Political Animal


May 06, 2011 1:15 PM ‘Sorry,” in more ways than one

By Steve Benen

‘SORRY,” IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE…. At last night’s debate for some Republican presidential candidates, Fox News moderators pressed Tim Pawlenty on his least favorite subject.

The moderator announced that everyone should turn their attention to a old radio ad for an environmental group in which Mr. Pawlenty heartily endorses a cap-and-trade policy — practically apostasy in his party.

“Do we have to?” Mr. Pawlenty quipped awkwardly. His voice soon echoed through the auditorium saying “cap greenhouse gas pollution now!”

But in a response that was clearly carefully prepared, Mr. Pawlenty looked right at the camera after the radio ad played, apologized to the American people, and said he had made a “mistake.”

“I’ve said I was wrong. It was a mistake, and I’m sorry,” Mr. Pawlenty told the Fox television audience, presumably filled with potential Republican primary voters. “You’re going to have a few clunkers in your record, and we all do, and that’s one of mine. I just admit it. I don’t try to duck it, bob it, weave it, try to explain it away. I’m just telling you, I made a mistake.”

Pawlenty isn’t the only GOP presidential hopeful who briefly acknowledged reality but now regrets it, but he’s the only one who seems anxious to turn his reversal into a positive — we’re supposed to admire Pawlenty’s bold rejection of science and willingness to admit he was wrong (when he was right).

But for anyone who takes reason seriously, Pawlenty is just embarrassing himself. As Republicans go, he was actually quite progressive on climate policy, not only backing cap-and-trade, but also supporting ambitious renewable energy policies and leaving no doubt he considered climate change a serious national threat. He even appeared in an Environmental Defense Fund commercial in support of a cap-and-trade plan, alongside then-Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D).

What’s more, Pawlenty was right — a fact he hopes Republicans will forget and/or forgive. His “mistake,” to use the word he mentioned last night, was finding value in evidence.

Remember, it was just a few years ago that the public was concerned about the climate crisis, and Republicans — including the McCain/Palin ticket — responded by embracing a cap-and-trade plan. Democrats ultimately saw the GOP proposal as a viable option, only to find Republicans denouncing their own idea. (Yes, it’s pretty similar to the health care fight.)

And now that the American mainstream cares less about the issue, and the Republican rank-and-file has been told by Fox News that climate science is a communist conspiracy, party leaders no longer feel the need to keep up appearances.

Still, it’s awful to see what Republicans have to do to themselves in order to press right-wing activists.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • ManOutOfTime on May 06, 2011 1:22 PM:

    I just admit it. I don't try to duck it, bob it, weave it, try to explain it away. I'm just telling you, I made a mistake.

    That statement is itself the embodiment of ducking, bobbing, weaving, and explaining away! I don't to explain why I thought what I thought, nor what facts I considered in changing my mind - which the rest of you think would be the opposite of ducking, bobbing, weaving, and explaining away. Simply, I was for it before I was against it! Next question!

    Well played, Sir! ...

  • Adam on May 06, 2011 1:23 PM:

    This should probably be considered some kind of Kinsley gaffe.

  • kevo on May 06, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Sorry I sounded so sane so long ago! Help me today embrace the madness so I will have a chance to get the nomination! -T. Pawlenty

  • c u n d gulag on May 06, 2011 1:33 PM:

    The day is coming soon in one of these debates when, in order to win, a candidate will bite the head off a spotted owl to prove his environmental bona fides, shoot a public service union member in the face to show how they'd handle workers, beat an old woman in the audience to death, screaming "There's one less blood-sucking leech who's going to get SS!," bring children up so they can burn books on stage to show what they think of education, bring a Muslim up and toss him on the fire, and then, Oprah-like, tell audience members to see what the candidate has given them under their chairs, and when they look, it's a Bible!


  • patrick II on May 06, 2011 1:39 PM:

    If I ever ran for president (can't happen) my motivation would be to make this a better country and a better world. If Pawlenty has to deny something he knows is true to run, something not only true but potentially globally disastrous, why is he running?
    I really don't get it -- is having your own helicopter, jumbo jet and a bunch of guys with sunglasses following everywhere just that cool? Screw the earth, I wanna live in that big white house.

  • c u n d gulag on May 06, 2011 1:41 PM:

    You know, actually, upon further thought, that candidate I wrote about above might be deemed insufficiently crazy - too soft and Progressive.
    I can hear the audience booing, yelling, "Where's the red meat, you pussy? Who's going to give us red meat?!?!?!"

  • rob on May 06, 2011 1:42 PM:

    In a very fundamental way this is why we can't trust the Republican Party with leadership responsibility until it recovers from its current wave of insanity, at least one generation.

  • SadOldVet on May 06, 2011 1:45 PM:

    Paw's problem is that he once advocated acting upon scientific evidence and facts!

    Everyone knows that belief is vastly more important and reliable than science and facts! Especially when the Koch brothers are paying the repuke party to avoid science and facts.

  • Gummo on May 06, 2011 1:47 PM:

    In Baggerland, sanity is a mistake and facts are lies.

    And seriously thinking about and planning for the future is evil because it shows a lack of faith in Deus Ex Machina Jesus, who will always pull our collective keister off the railroad track just in time.

  • Mark on May 06, 2011 1:51 PM:

    Curious as to where Mitt will head on this topic. Interesting to see that his last several public statements have been...sane? Direct, simple praise for Obama on OBL. Agreeing on the photos. I think there was something else??

    Anyway, I wonder if he's tacked back toward his more centrist instincts knowing that there's no room on the lunatic right and protecting turf against Huntsman and perhaps Daniels?

  • smartalek on May 06, 2011 2:06 PM:

    Possible typo:
    I think in last sentence

    "in order to press right-wing activists."

    perhaps "press" sb "please"?
    Or am I missing something?

  • Danny on May 06, 2011 2:20 PM:

    As Republicans go, he was actually quite progressive on climate policy, not only backing cap-and-trade, but also supporting ambitious renewable energy policies and leaving no doubt he considered climate change a serious national threat.

    Steve is being very generous here, as we progressives often are to our adversaries.

    Another way to put it would be that Pawlenty was running for and then holding office in a context where holding reasonable, common sense views was rewarded by the electorate.

    Now he is running for office in a context where holding crazy views is rewarded by the electorate. So he flipflopped.

    This isnt the story of a deep down good guy that had to give up his convictions to get elected. This is a story of a guy that had no convictions to start with. Which makes him dangerous, since he'll obviously do or say anything that his base demands to stay in power.

    Same thing with Mitt Romney. Not that he ever were a "good guy" on abortions. Only that he played one in Massachusetts to get elected, and now he's playing a values conservative instead.

  • jeri on May 06, 2011 2:20 PM:

    smartalek: I thought it was supposed to be "impress".

  • SecularAnimist on May 06, 2011 2:23 PM:

    The Republican Party is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Republican politicians say and do whatever the Koch Brothers tell them to say and do. It's as simple as that.

  • Gandalf on May 06, 2011 2:39 PM:

    You know you have to wonder as more and more evidence piles up that global warming is happening and the cause is human activities when these tools will start flip flopping to "well you know I was wrong about that global warming thing but now I see the error of my ways". Probably never.

  • DK on May 06, 2011 6:54 PM:

    Danny already beat me to the main point, but it's worth elaborating that in Minnesota it is good politics to endorse "greenish" energy.

    The agri-business community has made a lot of money of the requirement to blend ethanol with gas. There is also a significant wind power lobby in Minnesota. Thus the requirement for power companies to buy wind power.

    Pawlenty's supposed green credentials are merely an artifact of his political pandering to in-state politics when he was running for the governorship of Minnesota.

    Now that he's running for the presidential nomination in crazy-land, he's going to say some very different things.

    I noticed he also denied leaving a deficit in MN. He's hiding behind a pretty small fig-leaf on that claim. It's true that the state budget was balanced, because it required to be balanced. However, he "balanced" it, in large part by deferring more than a billion dollars to schools right before he left office. Now the bill for that has come due.