Monday, August 22, 2011

Rick Perry’s Judgment

Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan and Bush I administration official, raised a few eyebrows the other day when he pithily noted that “Rick Perry is an idiot.”

That kind of comment, especially when it comes from a conservative and a Washington insider, gets noticed, but it doesn’t do a whole lot other than generate a lot of noise on the blogosphere. Mr. Bartlett was replying to Mr. Perry’s charge of treason on the part of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and, like Mr. Bartlett’s jab, it generated more talk about what he said than what he meant. Neither comment is going to change the dynamic — such as it is — of the presidential campaign. Given the current state of vitriol in the discussion, calling someone an idiot is just assurance that they’re getting noticed.

For the record, I don’t think Mr. Perry is literally an idiot. One does not rise to the position he has without some level of intelligence, although in his case, he inherited his current position from George W. Bush and by force of inertia and the fact that Texas has become the epicenter of well-funded reactionary religious right-wing Republicanism, he’s remained there. Ross Douthat believes that he represents a formidable opponent for the rest of the GOP field and President Obama. He notes that the attempts to downplay Gov. Perry’s tenure in office come up short, but he also notes that most of the so-called “Texas miracle” was in place before he took office. Not only that, the Texas governorship is a weak position compared to other governors; the occupant is at the mercy of the state legislature. But with the title comes the illusion that you’re in charge, and for better or for worse, Mr. Perry can lay claim to the successes that happened on his watch as well as explain the failures.

Where Mr. Perry has drawn the most attention recently have been his statements regarding evolution and climate change that are at odds with generally accepted scientific thought: he claims that evolution is a theory that “has some gaps,” and that climate change data is being manipulated to make the proponents — like Al Gore — rich. In the first case, the only gaps in the theory of evolution are the mechanics of the process, not the theory itself. As for the second charge, seeing as how Mr. Perry has been a great friend to the large oil companies in Texas who manipulate data for fun and profit, you’d think he’d be impressed.

Mr. Perry’s problem isn’t that he’s a religious person and that he doesn’t shy away from proclaiming his faith. In and of itself, that’s fine. But where it gets problematic is where Mr. Perry — or any candidate — substitutes mythology for reality.

It’s a matter of judgment. Secular problems like budget deficits, immigration, and education funding are earthly matters that need to be dealt with regardless of faith and practice. The public school science curriculum is not the place to be teaching fable as fact any more than history teachers should be presenting The Silmarillion as ancient history.

Mr. Perry can believe all he wants in the literal interpretation of the bible and he can appeal to his higher power for guidance and to bring rain to west Texas, but if he cannot distinguish between his secular duties as a governor and those of a preacher at a megachurch, then, Houston, we have a problem.

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Just as Mr. Perry’s successes as governor may not be all to his credit, his biggest problem he is all too much of a reminder of his predecessor in the Texas governor’s mansion. In fact, he seems like a caricature of President Bush with the swagger, the twang, and the shoot-first statements. It makes you wonder if Mr. Bush didn’t pick up the schtick from his lieutenant governor before he got out on the stage of national attention in 1999, and for eight years we had a president doing an impersonation of Rick Perry.