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GUEST COLUMN: Government isn’t the problem

The sudden campaign exit by Tim Pawlenty surprised those who saw him as a likely “last man standing” Republican presidential nominee. The self described rational and credible candidate, the rather bland Pawlenty seemed a logical choice, when more dynamic foes such as Bachmann, Ron Paul, and now Governor Perry had punched themselves out.

From Buchanan through Coolidge and Harding, we have had a number of presidents of average ability at best. It was certainly possible that Minnesota’s average governor, astride his no new taxes carriage, could ride into the presidency. To raise his visibility among the crowded Republican field, the governor needed a new image. He chose that of fighter, using images from his playing days in the fighting sport of hockey. An important vehicle was his new biography, “Courage to Stand.”  The book’s jacket photograph displays the slender Pawlenty with a chest like Jesse Ventura’s.  And the book’s theme features Pawlenty as the powerful fighter, standing against  tax- and government-loving liberals.

In the book, he waxes on about his love for hockey, from playing in elementary school to his age-50 teams. In hockey, he learned it’s OK to “drop our gloves first, get set, and then fight.” Just don’t hit the guy after he is down, unless he deserves more than the usual beating. Then you “pick him up and start whaling on him again.”

Pawlenty’s term as governor is described as a time of heroically balancing budgets while “whaling on” liberal spenders. That this resulted in new local and state fees is noticed by his opponents. To fix the rest of Minnesota’s budget problems, costs were met by local property taxes or were pushed into the next biennium. That Pawlenty departed his post with a several billion dollar deficit for the next governor was also noted by his new Republican opponents.

Both the book and the campaign adopted the Reagan theme that “government is the problem.”  That failed Pawlenty because too many other Republican candidates were after the same voting bloc. I suggest that it will also fail any nominee because government isn’t the problem. 

There is a widespread failure to understand  the role of government in our economy and in our competitive position in world technology competition.  Government funded research supported successful startups in computers, communications, nuclear power, and the aircraft and airline businesses. Many of our pharmaceuticals come from government laboratories or those in universities funded by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet; it was Darpanet, the program funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Burgeoning renewable energy industries in wind, solar, and batteries, are almost entirely dependent on government support. 

For Reagan before and Pawlenty now, government is the problem. It’s not. It’s a very important partner as we go forward in a very competitive world

ROLF WESTGARD has residences in Deerwood and St. Paul. He’s a member of the Brainerd Dispatch Advisory Board, serves on a DFL board in Senate District 64 and is a contributor to DFL candidates in Crow Wing and Ramsey counties.