Sunday, December 11, 2011

Explaining the Diminishment of Rick Perry

I haven't weighed in much on the presidential election or the political scene recently, partially because it wears me out, and partially because there are other people out there who can write about the Herman Cain phenomenon better than I can. And let's face it, the fact that Herman Cain became a leading candidate before imploding in a flash of scandal just weeks later is just about the strangest turn of events one could think of. I also never would have thought that the disgraced, disliked and fatuously self-important Newt Gingrich, a man who seems to have put more time into personal book signings than building a ground game in Iowa, would rise from the dead to take the front runner's spot. There's another twist, however, that I saw coming a million miles away: Rick Perry crashing and burning.

Having lived in Texas for three years, I had the opportunity to get to know Governor Goodhair up close and personal. His personae was perfect for the Lone Star State: ultra-conservative, doctrinaire, and leavened with masculine braggadocio. Lotsa my Texan friends thought that he would go down like gangbusters in the Republican primaries, but I was skeptical. Like New Yorkers, Texans have a tendency to see their homeland as a place unto itself, and forget or just don't know that the rest of the nation is very different than they are. Perry was so used to preaching to the wingnut Texas choir that he never had to deal with the broader and more diverse national electorate. I never understood how a man proposing secession could then turn around and ask to be the leader of the very country he would have torn apart.

Perry's inability to see that paradox speaks to one his most obvious attributes: the man is a goddamned moron. If his "D" grades in college weren't enough to prove that point, he has done his best to prove the proposition in the Republican presidential debates and via several public speaking gaffes. Despite the downfalls of Cain and Bachmann, Perry has failed to pick up any momentum. Even a party as brazenly anti-intellectual as the GOP (full global warming denial, creationism and the bashing of academia) seems to be aware that they cannot let the public face of their party be a palpable idiot along the lines of Palin, Bachmann, or Perry. They know deep down that the erudite, articulate, and intelligent president would flat-out embarass any one of those three dolts. Gingrich, on the other hand, preaches the old time conservative religion, with lots of pseudo-intellectual clap-trap to make it look like a set of ideas rather than blind faith in supply-side theology. In the soon to be immortal words of Paul Krugman, Gingrich is "a stupid man's idea of what a smart person sounds like."

Perry is nobody's idea of what a smart person sounds like. The nation already endured eight years of an intellectually unserious swaggering Texas governor as president, there's little call for another one. That's easy to see. Here's something less obvious, but no less true, in my opinion: the Occupy movement's effect on public discourse has ultimately sunk Perry. Even among rank and file Republicans, there's a sense that America's current economic model is a failure. Perry's main claim to fame was as a "job creator," but his state has mostly produced insecure, low-wage jobs, the kind that exemplify the diminishment of opportunity. (Romney may have a record of putting Americans out of work, but he at least looks like he knows what he's talking about.)

Last but not least, Perry is fighting the wrong culture war. He has recently tried to gain strength among evangelicals by attacking gays, but that strategy is so 2004. (In any case, Rick Santorum has the rabid homophobe/self-hating closeted gay vote sewed up.) Republicans have turned their hatred on new targets: immigrants and Muslims. Perry's record in Texas undercuts his anti-immigrant credentials, and he doesn't seem to have engaged in much anti-Muslim or anti-Arab rhetoric (unlike Herman Cain or Newt "Palestinians are an invented people" Gingrich.) Newt gets special a bonus for blowing the "welfare queen" dog whistle; his proposal to teach poor children the value of labor by putting them to work scrubbing toliets in their schools has a subtext that essentially says "let's teach those shiftless Negroes a lesson."

And so Rick Perry, supposedly the shoe-in candidate, finds himself in fourth place. I would feel a little sorry for Rick Perry's continuing public humiliation if he wasn't such a hate-filled authoritarian bully. The overly large contigent of blockheaded right wing flat earthers in Texas might buy into his hokum, but it pleases me to know that the rest of the nation, even in conservative circles, has rejected it.

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