th amendment run amok, and Rick Perry recently backed away from the 10th amendment and embraced a human life amendment and gay marriage amendment.

    I’m sorry Mr. Poulos, but apparently you’ve confused Ron Paul voters with being representative of GOP voters. If 50% of Tea Partiers also call themselves Social Conservatives / Evangelicals, then I can guarantee you that if you think the Tea Party is the insurgent movement, it’s not nearly as pure Libertarian as you pretend it is.

  • Stoic Patriot

    This article is plain silly. Pawlenty lost in part because of his wimpiness, in part because of how dull he was, but also in large part because when he did go on the attack, he focused his attacks against a true Conservative, Michele Bachmann, while leaving Romney as untouched as possible. That doesn’t make people think he’s a mainstream fusionist Republican. It makes them smell the scent of a RINO in the wings, and someone who’s just as likely to stab them in the back if it proves to be expedient. Pawlenty didn’t pass the test he was subjected to of being a true believer.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZORRWGDSSPRIGLYJXLMSQBWXEE SPQRS

      Wow can I get some of what you just smoked? I think the article is pretty accurate. Pawlenty sucked just like it said here…but the idiotic buffoons that run the GOP don’t want to hear this message.

  • Citizen Jerry

    I see the Paulinstas are out in force. After Ron’s gaffe that he doesn’t care if Iran goes nuclear, do you really think people are going to take him seriously? The Paulinistas may be small in number, but they do make a lot of noise.

    As for T-Paw, maybe his message was the reason he failed, but his personality didn’t help at all. The guy makes vanilla look charismatic.