Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made a savvy move today when he rightfully called for an end to ethanol subsidies in announcing his presidential run in Des Moines.
The fact that Iowa is the first state in the presidential race is one reason why it's always been so hard to get rid of ethanol subsidies, which conservatives and a growing number of liberals agree is awful policy.
But it speaks well of Pawlenty, whose path to the nomination runs through a victory in the Iowa caucuses, that he was willing to buck the traditional deference to the state's corn industry.
Pawlenty titled his speech "A Time for Truth," and he said:
I'm here today to tell Iowans the truth, too.
America is facing a crushing debt crisis the likes of which we've never seen before. We need to cut spending, and we need to cut it.big time. The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs.
The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.
Pawlenty added caveats -- that it would have to be phased out and not immediately, and by saying, "I'm not some out-of-touch politician. I served two terms as Governor of an ag state. I fully understand and respect the critical role farming plays in our economy and our society. I've strongly supported ethanol in various ways over the years, and I still believe in the promise of renewable fuels - both for our economy and our national security."
But he added that, "even in Minnesota, when faced with fiscal challenges, we reduced ethanol subsidies. That's where we are now in Washington, but on a much, much larger scale."
Most presidential announcements produce no news, but Pawlenty's call for ending ethanol subsidies likely will draw headlines, and not just any headlines, but headlines that coincide with the theme of his campaign -- that he'll tell the truth. And he added that, "Tomorrow, I'm going to Florida to tell both young people and seniors the truth that our entitlement programs are on an unsustainable path and that inaction is no longer an option."
And while Pawlenty will draw kudos for coming out against ethanol subsidies, it's unlikely that in this current environment, any of his Republican opponents will attack him on it, because if they do, it will only make Pawlenty look better and them look bad to conservative voters outside of Iowa.
So not only did Pawlenty mke the right call, it's also one that's a net gainer for him politically. But in a larger sense, hopefully, this is an indication of the tide turning against a terrible policy.