Tim Pawlenty may be nice, but he's not willing to be anybody's fool. So says the former Minnesota governor and 2012 presidential candidate, who blasted claims by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that he is too "vanilla" to be president.
"Is he playing the race card on me?" Pawlenty jokingly asked on "Fox News Sunday" before getting serious.
"I'm not running for comedian- in-chief, or entertainer-in-chief. If people want that, they should go to the ball park or Broadway play or a Las Vegas show. ... Being strong is not the same as being loud. ... So, if you want the clown-in-chief, vote for somebody else. That's not me."
In an interview heavy on policy specifics, Pawlenty also proved false charges that he won't take the fight to President Obama in a 2012 presidential race. Targeting a few jabs at the president, Pawlenty also tossed out a couple proverbial body slams at frontrunner GOP candidate Mitt Romney over the former Massachusetts governor's health care policies.
"President Obama said that he designed Obamacare after Romneycare and basically made it Obamneycare," Pawlenty said. "The president's own words is that he patterned in large measure Obamacare after what happened in Massachusetts. And what I don't understand is they both continue to defend it."
Pawlenty said he supported "market-based" health care reforms while leading Minnesota, including offering financial incentives in the market place and opposing the individual mandate that requires consumers to purchase health insurance. Pawlenty is party to a large lawsuit by states suing the federal government over the constitutionality of the individual mandate.
"I think it's a dramatic overreach. And I don't like that approach under Obamacare and I've been a strong critic of it. And I think we should repeal Obamacare in its entirety," he said.
But health care wasn't the only criticism Pawlenty aimed at Obama. He called the $800 billion stimulus plan a waste of money; mocked the president's claim that he is "leading from behind"; and said he has something the president lacks -- a plan to restore the economy.
"Barack Obama doesn't have an economic plan. He just has a campaign plan. You can't find him on what he has to say on Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. He has run out of ideas and the ideas he does have in growing the economy are bad," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty said his economic plan would achieve 5 percent growth -- something done for continuous years only during the Clinton and Reagan administrations. He said he aims to cut taxes, reduce spending and grow the private economy by reducing the government's share of gross domestic product from 24 percent to 18 percent.
Pawlenty said he would also reform entitlement programs by gradually raising the retirement age for the next generation, means testing Social Security, shutting off "the autopilot feature" of Medicaid -- the state-federal program to provide health care for the poor -- and giving it to states as block grants.
He said he also wants to "incentivize" quality health care in order to make Medicare more affordable.
"Under our Medicare proposal, you'll see features that will have providers, hospitals, doctors, clinics and the like no longer just get paid for volumes of procedures, but will look to the private sector and medical profession to define results and start to pay people, not just for how many procedures they perform, but whether people are getting healthier, whether they're getting better," he said.
As for taking $2.3 billion in stimulus money while he was governor in order to balance the state's biennial budget, Pawlenty said he would have been a fool not to.
If "the federal government is stupid enough to give it to us we're going to be smart to take it," he said. "And by the way, Minnesota is a net subsidizer of the federal government. For every dollar we spend out -- I'll send out there, we only get 73 cents back. So, we're actually paying the bill for the rest of the nation."
Pawlenty said even though the country is "sinking," he has a record of being a "serious, thoughtful, seasoned" leader with a "record of getting it done."
But while registering near the bottom of most polling, Pawlenty said he's not going to get discouraged.
"We like our position. We think we're going to do well. There's going to be a lot of bouncing around in these polls. But as you know, they are not good predictors of who's going to actually win. If they were, we'd have President Hillary Clinton or President Rudy Giuliani," Pawlenty said.
"And the idea that you can't be hopeful and optimistic and strong at the same time is just not true."