Books by politicians who are running for president are usually
most notable for what they do not tell you. After all, the purpose
of these books is not genuine autobiography, nor even complete
biography. Their purpose is to convey an image of the author and
presidential wannabe so that the whole effort will serve to enhance
his or her campaign for the highest office in the nation.
Former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s contribution to this modern
American genre is, in most ways, no different from those of his
predecessors or current rivals. “Courage To Stand” (written in
2011) is short and panoramic in its sweep of the author’s
childhood and life in politics, and predictably selective in what
it chooses to tell us. This is not a criticism, of course, it is simply
the nature of presidential campaign autobiography. There are some
surprises, however, most notably Mr. Pawlenty’s frequent mention
of his religious beliefs and their role of in his adult life.
Those who know Mr. Pawlenty may be surprised by this because
he is not someone who usually publicly wears his religious beliefs
on his sleeve. It is well-known that he converted from Catholic to
evangelical Protestant soon after, and primarily because of, his
marriage to his wife Mary, but his public speeches, and at least
the private conversations I have observed over 20 years, do not more
than hint at his private religious feelings.
I don’t doubt that what he writes is sincere, but some skeptics might
suggest that he expressed it so often in his book because the first big
electoral test of the presidential campaign occurs in Iowa whose
Republicans are known for their conservative Protestant views.
Because he is from the adjoining state of Minnesota, expectations
were high he would do very well in Iowa, where in 2008 Mike
Huckabee won the caucus and Mitt Romney came in second.
Huckabee did not run this time, but Romney did. Further
complicating Pawlenty’s chances in Iowa, so did Michele Bachmann,
Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. In the Iowa Straw Poll, a year
before the GOP national convention, Pawlenty campaigned all out,
and was beaten by Mrs. Bachmann. He almost immediately withdrew
from the presidential race, surprising even his closest advisors.
Not only did Pawlenty then quickly fade from national view, interest
in his autobiography became virtually nil. Almost a year later, however,
Pawlenty has reappeared on the national stage as a loyal surrogate
for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. In this role, also fulfilled
by several other Republicans, Pawlenty quickly became prominently
mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice. (In 2008, Pawlenty
also was a major contender to be John McCain’s running mate, and
was a finalist, only to have Mr. McCain ultimately choose Sarah Palin.)
As matters now stand, Tim Pawlenty has become the frontrunner in
the speculation about Mitt Romney’s choice for a running mate.
According to reports, the Pawlenty family and the Romney family have
“bonded” in the course of these surrogate speaking appearances and
after several personal meetings. The rationale of a Pawlenty choice, it
turns out, can be gleaned from the former Minnesota governor’s
autobiography, so recently put on back shelves.
Pawlenty tells a classical midwestern story of rising from a working
class background, being the first in his family to go to college, and
employing his family values and circumstances to rise to be a conservative
governor in a state usually known as traditionally liberal, having put
Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and now, the liberal comedian Al
Franken, on the national political scene.
Pawlenty’s narrative centers around his childhood growing up in South
St. Paul, a suburban Twin City community whose main fame was because
it was the location of the largest stockyards. in the U.S. His story centers
on his relationships with family and neighbors here, including a traumatic
loss of his mother when he was only 10.
What emerges in Pawlenty’s account is a smart boy growing up in
ordinary circumstances surrounded by persons with small town
working class values. There is a gentlemanly and decent impression
Pawlenty the politician has always broadcast, and its origins fill the
pages of this short book.
It is the stark contrast between this story and the more dramatic and
afffluent details of Mitt Romney’s childhood as the son of a famous father,
that many are citing as reasons Pawlenty is a serious possibility for the vice
When “Courage To Stand” was written, it was meant to introduce a
little-known midwestern governor running for president to the voters
of his party. When he withdrew prematurely from the race, the book
inevitably faded from view.
It is only a matter of days or weeks before Mr. Romney will make his
choice known. If it is Mr. Pawlenty he chooses. I can safely predict that
the remainder copies of the Minnesotan’s autobiography will soon
be back in demand.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.