Everyone looks for something different in sizing-up a preferred presidential candidate – those tell tale signs that this might actually be someone who won’t let you down once in office. One criterion I’m using when weighing the merits of Republican contenders is what I call The Ethanol Test.
It’s simple, really. I’m watching to see which candidates have the character and courage to go into corn country and speak the truth about ethanol – to say (even in diplomatic language) that it’s a boondoggle that has to end. Any candidate who isn’t willing to do that probably isn’t someone who has what it takes to challenge all the other boondoggles, special interests, misuses of taxpayer money and stupid government programs that make the Washington merry-go-round turn. If they’ll pander to the farm lobby in a bid for votes, they’ll pander to every other lobby in order to keep power. They just don’t have what it will take to wrestle the beast called Washington to the mat.
Mitt Romney just flunked the test – which is two strikes for Mitt, given the black eye called RomneyCare. Newt Gingrich failed it as well. No surprise there, right? As part of the McCain-Palin Ticket, Sarah Palin first opposed, then embraced ethanol. Ron Paul has executed an interesting libertarian straddle on the issue, denouncing corn-based ethanol but pushing a hemp-based alternative, which might be just as big a boondoggle for all I know.
The list of Republican contenders is too long, and too much in flux, and my patience is too short today, to list every contender’s position on ethanol. But it's something worth noting as they begin making their pilgrimages through Iowa. But I do note that Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty has passed the test, and distinguished himself in my eyes, by going to Iowa and saying ethanol subsidies need to be phased-out. He’s also had the nerve to go to Florida and talk about Social Security reform, and to go to Washington (as he did last week) and talk about cutting federal pay and pensions and downsizing the federal workforce.
Pawlenty's lion’s den strategy may or may not pay dividends, but I like his post-pandering style. Being a contrarian might just work for him at a time when a growing number of Americans seem to have grown tired of all the sucking-up and just want someone who will upset the apple cart and do the right thing.