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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

PERRY: FICTION; REALITY; QUESTIONS

Since Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his candidacy for president on August 13th the effect has been like the ripples generated by  a giant rock tossed into the electoral pond.   The liberal media and the Obama White House have lashed out in a collective fit of personal attacks and statistical "interpretation" of the Texas economy all of which portrays a real fear of Perry's candidacy.  This is in spite of suggestions that they would prefer to run against Perry who is easier to demonize and denigrate than the more moderate, sophisticated and reserved Mitt Romney. 

The political Left can pick their poison to keep spreading around from the bloggers, pundits and administration "sources".  Accordingly, Governor Perry is:
"a thug"; has demonstrated "breathtaking cruelty" and "cold hardheartedness"; includes "no compassion to his conservatism"; has a "lack of mercy"; and would be "armed and dangerous".

So what explains this outpouring of hate after just two weeks and a half dozen speeches in three states?  The simple truth is that Perry is a true conservative, has identified with the basic platform of the Tea Party and has energized a sizable cohort of the Republican base which has vaulted him to a lead in the latest national poll of Republican voters.  The Rasmussen poll taken after the Iowa "straw poll" in which Perry did not participate but still received write-in votes, has Perry ahead of the pack with 29%.  Former front runner Mitt Romney comes in second at 18% and the winner of the much exaggerated straw poll, Michele Bachmann is a lowly 13%.  Perry has essentially taken her out of the public eye and replaced her as the Tea Party and evangelical candidate.

 Even more remarkable is the August 22 Gallup poll of presidential preferences among all voters which shows Perry tied with President Obama at 47% each.  In that same poll, Mitt Romney  leads Obama in that poll 48% to 46%.  For an incumbent president to be tied or behind two possible opposing candidates thirteen months before the election explains a great deal about the hard core Left's hostility infused dilemma.  It also presents a tactical problem for the Obama campaign by requiring a choice on where to spend their money in the coming months.  Attacking both Romney and Perry will be expensive and split their resources but they can't afford to gamble and pick a winner for the nomination this early.

Of course the fact that it is early in the Republican campaign means that it is possible that one of the Republican candidates could falter and simplify  both the Obama camp's strategy and the Republican voters choice.  With this in mind it is useful to begin a less emotional analysis of the Perry candidacy.

Perry for the most part is a "what you see is what you get" politician.  He says what is on his mind and doesn't seem concerned with controversy or negative reaction, and by the usual standards of national campaigns he has already tested these waters.  His foolish and over the top comment about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke being "almost treasonous" if he printed more money to stimulate the economy and how if in Texas, Bernanke would be "treated pretty ugly" is the example most cited by both the Left and the Republican establishment.  With the Left attempting to portray him as an extremist loose cannon, Perry will have to show more self discipline.   Nonsensical statements aside, he so far has chosen to run on his record which he equates with the record of the Texas economy since the recession began in 2009. 

Despite the "analysis" of liberal critics about the nature of jobs created in Texas, Perry got a boost from the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard Fisher who is a Democrat.  Fisher said recently that: "over the past two years Texas has accounted for 49.9% of net new jobs created in the United States and these are not low paying jobs."  Democrats claim the jobs growth is because of the oil and gas boom and point to Texas's high unemployment rate of @8.2%.  Further analysis however shows that the unemployment rate is kept high in spite of job creation by the huge influx of job seeking workers from other states as well as from cross border immigration. The population of Texas has indeed grown by 21% over the last ten years.

Thus the issue of Texas economic growth and jobs creation is not really about whether it happened but about whether Governor Perry had much to do with it.  Of course the “on his watch” cliche’ does apply in politics, for both good and bad circumstances so he will get some credit for the relative economic health of Texas. However, the fact is that on both the national and state levels, private enterprise creates jobs in response to market demands not government.  What government can do, and what Perry says he and the Texas legislature have done, is create an environment that encourages private enterprise to make the investments necessary for job creation and this is his formula for the national recovery.  Essentially it is lower taxes, lower government regulation and lower spending.  This strategy is of course criticized by the Left as "tax breaks for the rich"; a license for "big corporations to steal and pollute"; and "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor."  The choices are being made now in the U.S. Congress and will continue to be made in the 2012 election.

Perry is not an anti-government Libertarian like fellow Texan Ron Paul.  He is a federalist who supports a robust role for government at the state level which would allow for significant differences in taxes, regulation and social policies like gun control, gay marriage, and medical marijuana laws.  This belief in state government is apparent in two failed policies he initiated in Texas.  One was an executive order for all Texas's female fifth graders to be inoculated against a common sexually transmitted virus which has been associated with cervical cancer in adult women.  The Texas legislature revolted against this initiative as a major intrusion and over reach of government.  Perry's plan for a multi-billion dollar “Trans Texas "Corridor" or cross state highway system to facilitate the transportation and marketing of goods associated with the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico was also rejected by the legislature.

So at this point the debate over Perry will take place on two levels; the contest for the Republican nomination and the 2012 election versus Obama.   With respect to the nomination, Perry has established his bona fides as a staunch conservative, small federal government social conservative.  Poll data shows that this philosophy combined with his ten plus years of executive experience has been successful among the Republican base which plays a major role in the nomination process.  With respect to more moderate, less ideologically rigid and less socially conservative voters in places like New Hampshire and non-Southern states Perry has a bigger problem.  These voters will be looking at his electability in the national election where the independent voters become the “swing voters” who decide close elections.  With this group Perry has some work to do.  Democrats have, and will continue to, portray him as another bible thumping, Texan red neck boob.  Indeed the “swagger”, the “drawl”, the cowboy boots and the inclination to “shoot from the lip” are all there. The veracity of the underlying claims remains to be seen.  On other issues, some of which are important and some less so but still controversial, he supports the far Right positions. He does not believe in the human contribution to global warming although much scientific data supports at least some role for man made pollution.  He does not believe in the “theory of evolution” in spite of the overwhelming evidence available and universal acceptance in the scientific community, and he mistakenly told a young boy in New Hampshire that Texas "teaches" both Creationism and evolution in their schools. 
On immigration however, he has a more liberal attitude than the “close the border, no amnesty” Right Wing.  He supported and signed a Texas version of the failed federal “Dream Act” which allows in state tuition at Texas colleges for “undocumented aliens”.  This seems like a politically motivated position in a state whose population is 37.6% Hispanic including roughly 1.5 million illegals. 

Perry’s “national prayer meeting” in Houston entitled “The Response” just one week before he announced his candidacy was probably a successful introduction of Perry to the 40-45 percent of Republicans who identify themselves as evangelicals but it raised some concerns among religious moderates, secular independents and members of non-Christian faiths with respect to Perry’s commitment to the commonly accepted interpretation of the Constitution’s First Amendment requirement for “separation of church and state”.  At the meeting, talking about the economic crisis in the U.S., Perry said: “. . . it’s time to hand it over to God and say God, you’re going to have to fix this.” The problem with this exhortation is that presumably as President, Perry believes he would assume the role of God’s agent and interpreter since if God was going to fix the economy on his own there would be no need for Perry to run for the presidency. Such self elevation if genuine has a troubling history.

Thus at this point Perry is far from the ideal Republican candidate with a significant chance to take advantage of Obama’s low job approval.  If he overplays his far Right credentials in the primary battle he could lose the nomination but even if he wins, he could alienate the moderate and independent vote in the general election.  At some point he will have to move to the Center to be successful in both endeavors.  Mitt Romney is still the front runner in some polls and has portrayed himself as a conservative leaning moderate with a successful background in the financial world.  He will have to become more energized and more policy specific to counter the Perry surge, which he is almost certain to try to do.  To the non-evangelical, non-Southern voters he currently appears to be more sophisticated and knowledgeable, less volatile, and perhaps “more presidential” than the rigid and sometimes simplistic “cut and shoot” Texan.  Perry can change some of that but whether he will remains to be seen. Romney's problem is that he doesn't seem genuine and is uncomfortable having to reject his more liberal positions as governor of liberal Massachesetts to attract votes in the conservative dominated Republican primary system. But despite any particular flaws both candidates may still be able to demonstrate that they would still be better for the nation than four more years of Obama.  In any case the future Republican debates should be more interesting than the previous two.



    

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