Home > Tim Pawlenty > Gravity in Politics

Gravity in Politics

When I was a young pup, I was a big fan of fantasy novels, and while I haven’t started a new series in awhile now, there are still a few old ones winding down.  This week, the 12th book in one of those series’, The Wheel of Time, hit bookstores.  I’ll probably have a review up later.  Right now, I’ll just give an extremely thumbnail sketch of one conflict, to illustrate a political point.  So basically, there are a whole bunch of wars going on, including one civil war.  In this civil war, there’s something which, in history, is called a “succession crisis”.  Or anyway, it’s something like a succession crisis.  One leader was deposed, another was dubiously inserted, and some of the “nation” split off and set up a rival faction.  Now in, like, the 10th or 11th book, this new faction is struggling for a leader.  They have a few very “strong” choices.  Too strong.  Each choice has enemies that would make unity difficult.  So they hit upon making an inoffensive, somewhat green candidate the leader. Her name is Egwene.  She actually grows into the role.

Anyway, in the 12th book,  Egwene has allowed herself to be captured by the original faction, so she can try to unify the “nation” from within the enemy camp.  She has some successes and impresses people.  After a whole bunch of complicated events, the leader of the original faction is essentially killed, and they have to search for a new leader.  But, now this group has the same problem the rebel group had.   All of the likely choices for leader have enemies, and even more than they had originally because the strain of fighting the rebellion increased divisions.  But, they need unity and realize, after some discussion, that Egwene is the only one who doesn’t have very many enemies and has credibility with both factions.  So both groups accept her as leader, and the civil war ends.

The political parallels to this are obvious.  Back during the 2008 campaign, someone noted that most President had served less than 10 years in major office (Governor, Senator, or VP) before their election.  Obama had 4 years as Senator.  Bush had 6 as Governor.  Clinton doesn’t fit the mold, but H.W. does (8 as VP).  Reagan had 8 as Governor.  Ford had 1 as VP.  Nixon and Johnson break the mold, but then Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman, FDR, and Hoover fit back in it.  And when you think about it, that’s a little bit strange…right?

Just looking at the first 10 names, alphabetically, on the senate list, we’ll see that only 3 of 10 fit that mold.  In politics, hanging around forever is the norm.  Presidents are abberrations.  Typically, people just answer that with, “well, Americans tend to prefer Governors who are term-limited and CAN’T hang around too long”.  Well, that’s one explanation.  But, it seems to me the story of novice leader might give us a second possibility.  Politicians who hold large amounts of power and influence for long periods of time inevitably accrue enemies.  Not just within the party structure, but with the population at large.  The more often people see you- the more frequently you’re involved in squabbles and battles, internecine and otherwise, the less credible you are as a leader who needs to, at least in theory, bring unity.  Especially when things get testy- when civil wars break out- you need a fresh face, not wedded to any one group, and capable of moving bringing unity to a battered nation.  That was the logic of Barack Obama.

I’m thinking of this because it concerns Tim Pawlenty.  Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin all have enemies.  Romney and Palin may not violate the rule of 10, but their time in the sun has made them lighting rods.  The spotlight and time make their own kind of gravity.  And what goes up…Pawlenty’s hasn’t even begun to go up.  He has ignited no great emnities; he hasn’t had time.  He hasn’t fought the kind of interparty battles that keep us apart.  He hasn’t even engaged Obama with enough rancor to turn independents against him: he’s pristine.  In a situation where we have conservative party candidates bucking the establishment, and moderate establishment’s endorsing in a primary 15 months ahead of schedule, we could sure use that pristineness.

Categories: Tim Pawlenty
  1. MWS
    October 30, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    “the leader of the original faction is essentially killed”

    Can someone be non-essentially killed?

    On a less snarky note:

    Keen observation on the relative “greenness” of Presidents. I’ll add a few more theories, to the “too many enemies” one:

    1. Long standing politicians can be comfortable and/or lazy in their current positions. No need to take a major risk reaching for higher office. Life is pretty good where they’re at. Being President takes serious ambition, and people who have such ambition usually don’t stay in one spot for very long before reaching for the next rung.

    2. They become encrusted in a particular mold. They know how to be a Senator, or Speaker of the House, or Governor of South Dakota, but sometimes that skill set can actually undermine running for POTUS. One example of this is long standing Senators who run for President. Their stump speeches so often sound like those boring speeches from the floor on CSPAN.

    3. They have too long of a public record. Times change, and positions that were mainstream 20 years ago can be very controversial today. Congressmen and Senators rack up a huge voting record which can be a smorgasbord for oppo-research, especially with all the shenanigans Congress plays with poison pill amendments, inserting controversial legislation into defense appropriations, etc….. A governor who has governed 10 or more years is certain to have screwed up something important.

    4. Long standing politicians become too detached. Often their circle of friends has been other politicians, lobbyists, celebrities, and sundry VIPs that they are completely out of tune with the current mood on the street. A newer and fresher politician is more likely to sense the tone of the electorate.

    On Pawlenty, I agree. I think if he can become the first choice of most of the people who currently have him #2, he could win this. I think he is #2 for much of the establishment, and #2 for much of the grass roots (or will be as soon as they start paying attention). The key is that leap from #2 to #1.

  2. October 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Well…I suppose I could have said she’d been stolen and mentally enslaved by a group of outlander invaders but…like, you need A LOT of context to understand what’s going on there.

  3. MWS
    October 30, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t have added much to your point. I just thought it sounded kind of odd. As I thought about it more, I remembered in the fantasy realm all kinds of things can happen to characters that make them “essentially dead” without being physiologically dead.

    Have you ever read Tad Williams’ books? He has a few big trilogies, I’ve read the first two installments of his “Shadowmarch” series (third one is not out yet) and have almost finished his “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” series. I think he is a very good writer. Good character development, (mostly) compelling plots, and extraordinary use of metaphor.

  4. October 31, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Tad Williams blows my mind. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is terrific. For whatever reason, I’ve not yet read the Shadowmarch books.

  5. MWS
    October 31, 2009 at 1:27 am

    I have never seen another writer so good at describing people using animal type metaphors. I can’t do it justice, so I won’t even try to recreate it. But as an example (paraphrasing), in one of his Memory, Sorrow, Thorn books he describes the drunkard jester getting his first drink of wine with his newly banished party of refugees. As the jester pitched the wine skin up, and gulped greedily, he described his eyes darting around from the side like a rooster’s, daring someone to challenge him. My paraphrase doesn’t do it justice of course, but he comes up with metaphors that are both original and completely convey the sense beyond what a simple description could do.

    November 6, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    “On Pawlenty, I agree. I think if he can become the first choice of most of the people who currently have him #2, he could win this. I think he is #2 for much of the establishment, and #2 for much of the grass roots (or will be as soon as they start paying attention). The key is that leap from #2 to #1.”

    Yes MWS, I will try to hold my tongue (keyboard) on the other site because I know it won’t be good for your camp to have Right Wing hot-heads like me. But for the record, your guy in now my second choice. I am glad that when push came to shove, Mr. Pawlenty promoted small d democratic principles as well as capitalism in New York. By his courage, Mr. Pawlenty have proven that he is up for the task.

    Haha, on another note, I have received a few e-mails recently from Mr. Pawlenty asking me for money. Are you guys behind this? In all seriousness, I would certainly consider giving money to his PAC in the future, but I shall not give money to M & M. I wish you guys well and thanks for promoting Conservatism.

  7. MWS
    November 6, 2009 at 6:16 pm


    Good to see you here. Although there are some things we don’t agree about, I think there is much more that we do. Keep fighting the good fight, and if you want to weigh in on a theological discussion on justification and sanctification, check out “A more coherent coherence.”

    November 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Thanks MWS, I did a quick google search on ‘A more coherent coherence,’ but I do not think I found what you wanted me to find.

  9. MWS
    November 9, 2009 at 1:29 pm


    It’s on Matthew’s blog here. Front page, down a little from this post.

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