Political courage and high weirdness – all rolled into one candidate

The presidential campaign season is finally underway, which is kind of like Christmas every day for a blogger. (It’s kind of like that for the general public, too, in that you never quite get what you want and you end up having to lie to your kids about all the gross old men they see around the state pretending to be Santa Claus.)

But while lying, exaggerating, and posturing have become something of a national sport among presidential candidates, I have to admit to being somewhat impressed by former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent stance against ethanol.

It’s impressive because the Republican presidential hopeful is refusing to follow a political tradition that’s as old as shaking hands, kissing babies, and responding to direct questions with Dadaistic non sequiturs that would make any voter with a teaspoonful of brain cells want to stick his face in a margarita blender. Namely, he’s not kowtowing to Iowa voters, who host the first caucus and thus have more influence over the electoral process than voters in states that don’t grow more corn than they know what to do with.

Ethanol is a bad idea for a lot of reasons, and it’s refreshing (and a little shocking) to see a serious presidential candidate come out and say so.

Then again, it’s possible that Pawlenty is either nuts or not really quite sure which state Iowa is. I only say this because, during a recent speech in the Hawkeye State, he was heard using a Southern drawl. I beg you to check out the story (and listen to the audio) on the Minnesota Public Radio website. It’s one of the most bizarre things you’ll ever hear.

So Pawlenty, a Minnesotan, knocks ethanol and makes speeches in Iowa while rockin’ a Southern accent. Sarah Palin, an Alaskan, travels to New England to spin a clumsy yarn about Paul Revere, all the while sounding as if she’s never left Brainerd. All this free entertainment, and we’re still a year and a half away from the general election. Seriously, I will give my left arm to the first major candidate who travels to Green Bay, breaks out in a Scottish brogue, and launches a tirade against cheese fries and Vince Lombardi.

So how far will Pawlenty go while bucking the conventional wisdom? That remains to be seen, but either way, it’s high time we do something about the distortions in the electoral process that result from the fact that Iowa and New Hampshire are the first states on the primary calendar.

And those distortions are by no means insignificant. In fact, two economists who sought to quantify them found that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have five times as much influence over the nominating process as Super Tuesday voters.

As you can see from the chart that accompanies the story linked to above, Wisconsin has relatively little influence. Hardly fair. Would Wisconsin industries receive more love if we held the first primary? It’s a safe bet.

While we’re at it, we might think about fixing our weird, antiquated electoral system – you know, the one that allowed George W. Bush to win in 2000 even though he received fewer overall votes than Al Gore. We wouldn’t even have to get rid of the Electoral College. Just do away with the winner-take-all system that essentially excludes safe states like California, New York, and Texas from the general election campaign and ensures that swing states like ours get all the action.

Now, I’m not saying that Wisconsin should move up its primary so we can promote an alternative biofuel made from the half-empty bottles of Korbel and jars of maraschino cherries we all seem to have stored away in our liquor cabinets. We should find a way to even the playing field. Maybe rotate the primaries so every state has a crack at being first. Or explore the possibility of holding them all at the same time.

Pork is pork, and bad economic policies are still bad, whether they benefit Iowa, Wisconsin, or any other state.

It’s time more politicians – Republicans and Democrats alike – step up to the plate and start speaking the same language as Pawlenty. … Of course, they can use any accent they like.

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