Rick Perry: One Lucky Son-of-a-Bitch

Let’s get one thing straight from the start. Rick Perry is no blow-dry George Bush clone, even though he owes his political career about 50/50 to Bush and Osama bin Laden. So what is the political profile of the Texas Governor,  now officially in the race as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination?  A Rasmussen poll this week had him at  29, as against his current rivals, Romney at 18, and Bachmann 13.

Inside Texas he’s one of the most successful politicians in the entire history of the state. George Bush lost his first congressional race.  In a lifetime career of ten elections since 1984 Perry has never lost one. He has an acute sense of political timing. His defeated opponents readily attest to Perry’s relentless  self-discipline as a campaigner , skills at raising campaign cash. He already has a huge prospective war chest for his first national foray. They all emphasize the fatal consequences of underestimating him. He has a team of campaign advisors, notably, notably Dave Carney,  whose skills – ruthless in the crunch – have elicited admiration from  professionals across the board. Prior to  Perry the Texas governorship  were a notoriously weak post, with decisive power wielded by the legislature and State Comptroller and state commissioners, Railroad Commission etc. Perry has changed all that across his three stints as  governor, previously contentious posts now inhabited by his compliant appointees.

But above all, Rick Perry is one lucky son of a bitch. Not just once or twice, but at almost every decisive twist fork in the road Fate has given him a benign tap on the shoulder. “Give me lucky generals,” Napoleon once exclaimed. Looking at Perry’s CV he’d have made him Grand Marshall of France  on the spot.

Back at the pre-dawn of Perry’s political career Democrats were still the most powerful political party in Texas, and Perry began as a (an extremely conservative) Democrat. Son of tenant farmers (dryland cotton) in Paint Creek, sixty miles north of Abilene, Perry says he never met a Republican till he was 25.  He was elected first as a Democratic state legislator and in 1988 was the Texas campaign chairman for (the extremely conservative) Democrat Al Gore who ultimately lost in the primaries to Michael Dukakis. Seeing scant future for Democrats in Texas Perry’s  showed his aptitude for timing and shifted to the Republican Party, making straight for its conservative wing.

His first really big race was as Agricultural Commissioner –a powerful post in Texas and one held in 1990 by Jim Hightower, a left populist, detested by Big Texas Money, which sluiced into Perry’s challenge. Some say Hightower was overconfident, and his office burdened with a couple of scandals, not staining Hightower personally;  others that Perry, with plenty of cash on hand from Hightower’s plentiful corporate  and big ag foes  enemies hit him with campaign commercials, linking him to Jesse Jackson and black insurgency. Maybe both are true. At all events Perry squeaked through, and was handily reelected in 1994.

In 1998 Perry ran for Lieutenant Governor. Victory would put the first Republican in the slot since Reconstruction. Bush was already planning his 2000 presidential run, which would mean quitting the gubernatorial chair. But he could not risk the charge from fellow Republicans that presidential ambitions had allowed him to hand over the governor’s mansion to a Democrat, stepping up from the Lieut. Gov’s office, and so Karl Rove took a close strategic and tactical interest in Perry’s bid. The Bush clan ran ads for Perry,  though the latter’s refusal to follow Bush’s “big tent, compassionate society” message sowed the seeds for hostility between Perry and the Bush camp that is still flaring, with  Rove currently denouncing Perry’s current onslaughts on Fed chairman  Ben Bernanke. (How the world spins! I can remember in the  early 1970s Texas populist Democrat  Wright Patman, chairman of the House Banking Committee, snarling at then Fed chairman Arthur Burns, before him to give testimony, “Can you give me any reason why you should not be in the penitentiary?”)

Perry was up against  John Sharp, a capable Democrat , previously Comptroller. Recently Sharp recalled to Paul Burka of Texas Monthly,

“Running against Perry is like running against God. Everything breaks his way! Either he’s the luckiest guy in the world or the Lord is taking care of him.  He’s a relentless campaigner. I was up at five every morning just to match his schedule. Our money was about even, until an extra million dollars miraculously came to him at the last minute. Two weeks before the election, the largest flood of the century hit the Eighteenth District, which I’d represented in the state Senate. The flood inundated towns all along the Guadalupe River, with massive flooding in Gonzales, Cuero, and Victoria, my hometown. No one thinks about voting when their house is flooded. I received 70 percent of the vote there, but, of course, it was a record-low turnout. It’s hard to get out the vote from a boat. I don’t know if God is calling Rick Perry to run for president, but if he runs, the other candidates are going to need a big dose of magic and a lot of shoe leather. He is focused with a capital F, and his political advisers are the best I’ve ever seen. If you run against Rick Perry, you better pack a big lunch.”

In 2000 and in the wake of the big Florida fix Bush moved up to the Oval Office and Perry became governor. Enter fate in the form of Osama. On September 10 2001 Bush was a failing president and Perry far from strong. Amid the embers of the Towers, the Great War on Terror was on, Bush renaissant and manly Republicanism juicing up Perry. With vicious campaign ads race-baiting his 2002 gubernatorial opponent he won his second term against Tony Sanchez and a third run in 2010, another powerful dose of luck when Kay Bailey Hutchison messed up her primary  challenge.
And now Perry, an early communicant with the Tea Party has the luck of facing the perennially unconvincing  Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.

All governors running for the presidency in an economically stable state claims that responsibility for this good fortune is theirs alone. If times are hard Washington DC gets the blame. No Republican is going to credit Big Government with anything but baneful intrusion and failure.

Perry’s no exception. Thanks in part to Texas’ exacting regulation of home mortgages, — courtesy of progressive campaigns in the last century – the state emerged relatively unscathed in the great housing bust.  Perry of course invokes low regulation and the entrepreneurial powers of the untrammeled Market for Texas’ budgetary virtue since the great crash of 2008. All nonsense. As Burka points out,

“Texas has been a low-tax, low-service state for at least half a century, most of that time under conservative Democratic leadership. Then, as now, a good bidness climate was the first objective of state fiscal policy. The Legislature, not the governor, determines the level of spending, and the elected comptroller serves as a watchdog who can refuse to approve spending that exceeds available revenue.”

When federal stimulus money came through Perry used it to mop up red ink  in the annual budget.  Last week Jared Bernstein, formerly Biden’s economic advisor, pointed out derisively that

“When he announced his candidacy for President the other day, he growled that his goal as president would be to make Washington ‘as inconsequential in your lives as I can.’ Except when it comes to job creation.   Over the last few years, government jobs have been awfully consequential in Texas: 47 per cent of all government jobs added in the US between 2007 and 2010 were added in Texas. Texas employment wasn’t down much at all in these years, as the state lost only 53,000 jobs.  But looming behind that number are large losses in the private sector (down 178,000) and large gains (up 125,000) in government jobs…

“The nation as a whole added 264,000 government jobs, 2007-10, meaning public-sector jobs added in Texas account for almost half of the nation’s public-sector jobs over these years. How did that happen?  Well, Gov Perry has a funny way of going about that ‘inconsequential’ thing.  According to many news accounts from back in the Recovery Act days:

“Turns out Texas was the state that depended the most on those very stimulus funds to plug nearly 97 per cent of its shortfall for fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

“Now, I’ve got no problem with a state government using Recovery Act funds to retain or create jobs.  In fact, the figure and quote above shows Texas to be following a traditional Keynesian game plan: as the private sector contracts, turn to the public sector to temporarily make up part of the difference.”

Perry has a few skeletons in his closet, some of them noisome to the conservatives. In 2007 he tried to force an executive order through requiring that sixth-grade girls in Texas be vaccinated, with the consent of their parents, (withheld consent was to be a tough process) against the human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. Merck, the pharmaceutical giant,  was pushing the vaccine and Perry’s former chief of staff was Merck’s lobbyist. Ultimately Perry’s plan was beaten back, and he admits it was a mistake. It’s one of the reasons the some of the right think Perry is a phony conservative, since the whole plan was redolent of nanny-state government and unwarranted intrusion into family business.

Then there was  the Perry-initiated  Trans-Texas Corridor , a vast network of  toll roads  and rights of way , crossing Texas, scything its way through  land acquired by power of eminent domain carrying cars, trains, pipelines and powerlines, fiber optic cables and so forth, to  be built and controlled by Cintra-Zachry, a partnership between Spanish-based toll-road developer/operator Cintra and Texas-based Zachry Construction,. Aside from the fortunes to be made by Perry backers, eminent domain – a “taking”, par excellence —  is anathema to the libertarian right. In 2010, the Federal Highway Administration, formally ended the project. The action eliminated the study area and canceled the agreement between TxDOT and Cintra Zachry. In 2011, the Texas Legislature formally canceled the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Openings for Bachman: Perry said at one point he was “fine” with New York state legalizing marriage between same-sex couples. He based this on his belief that the Tenth Amendment reserves for the states all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government in the Constitution. The religious right went crazy and Perry hastily backtracked saying that he favored constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage and abortion.

Nor does the libertarian, Tea Party right relish Perry’s  support for the children of  illegal aliens to attend Texas state colleges and universities. “To punish these young Texans for their parents’ actions is not what America has always been about” he told a New Hampshire paper this summer. In 2010 he criticized Arizona’s immigration law, saying “it would not be the right direction for Texas.”  He’s also actually closed a prison in Texas – a first for the state –  and boosted diversionary programs to keep convicted people out of them,  part of the realization by state governors and legislatures that the gulag is too expensive.

Another source of grave suspicion by the Tea Party right, Perry attended a 2007 Bilderburg conference, thus rendering himself in the eyes of many in the Tea Party, a pawn of secret world government.

For their part the progressives howl about Perry’s gesture towards secession. “We’ve got a great union,” he famously said in response to a reporter’s question. “There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.” Big cheers from the crowd. I don’t see what’s wrong with Perry’s stand. I’m all for the right to self-determination, hence state secession. Aside from anything else, it’s how empires fall apart. Vermont, Alaska, Hawai’i, Texas – the empire crumbling just like the Towers. What’s wrong with that picture?

Perry enters the race, intent on capturing the right-wing base,  crushing Romney and Bachmann in South Carolina, which clinched  McCain’s path to nomination in 2008. Hence the Perry-hosted  “Response” — a national day of prayer, on August 4 at Reliant Arena that drew  30,000 Christians and that was broadcast on cable Christian channels and the Internet nationwide, including in at least 1,000 churches. “Father, our heart breaks for America,” Perry intoned in his 12-minute address. “We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government and, as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us.” Christians should turn to God for answers to the nation’s troubles.

Perry subsequently tried to distance himself a bit from the New Apostolic Movement, the crowd behind The Response. I don’t see why. Their views seem far more engaging  than those of Obama’s economic necromancers. The Movement’s high command believe they have a direct line to God who remits specific instructions and warnings, no doubt more credible than those of Standard & Poor. Ignore the warnings at your peril: earthquakes in Japan, terrorist attacks in New York,  economic collapse. They don’t care for the Freemasons and consider the Democratic Party to be  controlled by the Satan-worshipper and all-round slut Jezebel plus three lesser demons.

Sounds like a plausible description of the DNC to me. Some prophets even claim to have seen demons at public meetings. Me too. Of course the progressives raise  the usual alarm about Perry being an evangelical Christian, not a wholesome servant of God like Obama,  baptized in the early 1990s at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Perry on the campaign trail is be taking his whacks at Bernanke, who richly deserves every kick, and regularly receives them right here from the great Mike Whitney, whom CounterPunch strongly recommends to Perry as his prime economic adviser. Of course Perry is slamming AGW and making fun of Al Gore. If Perry can’t make hay with the recent report “Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis” by NASA scientists at Penn State, fretting that aliens may exact fearsome retribution for excessive C02 production by earthlings, he doesn’t deserve to be in the race.

Perry’s  rhetorical lunges have drawn measured reproof from the New York Times, seeking to push Perry towards the kook exit. But at this stage in the game measured approval in the New York Times is not exactly what Perry is after, any more than is Bachmann or the man closer to the libertarian right’s heart than Perry, namely Ron Paul, scandalously blacked out in the press. No surprises there. Coming out against war and empire really is a no-no.

The obvious  question is whether Perry, having won the right, can clamber back along the kook branch towards something vaguely resembling the solid timber of sanity, to capture the necessary independents and disillusioned  folk who bet on Obama in 2008. Hard to say. Perry is pretty far out on the limb. Reagan, with the strenuous help of the press, managed the crawl back in 1980, amid widespread disappointment and disgust with Jimmy Carter. Disappointment and disgust with Barack Obama? The president has slithered down in the most recent polls, and now is just above the 50 per cent disapproval rating. There are still around 30 million Americans without work, or enough work. There’s the endlessly cited observation that no president presiding over moe than a 7 per cent jobless rate can hope for a second term.

The progressive sector is already rallying the Obama vote by pounding out the unsurprising message that Perry is a shil and errand boy for corporate America, Amazing! Imagine that a conservative Texas Republican would end up in that corner, arm in arm with Barack Obama, messenger of hope and change, also shil and errand boy for corporate America, starting with the nuclear industry, the arms sector, the ag/pesticide complex and moving on through  Wall Street and the Fed, and equipped with truly noxious beliefs about fiscal discipline, the merits of compromise. He’s a far more dangerous man to have in the Oval Office than Perry.  We need a polarizer to awake the left from its unending, unbreakable  infatuation with our current president, despite all the horrors he has perpetrated and presided over, mostly significantly the impending onslaught on Social Security and Medicare.

Bush and Obama have much in common, starting with no fixed beliefs, and sessions at Ivy League schools. Perry went to Texas A&M back in the 1970s. I remember a speaking trip, in the company of Christopher Hitchens and JoAnn Wypijewski many years back, when CH hadn’t jumped the fence. I think we were in Houston in the company of the late Molly Ivins. I told Molly  our next gig was at Texas A&M at College Station and she rang me at the motel later that night, imploring us to cancel the engagement, citing grave personal risk to our persons.  In the event we had a fine time, and when Hitchens paused in his seditious diatribes to demand extra fuel in the form of a pint  or two of vodka to be brought to the podium, helpful Aggies , some in uniform, dashed forward with restorative beakers of the stuff.

Silliest sentence of the Week

In “Indictment in Hariri Assassination Is Published” (New York Times, August 17, 2011), Nada Bakri wrote: “The full story will, however, only unfold in the courtroom, where an open, public, fair and transparent trial will render a final verdict…”

Incidentally, the NYT, notably its so-so columnist Joe Nocera,  has taken some shots at the Wall Street Journal for giving its owner, Rupert Murdoch indulgent space to give his side of the story in the News of the World hacking scandal. Let it be recalled that in 1985 when Sidney Schanberg presumed in his NYT op ed column to address issues of  property development in the Times Square region, not unconnected to the business interests of the owners of the NYT, he had his column yanked in 24 hours and left the paper soon thereafter.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.