JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 24, 2011
Coral Davenport has a thorough account of the very sad tale of Tim Pawlenty's embrace and subsequent abandonment of cap and trade. Pawlenty initially took up the cause with a fervor that was quite literally religious:
Pawlenty also had a personal motivation. As an evangelical Christian, he had been brought to believe in the urgency of climate change by his pastor, Leith Anderson, who earlier in 2006 had banded with a group of other evangelical leaders to challenge the Bush administration on global warming. In a letter to the president, they argued that there was no longer a legitimate scientific debate on the merits of climate science and that evangelicals had a moral obligation to solve a problem that threatened the world’s most vulnerable inhabitants. (Anderson is now president of the National Association of Evangelicals.)
In December 2006, Pawlenty rolled out his sweeping and ambitious Next Generation Energy Initiative, which called on Minnesotans to enact the strongest renewable-energy law in the country. The plan would require the state’s utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from sources such as wind and solar by 2025. It also called for slashing statewide fossil-fuel consumption 15 percent by 2015 and enrolling Minnesota in a regional cap-and-trade program.
Now Pawlenty speaks of cap and trade with pure disdain ("mistake... flawed science... throw it out the window.") Then level of cynicism toward an issue he once viewed as a transcendent moral calling is not terribly surprising. It's politics. But it does make me wonder about Pawlenty's political skill.
Pawlenty, after all, managed to keep his head above water politically in blue-state Minnesota because he was doing things like embrace cap and trade, which garnered him all kinds of bipartisan support and editorial accolades. Surely this contributed to an image of moderation that prompted some moderates to approve of his governorship. Pawlenty has cited his popularity in Minnesota -- exaggerated, but not totally fictitious -- as a prime credential. But now he's abandoning the main thing he did to obtain that moderate support.
Isn't this kind of a scam? It seems like the game is to move to the center to win the governorship of a state opposed to your party, then renounce your centrism while holding up the fruits of your since-renounced centrism as evidence of your skill. Mitt Romney has been playing the same game.