Tim Pawlenty’s version of the ‘truth’

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty formally kicked off his Republican presidential campaign yesterday, and after struggling to come up with a rationale for his candidacy, he’s apparently settled on a theme. Pawlenty, we’re told, will be a straight-talking, truth-telling machine.

As rationales go, I suppose this isn’t bad. Indeed, Pawlenty took steps to back this up, telling Iowans he wants a gradual phasing out of federal ethanol subsidies, and noting that he’s headed to Florida to endorse overhauling Medicare and Social Security. Pawlenty has spent many years saying the exact opposite, but why quibble? This is the new Pawlenty, speaking truth to power, and adopting the mantle of the last honest man in American politics — or so we’re supposed to believe.

But for a man who used the word “truth” 16 times in his campaign kick-off speech, Pawlenty is already undercutting his message with all kinds of falsehoods.

An hour after his official launch, Pawlenty talked to Rush Limbaugh, who noted in 2006 that Pawlenty said that “the era of small government is over” and that “government has to be more proactive, more aggressive.” Pawlenty responded that the newspaper article that published those remarks was wrong; the paper ran a correction; and that he was only quoting someone else.

Dana Milbank looked into this and discovered that Pawlenty “had taken some liberties with the facts.”

The article is all about Pawlenty’s efforts as governor to take on drug and oil companies and other practitioners of “excessive corporate power.” It includes his boast that many ideological Republicans “don’t even talk to me anymore” because of his support for things such as the minimum wage.

“The era of small government is over,” Pawlenty told the newspaper. “I’m a market person, but there are certain circumstances where you’ve got to have government put up the guardrails or bust up entrenched interests before they become too powerful…. Government has to be more proactive, more aggressive.”

The newspaper did issue a “clarification,” but only to say that Pawlenty’s quote about small government was “in reference to a point” made by the conservative writer David Brooks — one that Pawlenty, from his other comments, obviously agreed with.

Of course he did. In 2006, Pawlenty wasn’t well liked by the far-right, as he defended big government, endorsed cap-and-trade, wanted to reimport prescription medication from Canada, and wanted officials to be more effective and aggressive in fighting the oil industry.

Everything he told Limbaugh yesterday, just like the new persona he’s struggling to adopt, just isn’t true.

And really, that’s just scratching the surface. Wonk Room ran a fact-check piece yesterday, noting seven obvious lies Pawlenty told yesterday, on issues ranging from health care on the nation’s finances. Similarly , the AP ran a similar piece, highlighting several more of the candidate’s falsehoods from yesterday.

Pawlenty needs to realize that those who base their entire message on offering candor and uncomfortable truths face an even tougher burden — they’re inviting even tougher scrutiny. By lying repeatedly on his first day as a national candidate, Pawlenty is off to an ignominious start.