South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson last night endorsed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for president. Wilson is the Congressman who once famously shouted “You lie” to President Barack Obama during a presidential speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009. He also happens to represents a sizable district in an important primary state.
“Gov. Pawlenty is the best man to get our nation on the right track,” Wilson said in a news release. “As South Carolinians get to know Gov. Pawlenty, as I have, they will see someone with a remarkable record of conservative accomplishments in a politically tough state for Republicans and someone who has the kind of bold vision for America’s future that we need to defeat Barack Obama.”
Pawlenty has staked his campaign on truth-telling, promising to deliver the facts, however difficult they are to hear. At least one left-leaning blogger is not buying it. Of Pawlenty’s hard truths, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes:
I want to propose a new rule: If you’re telling your audience what they want to hear, you can’t present yourself as telling hard truths. And yes, I’m looking at you, Gov. Pawlenty. …
But what the rise of the Tea Party and the general groundswell of grassroots involvement among individual Americans clamoring for fiscal responsibility and the plain exposition of the Founding philosophy ought to have taught Klein — and seems to have taught politicians like Pawlenty — is that 2012 might actually be that rare election in which “what the audience wants to hear” and “hard truths” are one and the same (at least, I really, really hope so!). (Plus, as an aside, what Klein considers true and would have Pawlenty say — that economic stimulus policies like a full payroll tax cut are actually effective — is a matter of his opinion and one with which plenty of experts disagree.) That’s not to say Pawlenty hasn’t or won’t pander to his base at any point in his campaign, but it is to say he’s on the right track with his “Tell the Truth” speaking tour.
But Pawlenty wasn’t the first to set the truth trend. In a video to introduce his budget, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) baldly stated, “Washington has not been telling you the truth [about entitlements].” In September 2010, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered a rousing speech to about 7,500 firefighters — after he informed them he planned to cut their pensions. “For 20 years,” he said, “governors have come into this room and lied to you, promised you benefits that they had no way of paying for, making promises they knew they couldn’t keep, and just hoping that they wouldn’t be the man or woman left holding the bag. I understand why you feel angry and betrayed and deceived by those people. Here’s what I don’t understand. Why are you booing the first guy who came in here and told you the truth?”
These sorts of frank admissions — the same candor that compelled Wilson to cry “You lie” to Obama — are most refreshing when they’re more than mere rhetoric, when, say, they precede a political move (like releasing a controversial budget or cutting firefighter pensions) that could cost the speaker something. Voters will only really know how committed Pawlenty is to the truth as his campaign goes on, by whether he demonstrates he’s willing to lose for it, as well as to win. But earning the endorsement of someone who can easily spot a liar — and actually call him out on it — seems like a good starting sign.