Candidate Analysis: Rick Perry
This weekend’s entirely unsurprising announcement of Rick Perry’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination may have simultaneously redefined and solidified the field of candidates vying to challenge Obama in 2012. As the entrance of any new and formidable contenders seems, at this point, unforeseeable, one can safely speculate that the American Right has its official shortlist. Perry, with his unconventional campaign tactics and mainstream conservative appeal, casts a pall of uncertainty over the Iowa straw poll, its significance in the upcoming Republican primary, and its field of contenders. When all eyes would traditionally be trained on the Ames straw poll, readily awaiting the pronouncement of who will likely carry the party nomination, Perry’s having foregone the well-worn channels toward candidacy almost gives the sense that he has presumed himself the candidate to beat after the lesser squabbling in Iowa separates the wheat from the chaff. It is a uniquely self-assured and assertive tactic, the results of which only time will tell. What is certain, however, is that, as Henry Kissinger once astutely observed, what makes a good campaign or a good candidate does not often make for the best president, and vice-versa. The two skills are quite different and even, occasionally, contradictory. As it seems that the media is more than eager to make a candidate of Perry, it is incumbent upon we the voters to look more closely at his record before he comes to dominate the Republican field on name recognition alone. After all, a primary is at least as important as a general election for the presidency or any other office, as it determines whether voters will even be given the choice of electing a candidate who represents the best interests of their nation, its security, its economy, and, ultimately, themselves.
Despite the great deal being said about the announcement of Rick Perry’s bid for 2012, surprisingly little is being discussed about the actual beliefs that underlie his efforts— his platform. This is no coincidence. In truth, Perry seems to have been remarkably soft-spoken for a man looking to portray himself as our nation’s next leader. That will, no doubt, change soon if he hopes to enter the fray with donation-dollar-frontrunner Mitt Romney, veteran campaigner Newt Gingrich or vocal hard-liners like straw poll champions Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul. Still, the timing of his announcement may have dual significance: as much as it steals some of Iowa’s thunder this weekend, it also carefully subverted any expectation to participate in any of the three major debates held thus far. This would be an action in keeping with Perry’s history as a campaign politician, which has shown him willing to avoid public debates when at all possible— in 2010 going so far as to only participate in a single spar in his bid for the governorship, one in which he reportedly did only moderately well, toed the line of comfortable talking points, and failed to engage adversaries. In light of all of this, one must consider the possibility that Perry is playing to avoid a weakness rather than to boast a strength.
Of what we can glean of Perry’s stances from proclamations and his history as governor, none of it seems to coalesce into a clear and distinctive image of a man on a mission. He is often heralded as a Tea Party candidate and certainly plays to small-government sympathizers, but as for whether that image is an accurate portrayal, there is evidence to the contrary. Perry, whose political roots can be traced back to his 1984 election as a Democrat into the Texas House of Representatives, gained a reputation as a member of a group of young austerity advocates within the Texas House. What should be of note to potential supporters from this era is Perry’s very outspoken endorsement of Al Gore for the U.S. presidency in 1988. Perry was so involved as to serve as chair of Gore’s campaign committee for the state of Texas in that year. The allegiance was short-lived, however, as Perry crossed the aisle to the Republican party in 1989 and shortly thereafter won an election for the position of Texas’ Secretary of Agriculture against a Democratic incumbent. After serving three terms at that post, Perry ran for the Lieutenant Governorship in 1998 and won, serving there for nearly two years before assuming the governorship upon George W. Bush’s election to the presidency in 2000. Since then, Perry has become the single longest continually-presiding governor in the United States. That duration should lend the American people with a wealth of information, should they venture the analysis, as to who, precisely, Rick Perry is as a man and as a leader.
At first glance, the prospects are very mixed, showing him having presided over a massive increase in total spending by the Texas government, a debt that exceeds even California’s in terms of both percentage of GDP and per-capita measurements, and, despite his claims to the contrary, increases in taxes and fees. Voters must also be wary of any tit-for-tat, count-this-not-that haggling over income and sales tax statistics, as they would truly be missing the point of the Texas tax structure, in which revenue is drawn largely from it’s astronomical property taxes, with 18 of its counties ranking among the nation’s top 100 in property taxes paid as a percentage of home value. Still, in 2006, Perry delivered on a promise to push legislation to lower property taxes, signing a bill that would diminish them by $15.7 billion. Credit must also be given for his vocal opposition to federal income taxes. In his 2010 book FedUp!, Perry now famously objects, “if you want to know when Washington really got off the track, the 16th Amendment, giving them the opportunity to take your money with a personal income tax.” As for whether this opposition to unjust taxes is genuine or merely an appeal to the current wave of small-government sentiment, one must look to whether Perry actually worked to diminish government size and expenses or merely sought to make a political ploy of it, a la Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, Perry seems to have taken, if in a more moderate way, Romney’s tact of raising fees to support a large government while maintaining the battle cry for lower taxes. Neither candidate seems willing or philosophically prepared to take on the issue of genuinely shrinking the size of government, but would rather portray the aesthetic of doing so in order to appeal to prevailing conservative sentiments. Brought to power and prominence in an era when the great conflict was between tax-more-spend-more liberals who subordinated the individual’s livelihood for a purported “greater good” and tax-less-spend-more conservatives who buried our nation in debt and passed the burden on to the next generation, candidates such as these fail to understand that the current push of the Tea Party and New Right is not simply for less taxes, but for less government. Our nation is being derailed by the runaway spending of a federal government that is incapable of tackling the issue of diminishing the entitlement burden on our national budget. If these aims are to be achieved, Americans must severely scrutinize candidates such as these and ask themselves honestly if they see such men supporting a policy, not merely of less taxes, but of less government— in terms of regulation, expropriation, and social controls.
That raises another issue worthy of great concern in regards to Rick Perry. The success of the Tea Party has been founded on a few basic principles crucial to its capacity to unite voters, elect candidates, and pass bills: a vehement repudiation of big government politicians (whether on the left or the right), an insistence upon sound fiscal and monetary policy, and a reconstitution of the aims of government upon its original purposes. This has been achieved by the setting-aside of divisive social issues which create unnecessary fractures among otherwise cohesive groups and individuals. It has allowed conservatives, libertarians, constitutionalists, capitalists, etc, to unite in a common aim to oppose a formidable political opponent. It has, from the beginning, been official Tea Party doctrine not to promote any social agendas which might create untenable rifts among its constituents.
Rick Perry’s nomination for the presidency of the United States would be the single greatest undermining factor imaginable to that coalition’s future success. His classic, social conservative outlook and persistent pursuance of government control over private issues, whether one agrees with them or not, could quell the united spirit of the push for small government and undermine the freedoms of all Americans in the process. As governor, Perry has made an effort to, as the saying goes, “regulate the bedroom and the boardroom”, advocating a law in 2002 prohibiting homosexual activities that was later struck down by the United States Supreme Court in Lawrence v Texas. In 2007, in a move that displayed the measure to which he views government maintains the right to intervene in individual’s personal lives, Perry issued an executive order mandating the vaccination of all girls for human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease related to cervical cancer, before they would be permitted to enter the sixth grade. Such a public uproar arose from the action as to make national news and push Perry to permit the passage of a bill that would undo the previous order. Finally, further solidifying his record of disagreement with the Supreme Court, Perry vetoed a 2001 law that would have banned the execution of mentally retarded persons in Texas. A Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v Virginia, in 2002 begged to differ, finding such executions to be “cruel and unusual punishment” and a violation of the 8th Amendment. Continued media coverage and the 2002 execution of James Lee Clark, suspected to be unfit for execution by reason of mental handicap, made Perry’s decision a point of criticism and of satire. When an economy is at stake and the individual freedoms of its citizens are under threat of abnegation, who can rely upon such a candidate’s judgment to renounce government’s encroachments into our lives? I proffer that we cannot afford the intellectual inconsistency which says that a collective and its agent, the government, has the right to intervene in every facet of our personal lives and to regulate our choices, but that it will deign to offer us lower taxes in compensation. It is indicative of a political philosophy which is at best contradictory and at worst highly dangerous to individual rights.
In the midst of all of the political tact, the poll numbers, statistics, and economics that will, no doubt, be tossed about between now and next February, what is incumbent upon each of us, individually, as voters, to remember is the fundamental philosophies of the candidates whom we observe. After all, numbers will change. Military strategy will require reassessment. GDPs and unemployment percentages will not remain forever. As the great businessman John D. Rockefeller offered as a standard response when asked his thoughts about the market‘s prospects, “It will fluctuate.” At which time, once that candidate has been selected who will be our leader to guide us, successfully or otherwise, through what trials may come, we will be made to rely upon his basic, underlying precepts, his worldview, and to expect them to make those choices which defend the individual rights and liberties we value as Americans. Unfortunately, despite his surface appeal as a candidate and experienced politician, no matter the clever (and it was clever) nature of his campaign tactics, it cannot be rationally argued, based upon what can be observed of his guiding principles, that Rick Perry is the man for that job.