Sweetening the Perry Beat
I am watching the DC press fall for Rick Perry's macho swagger right before my eyes. And Democrats won't do anything about it because it might offend someone who identifies with him, so it's likely to go on for a little while, especially if he solidifies as the front runner.
This piece is getting wide attention tonight among media types who are very impressed with its allegedly nuanced take on the new "it" boy. It's written by a reporter who's been covering the southwest for The Economist for four years, who feels that Perry has gotten a bum rap for being dumb and extreme. The dumbness may be true for all I know -- he wouldn't be the first pol to cover his intellect with a good ole boy persona. But get a load of these examples proving that point:
At the national level, Perry was widely criticised after seeming to suggest that Texas might secede from the United States. I never saw that as anything other than bluster--there is no serious secessionist movement in Texas--and when I asked him about it, several years ago, he dismissed it, in good humour, as people itching to take umbrage. I later saw him joke about it to a conservative audience, as an example of the shrill offendability of mainstream media, a view the audience seemed to share. I think his stonewalling on the Cameron Todd Willingham execution has been horrible, but given widespread national support for the death penalty, most Americans won't see it that way.
Ok, he was just kidding about secession --- ginning up the troops, giving people some red meat to rip into. It's a little odd for a Governor of the US to do such a thing, but ok, maybe it's a Texas idiosyncrasy and not a sign of his ignorance or lack of gravitas.
But the Cameron Todd Willingham execution "issue" isn't about whether or not the death penalty should be used (well, not directly.) It'a about whether or not Rick Perry overlooked the evidence that showed he was executing an innocent man and covering it up. I don't just consider stonewalling something like that to be dumb, I consider it to be borderline psychotic. And I still have a shred of faith that the American people don't think our leaders should be executing innocent men. (I could be wrong about that, though...)
And once again, it's Cokie's Law, which is in full effect in this campaign. "It's out there" and "nobody cares", so why should any journalist bother to point out that it's untrue or evidence of something nefarious. I don't think I've seen this quite so often, from so many reporters, since the Lewinsky scandal. It's amazing how Villagers can blithely justify both covering and papering over issues and facts for the sake of their preferred storyline.
But in this Perry piece, what's really fascinating is the examples she chooses to prove that he isn't an extremist or an ideologue:
In May, for example, Perry signed a bill that will require women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram beforehand. He had declared this an emergency priority for the session, and the legislation was fast-tracked. That's obviously a staunch pro-life measure (although not really extreme: a handful of other states already had it on the books.) Consider, however, that Republicans hold every statewide office in Texas and they absolutely dominate the state legislature. If they had wanted to they could have passed a bill that would have required women seeking abortions to stand on Congress Avenue wearing a sandwich board soliciting comments on their decision.Well, that's certainly nuanced. But the fact is that only 6 states in the nation require women to have sonograms before being allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to abortion. And just because the Republican office holders in Texas are anti-choice extremists doesn't mean that Perry isn't one as well. It's scary as hell that this position is being accepted as fairly reasonable among DC reporters, who find this sort of observation "nuanced."
But I'm sure this is comforting to all those people in the Village who don't give a damn about social issues and just wish everyone would shut up about them:
My interpretation of this is that Perry simply doesn't care that much about social issues. Of course he'll throw some red meat to the base if it's not too much hassle, as with the new sonogram bill. But it just doesn't get him going. He rarely enterprises on these issues. He knows how to play to the base--as in last weekend's prayer rally--but that's because he's shrewd, or if you prefer, opportunistic. As governor, social issues haven't been central to his administration and I don't think they would be if he were president, either.Well that's comforting. Let's hope that in this one he's a total phony because the religious zealots he's associated himself with are the worst of the worst. Unfortunately, even if he doesn't give a damn about any of this, his positions will inevitably lead the country further rightward if he were to win the election. And in case nobody's noticed, the right to choose is under siege all over this country.
But what about economics? Is he really the no-tax, far right wingnut he's reputed to be? Well, yes, but what's wrong with that? He'll diverge from his ideology for job creation, so what's not to like?
His strongest ideological commitment is to small-government conservatism--although he's not pure on that either, because he will engage in some tacit industrial policy if it's a matter of boosting job creation. He is first and foremost a business conservative, and once you understand that about him, everything else makes more sense. That’s why, for example, he’s a big booster of renewable energy even though he’s a climate change sceptic and doesn’t want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why he wanted to build the Trans-Texas Corridor and why he is so enthusiastic about tort reform. That’s why he seems to spend most of his workday trying to poach jobs from other states. That’s why he doesn’t have a very aggressive stance against illegal immigration. That's why he'd rather cut education spending than close tax loopholes.
The virtues of this approach are, of course, debatable. I think the most compelling line of critique against Perry's tenure is that his passion for the low-taxes, low-services model may have limited the state's ability to make adequate investments in education, health care, and infrastructure. And those are areas where public spending may have long-term effects on economic productivity. But there are plenty of things Perry could say in response: that as we have seen elsewhere, budget discipline is necessary to forestall fiscal catastrophes; that you can't spend your way into good outcomes; that the single best indicator of social welfare is the unemployment rate
That's what passes for nuance these days, I guess. After all, a conservative reporter might not even grant that investments in education and health care and infrastructure could have long-term effects on economic productivity (which is, as we know the only true responsibility of government.) But she did say outright that we "know" that you can't spend your way into good outcomes and the single best indicator of social welfare is the unemployment rate. (Texas is at 8.2% which used to be considered catastrophic --- more evidence that the goalposts have shifted and nobody cares.)
This reporter thinks Perry's positions on the issues aren't extreme or ideological and those which she considers a bit beyond the pale are only done for effect. This story smells like a beat sweetener to me. Nuanced, not so much. What's scary is that DC reporters would think it is.