It’s the quote that Tim Pawlenty just can’t make disappear.
When Michele Bachmann’s press secretary, Alice Stewart, issued a statement attacking Pawlenty’s record yesterday, she said, “Governor Pawlenty said in 2006, ‘The era of small government is over.’” In a May interview, Rush Limbaugh told Pawlenty, “In 2006, if I have it right, you said, ‘The era of small government’s over.’” In 2008, with D.C. buzzing that Pawlenty could be tapped to be the GOP nominee’s running mate, a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Minnesota talk-show host Jason Lewis began with the quote.
Pawlenty has said he never intended those words to be taken as his personal position. Instead, he has explained that he was alluding to a piece by New York Times columnist David Brooks.
“What happened is in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune — not exactly a conservative publication — I made reference to an article that David Brooks wrote which was entitled, ‘The Era of Small Government is Over.’ I didn’t say those words myself; I was referencing his article,” Pawlenty told Limbaugh.
After the original piece was published, the Star-Tribune ran this clarification:
An article on Page 1B Saturday quoted Gov. Tim Pawlenty saying “The era of small government is over,” a comment he made in reference to a point made in a 2004 column by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said Monday that Pawlenty’s record shows he is not a supporter of “big government” and that he was “simply talking about the need for government to be more effective and active.”
Part of the inaccurate quote’s longevity can be attributed to the fact that Pawlenty never challenged the accuracy of the remainder of the quote, which has also been cited on multiple occasions. (Bachmann partially quoted the remainder in her statement.) After saying “The era of small government is over,” Pawlenty is quoted in the Star Tribune as remarking, “I’m a market person, but there are certain circumstances where you’ve got to have government put up the guardrails or bust up entrenched interests before they become too powerful. . . . Government has to be more proactive, more aggressive.”
That’s not the kind of rhetoric that brings a tea-party rally to wild applause. The Star-Tribune piece — published in August 2006 when Pawlenty was fighting to be reelected (in November, Pawlenty’s margin of victory over Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Mike Hatch was less than a percentage point) — paints Pawlenty as a maverick politician unafraid to take on Big Business.
“Pawlenty, a fiscal and social conservative, also styles himself a kind of latter-day trust buster, a reformer who is unafraid to challenge big business and wield government power to correct imbalances in the marketplace,” wrote Star-Tribune reporter Patricia Lopez. The piece noted several initiatives Pawlenty had embraced, including urging Congress to prohibit drug companies from advertising their products for two years and placing restrictions on oil companies that tried to use their contracts with gas stations to prevent increased availability of ethanol.
Bachmann’s use of the quote could highlight some past initiatives that Pawlenty would rather keep buried, and the ensuing news coverage could ensure that Pawlenty remains dogged by the quote. “That incorrect quote has haunted me,” Pawlenty complained to Limbaugh. With Bachmann now using it in her salvo against Pawlenty, he’s not likely to exorcise this quote in the near future.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.