It was a hero America needed, a hero central to his time, a man whose personality might suggest contradiction and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation…
— Norman Mailer
This past Saturday afternoon, Texas Governor Rick Perry ambled up to the main stage in Charleston, South Carolina, in that unique march-like stride, a firm, upbeat, stout trot, to announce his presidential campaign lunch. And before him stood throngs of supporters, packed for the annual RedState Gathering, howling at his every remonstration against the dangerous course the leader in the White House had been swerving the country through since January ’09. He began, like his predecessor, dropping dues at the altar of conservative purity, before spreading his wings to reach all corners of the country he hopes in 15 months to be elected president of.
On camera, Perry channels the souls of two conservative icons, Reagan and Bush II, resurrected this time with coiffed wavy hair, a brick face, wooden smile, perched on broad shoulders, which sway the body like a general leading his men through enemy ranks. His wife, unsurprisingly, could pass for Thatcher in her prime, and his kids the very candle of White Christian Perfection.
Less than a minute into his mini revival, Perry invokes the Navy SEALs downed last week in Afghanistan as an emblem of the sort of president he would be, one unashamed of the “selfless, sacrificial” tasks military men and women take up daily in defense of the “last great hope of mankind.”
When Perry speaks, a notion is nudged—that a joke far too turbulent is traveling within him, and only the truly perverted hold antennas strong enough to detect the signals. He smiles using up as little fraction of chin space possible, speaking of his Horatio Alger parents, sinking his right and left pupil deep down, casting a gaze far off beyond the camera’s lenses. And those bullet eyes seem to hold his darkest secrets, flashing every now and then, as the cadences pick up and arms rise and drop like hammers, rhythmically knocking every word into place: the governor has just resurrected Reagan and Lincoln to remind supporters what presidents once used to be: White.
So on to the order of the day: the Kenyan-born Affirmative Action child in the White House who has “prolonged our national misery,” refusing to “alleviate it.”
That’s why we reject this President’s unbridled fixation on taking more money out of the wallets and pocketbooks of American families and employers and giving it to a central government. “Spreading the wealth” punishes success while setting America on course to greater dependency on government. Washington’s insatiable desire to spend our children’s inheritance on failed “stimulus” plans and other misguided economic theories have given us record debt and left us with far too many unemployed.
Well, Mr. President, let us tell you something: you can’t win the future by selling America off to foreign creditors.
We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership. Last week, that leadership failed, and the tax and spend and borrow agenda of this President led to the first ever downgrade of the credit rating of the United States of America.
In reality though, this is just the most recent downgrade. The fact is for nearly three years President Obama has been downgrading American jobs. He’s been downgrading our standing in the world. He’s been downgrading our financial stability. He’s been downgrading our confidence, and downgrading the hope for a better future for our children.
Something about Perry rings strong memories: the clownish, animated, self-entertaining, blank-staring, winking, self-satisfying, rocking, feet-shuffling theatre; belching endless bromides no one smarter than a 3rd grader can register, loud and low whistles to the millions of proud confederates in the audience and countrywide; hyper-nationalism chants past their prime, a bullshit barometer long in need of new batteries; high-hanging apocalyptic clouds darkening his every word, pauses ended abruptly with ecstatic exhortations blasted out with supreme swag; profound internal stares, as if to suggest some divine revelation breaking through this humble vessel; the president reimagined as supreme commander, filled with the fool’s pomp and pleasure, taking delight in an inside joke no one else is privy to; the incitement to a far-off Canaan only he can see, but which he seeks to transport the faithful to if they would only follow his lead—submissively and unquestioningly, of course.
Rick Perry had come in a previous life as Governor Ritchie from the peerless HBO drama The West Wing, as the folksy Florida governor and Republican presidential nominee, sick with pride for his culture and the plebs who turn it over from one generation to the next. Like Perry, Ritchie ran from the outside, swinging his rocks at the gates of the White House, letting the world know he was no academic liberal elitist, just a simple man with a simple heart and a simple mind ready to listen to the people and, it would seem, let them lead themselves. He would be a hero in the grand tradition, saving souls without setting society asunder.
11 years ago, millions turned to another Texan oilman, like Perry, who positioned himself an outsider to the Washington bureaucratic cacophony, an alien to the great liberal establishment rushing the country, brakeless, into the hells of homosexuality, porn, evolution, and atheism. A decade later, the calls ring again: a nation at the edge, downgraded in the eyes of the Almighty, urged to turn from its wicked ways or face the fury of a displeased sovereign. And while Bachmann can play the flute quite well, no one sounds a trumpet quite as harsh as in the hands of Rick Perry, blasting out eschatological notes on education, economics, culture wars, jingoism, exceptionalism, capitalism, and militarism. Soon enough, even if among the few tens of thousands left in the country still resigned to thinking for themselves, you start wondering not what is wrong with this buffoon but with you for failing to see what he and his followers see. And who wants to be left to the mercies of a lonely, chaotic, godless, abandoned world at the sound of the trump?
So, while Perry moves with the charm of a mannequin and projects as much grace as a cardboard cutout, we can be sure of this: that no one watching, or listening on radio even, can pass through without a touch of curiosity lingering. And short of pitchers and preacher men, the country loves clowns, entertainers, fighters, scrappers, men who can blast a Colt 45 through the morning skies in celebration of the right to bear arms.
Perry, for many, would be a great and welcome distraction from the misery and stoic ambiguity Barack Obama embodies. And for this, he stands at the gate, ready to welcome the country, yet again, to a carnival featuring all the familiar highlights. So what if he’s a death penalty-obsessed, anti-environment, education-privatizing, union-busting, pseudo-cowboy clown? In the United States of Amnesia, Perry would swing high as a fresh counter-face to the Ivy League nigger in the White House, whom many still refuse to acknowledge is their president.
Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic currently living in Michigan. He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.