Tim Pawlenty Starts His Engines for the 2012 Presidential Campaign

It’s two years away, but speculation surrounding the 2012 presidential race is alive and kicking, if only for the increasingly irrefutable fact that anyone who intends to run without immediate access to a cable news soapbox is starting the 2012 campaign at a severe disadvantage. It is the uphill battle facing possible Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, who, from the Minnesota Governor’s mansion must be watching potential challengers like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich milk their cable news contracts for all they’re worth.

Mitt Romney managed to somewhat dubiously get himself into the news cycle this week too, and even Dick Cheney, who despite denying any interest in the presidency is topping Republican presidential contender polls along with Palin et al, is keeping his face in the public eye.

Pawlenty is taking an unorthodox approach compared to his would-be opponents: making media appearances to debate substantive issues. He has willingly stepped into the ring to debate health care with President Obama, taking advantage of the President’s call for a bipartisan health care summit on February 25th to publicly list off his ideas on the topic. On Sunday, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by the governor entitled “Five Ways to Reform Health Care,” and last night Pawlenty appeared on Fox News to explain his ideas to Greta Van Susteren on air. It’s a comprehensive conservative approach that highlights the token set of problems Republicans have been pointing out with the current reform – interstate insurance availability, tort reform, a more meritocratic approach to awarding insurance companies. It goes beyond a simple grocery list of possible changes in the way the American health care industry works: it’s a sizable chunk of a campaign platform.

Pawlenty’s approach, if he decides to run for office, is as thoughtful as it is risky. Anger and populist outrage sell in the age of the Tea Party, and Pawlenty is marketing himself as a near-technocratic, mild-mannered critic with ideas that don’t betray an urgency to save the nation from the socialist threat of the Obama administration. On the air, he is still working on mastering his calm, capable “presidential” demeanor without coming off so anemic – it’s clear why the other potential candidates get so much air time on Fox and he doesn’t. On the other hand, by defying mainstream demand he may be tapping into a niche market of voters that are searching for someone less animated and more studious on the problems facing the country.

Here is Pawlenty’s appearance on On the Record to expand upon his opinion piece in the Post:

Dick Cheney for President? It’s Palin, Romney…And Cheney Leading GOP Pack

John McCain may have done his best to stow old Bush administration personalities away for his presidential campaign, but Fox News is reporting that a new poll shows former vice president Dick Cheney is actually a fairly popular choice among Republican voters to run for president in 2012.

In a poll that was probably taken about a year too soon, 10% of a pool of 2,003 Republicans supported a Cheney presidential run. The organization that conducted the survey, Research 2000, is simultaneously described as being “non-partisan” and having an affiliation with Daily Kos, though they surveyed only Republicans and there is no indication that, even if they did harbor a bias, the case of Cheney making a splash in the primary pool would do little to benefit their cause. The presidential nominee question was also one in a variety of opinion questions such as “should Obama be impeached?” and “do you think ACORN stole the 2008 election?” that received surprising responses (more people than one would imagine – 39% and 21%, respectively – said yes to those questions).

The poll results are good news for Sarah Palin, who led in the polls with 16% support, and Mitt Romney, who received 11% support. These results, however, are fairly predictable: Palin is the new face of Fox News and the tea party generation; Mitt Romney is… well, Mitt Romney just is, and he ran for president once so he may be the only name subjects polled could remember, especially compared to some of the other options.

The news here is the emergence of Cheney as a viable third candidate for the Republican nomination to the presidency. Cheney beat out five of the other options, many of which have been more actively suggesting a possible run for office: former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and a surprising appearance by South Dakota senator John Thune. Cheney has suffered a chronic case of unpopularity since his early days as vice president, but his favorability ratings remarkably started to surge as soon as he left the White House. Last May CNN reported that between his departure from the White House in January 2009 and May of that same year, his popularity rose 8% among all Americans. Although Matt Yglesias was quick to point out that this still made him only slightly less popular than the communist nation of Cuba, that bump almost a year ago has apparently snowballed into a potential presidential run (Fox News is reporting that there are groups in favor of “drafting” Cheney to the presidency, but this might be stretching the truth a tad). For now, Cheney has adamantly turned the idea down, and the chances of him gaining significant ground on someone like Palin are slim, but if there’s one thing 2010 has taught us, it’s not to trust an old man claiming to be happy to retire from a great job.

See the full poll results here.

Time Inc. Is On A Mission: To Rescue Detroit

20091005The first words of Daniel Okrent’s cover story for Time magazine are telling: “If Detroit had been savaged by a hurricane and submerged by a ravenous flood, we’d know a lot more about it.” It is what I first thought when I saw the cover of the new issue of Time flash on the screen of Morning Joe today: Katrina. After Katrina, the cri de coeur was about saving a great American city; there has been no such cri about Detroit, save from Mitt Romney when he’d say anything to win Michigan

Yet here’s a staggering statistic about Detroit, put in context by Okrent: “Three years after Katrina devastated New Orleans, unemployment in that city hit a peak of 11%. In Detroit, the unemployment rate is 28.9%. That’s worth spelling out: twenty-eight point nine percent.”

But, as Okrent says, the tragedy of Detroit “has long been a slow unwinding that seemed to remove it from the rest of the country” — and even the death throes of the auto industry have brought with it a weird kind of schadenfreude, between scolding the Big Three CEOs for their private jets to Washington and clucking about how American cars aren’t as good as foreign cars and have been unduly protected (never mind articles like this: “Five Reasons Not to Buy American Cars“). Considering that Detroit is basically a one-industry town (and that industry sure ain’t newspapers!), it’s hard to see Detroit as anything but pretty damn screwed.

Time Inc. wants to change that — and so they’ve kicked off an ambitious, year-long project called “Assignment: Detroit” — they bought a house, staffed it up, and will be reporting on the ground for the next year.

In a rare joint publisher’s letter, running in both Time and Fortune, Time Inc’s John Huey says this:

Why would we ever do such a thing? Because we believe that Detroit right now is a great American story. No city has had more influence on the country’s economic and social evolution. Detroit was the birthplace of both the industrial age and the nation’s middle class, and the city’s rise and fall — and struggle to rise again — are a window into the challenges facing all of modern America. From urban planning to the crisis of manufacturing, from the lingering role of race and class in our society to the struggle for better health care and education, it’s all happening at its most extreme in the Motor City.

So to that end, says Huey, they’re going to “flood the D-zone” (urk) with a phalanx of journos, photogs, bloggers and videographers from Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, Money and their various dot-coms. They’ve got a blog. They’ve got a Twitter. CNN Money is running a series of videos. Hopefully for the D-zone all that will lead to a flood of money back into the city — or at least generate some interest and outrage on its behalf outside its midwestern environs.

Cleveland not DetroitBut will the country even care? Let’s put it this way: There are no commemorative picture-books memorializing the destruction of Detroit. The city’s falling fortunes are not exactly a hidden scoop — indeed, it’s risen to a darkly acceptable punchline (the still to the right is taken from a spoof video for Cleveland tourism — and it was featured in native Michigan son Michael Moore’s most recent film, Capitalism: A Love Story). But on the bright side, maybe that caring is nigh: “Detroit: The Death — and Possible Life — of a Great American City” is right now both the Most Read and Most Emailed story on Time.com.

So maybe the story of Detroit will end up being…a profitable one? One that generates not only the good karma of covering an important American story but the necessary clicks to justify funding it? These are of course the daily battles in media toda — if we’re gonna cover it, how are we gonna pay for it? Snark though you might about Megan Fox coverage (MEGAN FOX BOOBS! There, we just justified the time we’ve spent on this post) but the reality is stark: Investing the time and money to cover this story means somewhere, somehow, that money has to be made back. And clearly, that money hasn’t been coming from Detroit bureaus over the past few years, since so many of them have been closed one by one — including Time’s. So you can snark on that, too, but at the end of the day this is what journalism is supposed to be about at its best: Shining a light, and helping to make things better.

Back to Detroit. Daniel Okrent is from there, and he’s the right writer for this story — a straightforward storyteller, not too maudlin, but with a few twists of the knife:

If, like me, you’re a Detroit native who recently went home to find out what went wrong, your first instinct is to weep. If you live there still, that’s not the response you’re looking for. Old friends and new acquaintances, people who confront the city’s agony every day, told me, “I hope this isn’t going to be another article about how terrible things are in Detroit.”

Cut to the heading of the next section: “My City of Ruins.” Ouch.
The larger “ouch” comes from the fact that Okrent is not only telling a personal story along with the engrossing tale of Detroit as a city, that could easily stand on its own — it comes form the larger implications. To put it bluntly, Detroit is the canary in the coal mine — we’ve already seen that with the newspaper industry, cutting back home delivery to a few days per week, and we’ve certainly seen that with the implosion of the American auto industry over this last year (longer, surely, but this last year has been the doozy, complete with the impossilbe-sounding “B” word). Here’s Okrent:

The ultimate fate of Detroit will reveal much about the character of America in the 21st century. If what was once the most prosperous manufacturing city in the nation has been brought to its knees, what does that say about our recent past? And if it can’t find a way to get up, what does that say about our future?

What indeed. I guess Time Inc. will spend the next year telling us.


Detroit: The Death — and Possible Life — of a Great American City [Time]
Assignment Detroit: Why Time Inc. is in Motown [Time]
“The Green Car Economy That May Well Be Detroit’s Last Hope” [Fortune]
Investment in a City of Struggles [NYT]

Also Related, Ironically…

…and sadly:

It’s Not News That Glenn Beck Doesn’t Like John McCain

beckcouricWord has gotten out that on tonight’s episode of @katiecouric, Katie Couric’s new web-only show, Glenn Beck will declare that McCain would have been worse than Obama. Newsrooms around the country have flung stacks of paper in the air in disbelief, wondering how this could be. Before the show has even aired, the media narrative has emerged that this is some kind of cunning, headline-grabbing ploy by Beck. CBS, for its part, has effectively used the ‘controversy’ as a marketing tool, plugging it on their website.

It’s a catchy angle, but here’s the thing; if you go back and look at what he’s said, Beck has never really liked John McCain.

On the prospect of voting for McCain: “You close your eyes, you pull the lever and you cringe when you think back about it.” Glenn Beck, 7/29/08.

During the 2008 Presidential Election, back when Beck was an HLN anchor, he was a Romney man. When it became clear that Romney didn’t have a shot, he never really cottoned up to McCain. When Wolf Blitzer interviewed him in February, shortly after Romney endorsed McCain, Beck said that he was “a little disappointed” by the endorsement, and he wouldn’t even answer the question of whether a good conservative should endorse McCain or Clinton/Obama when it came down to an election.

That wasn’t just a case of post-letdown blues. On July 29th, Beck wrote a column for CNN.com titled “Still looking for a candidate I can support,” in which he essentially blew off McCain and hinted that a third-party protest vote might be the best option for conservatives. “[McCain is] massively frustrating on far too many things to make voting for him anything other than an excruciating-eating-a-spider-Fear-Factor type of experience. You close your eyes, you pull the lever and you cringe when you think back about it,” he wrote.

As late as October 27th, the eve of the election, Beck still hadn’t fallen into the McCain camp; when he interviewed Romney on his show, he called Obama openly “Marxist,” but pointedly had nothing good to say about McCain.

Here’s a full transcript from the revealing interview with then-CNN cohort Wolf Blitzer on February 18, 2008, which reporters on the popular “Glenn Beck” beat should probably read:

BLITZER: You haven’t jumped aboard the McCain bandwagon, yet, Glenn…

BECK: No. No.

BLITZER: Is that what you’re saying?

BECK: Wolf, I’ve taken about 1,400 looks at John McCain. Really not that interested. Has he got anything new?

BLITZER: Well, what’s the alternative? Let’s say it comes down to McCain versus Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. What does a good conservative do?

BECK: You know, I’ve been really wrestling with this and I — and a lot of people don’t believe my answer, but it’s true. I don’t know what I’m going to do, at this point. I don’t think I’ll know until I close that curtain, quite honestly. I am tired of — I used to be a guy who said well, it’s better than the alternative.

But you know what? We have spent so much time — on both sides of the aisle — saying well, this is better than that. Well, at some point, these keep moving so close together that this becomes that. And then it doesn’t make a difference. And I think we’re almost there.

BLITZER: Well, were you disappointed that Romney decided yesterday to formally endorse McCain?

BECK: No, not disappointed, just — well, I guess — yes, maybe a little disappointed because I don’t — I don’t understand it. It could be that, you know, the best scenario that I have in my head — and I don’t know. I don’t know the governor. I didn’t talk to the governor about his decisions. He doesn’t consult me.

But the best thing I can come up with is he knows how much trouble we’re in economically. And with Huckabee wanting to spend an additional $54 billion, Hillary Clinton wanting an additional — I don’t even know what it is — $190 billion and Barack Obama another $200 billion and some, with John McCain coming in and saying I’m going to spend an additional $7 billion, he’s priced to move.

BLITZER: And so that’s encouraging on that, on the spending…

BECK: Yes.

BLITZER: … on the spending level.


Yes. I mean maybe — maybe that — because that’s, you know, Romney’s gift is knowing how to work with the economy and being, you know, somebody who can turn things around. And maybe that’s why he threw his support there.

I was disappointed on the other option which, I think is, you know, look at me, I’m a good little elephant — because the Republicans all stand in line. It seems like oh, it’s your turn to run for president.

BLITZER: How important would be McCain’s vice presidential running mate? The conventional wisdom over the years is nobody votes for a vice president, they vote for president. How significant, though, would McCain’s pick be?

BECK: I think it depends. Usually, I don’t really care about the vice president. But with George Bush, it did make a difference with a lot of Americans. It made a difference to me that it was Dick Cheney.

But it would be — it would have to be the right vice president. For instance, if he decided, you know, well, the economy is really important and, you know, I’ve read Greenspan’s book, I need somebody who’s better on the economy, so I’m going to go for Romney, I wouldn’t buy it because I don’t think he likes Mitt Romney.

And so I don’t — I don’t see him saying hey, Mitt, come on into the office here, I need to talk to you about the economy. If I believe that the two have a real relationship and he is offsetting McCain and would be able to say, wait a minute, Mr. President, this is not the direction to go, then maybe it would make a difference.

But, in the end, the president has to make decisions quickly. He has to make them from his gut. And John McCain’s gut and my gut just don’t — don’t line up.

BLITZER: All right…

A Race Remembered: Obama Doc, By The People

katie-bakes-iiI can’t say I started crying during the opening credits of the upcoming HBO documentary By The People: The Election of Barack Obama, because I got to the theater five minutes late. But as I slid into my seat and arranged my concessions — at the Landmark Sunshine theater, where the movie just finished screening for a week, they have 12 kinds of flavored powder you can sprinkle on your popcorn, and it’s magical — the smiling faces of Sasha and Malia popped up on the screen and I lost all hope of keeping my composure.

I’m a total sap; your mileage may vary. (And, full disclosure, I’m friends with the movie’s assistant producer Elissa Brown.) But with the rich benefit of hindsight, viewing the early days of the Obama campaign is like walking a friend to her surprise birthday party: You’re secretly giddy about what’s in store. The film — which will air on November 3 on HBO — begins in Iowa in 2007, eight months before the caucuses and light years before today, and spends nearly half of its two-hours focusing on the state and the young supporters populating its campaign headquarters.

We meet Tommy Vietor, the baby-faced Iowa press secretary, and Ronnie Cho, the son of Korean immigrants who throughout the course of the film rivaled me in tears shed. We meet the people — David Axelrod, David Plouffe, Robert Gibbs — whose names flooded the news and our email inboxes. And we meet, in intimate, backstage detail, Senator Barack Obama.

Early takes have already compared the film to the celebrated 1993 documentary The War Room, but as the Chicago Sun Times‘ Lynn Sweet (who appears often in By The People) points out: “The War Room did not have Clinton.” Filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams began following Obama on his trip to Kenya in 2006, and their acess to him and his staff, particularly early in the film, is stunning. The cameras literally trail behind as he gladhands through Iowa crowds (and, out of their earshot, admits to feeling like he’s been through a wrestling match) and strategizes with his advisors. The filmmakers even secure an honest and moving interview with Obama’s sister in Hawaii — one of the great moments in By The People — and catch her young daughter playing with an Obama bobblehead doll and chirping about “Uncle Rocky.” It’s not until a later moment, when a weary Obama finally asks from a barbershop chair for some “quiet time” with the cameras off, that you realize just how up-close and personal you’ve been all along.

The pitfall of this proximity is an air of adulation that hangs over By The People. (One cameraman questioning Obama about a poll showing Hillary Clinton widening her lead to 34 points is quite literally apologetic: “I’m sorry, but I have to ask”.) Producer Ed Norton noted in an interview that the film was not designed to be an exposé but rather “a document of what the internal reality of the movement was.” In other words, those hoping for any gotcha moments should look elsewhere. A snippy review — in my opinion, overly so — in Variety finds this to be the movie’s biggest flaw, maintaining that the filmmakers “apparent emotional investment is reflected in the cheerleading tone that informs so much of the film” and complaining about the film’s rapid sprint in the final 30 minutes through the highlights (and, in the case of a few disturbing shots of rabid Republicans, lowlights) of the general election.

The pacing didn’t bother me; I’ve had enough Sarah Palin in my life, thank you very much, and at this point we all know the details of the Jeremiah Wright flap by heart. And I found the older footage illuminating. In a touching Christmas Eve call to the Iowa headquarters, David Axelrod pep-talks about winning the nomination and going on to defeat “Mitt or Rudy or Huckabee, or whoever those assholes nominate” with nary a mention of the ultimate Republican nominee. How quickly things change! And allocating more time to the details of September and October would mean cutting back on perfectly understated moments from February and March, like David Alexrod human-pretzeled over a hotel chair – legs akimbo, cell phone to ear, index finger barely reaching the trackpad of an adjacent laptop on the floor – or Jon Favreau watching TV with his mouth hanging skeptically open, rolling his eyes as Hillary Clinton intones “You know what they say: As goes Ohio, so goes the nation!”

I was told that the filmmakers had to tread lightly in their coverage of Clinton in the editing process, given her current position in Obama’s cabinet, but to me the Hillary-related moments are devastating enough. At the Iowa County Fair we watch Obama playing carnival games with his daughters and disarming a nearby crowd with some goofy chants; the movie then cuts to our first glimpse of Hillary — awkwardly flipping burgers, her face quivering in concentration, surrounded by fusty middle aged supporters struggling to operate their digital cameras. I winced. The juxtaposition is meant to be funny, but it felt a little mean: less a smile than a smirk.

While Obama’s opponents are hastily constructed, the film takes tremendous care to develop the personalities of those within the Obama camp. Speechwriter Favreau, so brilliant with his prose, occasionally slips and acts his age. “Blah blah blah, hope change… yeah” is his answer when asked about the text of one upcoming speech. The ongoing dynamic, particularly on Election Day, between the feisty (and at times, black leather jacket–clad) Axelrod and the laser-focused Plouffe is a joy to watch, as are the scenes featuring Gibbs and his young towheaded son. “This is like listening to the pregame show before the Super Bowl,” mutters Gibbs nervously in the hours before the Iowa caucus results as he stares at the TV. “None of it matters. Just kick-off the damn ball.” (No clearer an indictment has been made, really, about the state of the media today.)

But while the documentary avoids getting sucked into that dangerous meta-trap of focusing on the 24-hour news cycles du jour, media nerds will nevertheless delight at all the cameos in the film. Milling around in the theater lobby afterwards, I confessed to a friend that one of my favorite moments was scoping out Ryan Lizza’s office at the New Yorker while he was being interviewed on screen. Overhearing, a random girl rushed over and grabbed my arm. “Oh my god,” she said. “I was doing that too!” (The film, unsurprisingly, made no mention of Lizza’s later being denied a seat on the Obama plane late in the campaign in what some felt to be retribution for controversial New Yorker cover art.) The wonderful Candy Crowley crops up often, as does Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe. I chuckled to myself during a classic clip of Chris Matthews — “What was once inevitable for Hillary is now barely a possibility,” he says gravely, practically licking his chops — and felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw that his two guests were David Gregory and Chuck Todd. And when Tim Russert’s mug appeared, I cried. Again.

Obama himself becomes understandably more distant from the cameras as the election wears on and his profile rises, but there remains plenty of behind-the-scenes footage late in the film, most notably in a scene showing his preparation for a debate with McCain in which Obama worries about appearing “whiny.” And when he delivers an election eve speech in the rain just hours after the death of his grandmother (who is interviewed early on in the movie and talks charmingly about her grandson and his friends playing basketball and “raiding the fridge”) the documentary cameras captured what the cable news crews did not: tears in his eyes, and even on his cheeks.

My sniffles, by that point, were no longer the only ones in the theater.

Katie Baker has contributed to Gawker, the Yale Daily News, Young Manhattanite, and US College Hockey Online. Her blog can be found here. She also has a day job.