Tuesday, January 31, 2012

American Election Watch II: The Cowboy Cometh

In June, I wrote an overview of Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential nomination, and concluded with the suggestion that readers keep a close watch on Rick Perry, governor of Texas. Well, last weekend Perry declared his candidacy and immediately leaped into second place, behind Mitt Romney (who is a Mormon). That’s what happens when you run against such obvious losers. Now we are swamped with critical articles about Perry and Texas, most of them by people who knew very little about the state or its governor until a few days ago. Today, I will analyze the effectiveness of these criticisms, and once I’m finished you won’t need to read any more articles about Perry (unless I write them, of course).


Prove it!
Decidedly mediocre exam results (a D in Shakespeare, a D in economics, a C in American history) gained NOT FROM YALE OR HARVARD; a propensity for wearing cowboy boots; Texas accent; grew up on a farm.

Will it work?
This strategy was used against Reagan (amiable dunce) and failed; Yale grad Bush, Jr. was likewise characterized as an imbecile, and served two terms. Why? Because labeling as fools politicians who embody (whether truthfully or not) the aspirations and ideals of vast swathes of the population alienates the very people “liberals” (20% of the electorate) most need to win over to their side. It’s pathological, not strategic. As governor of Texas, Perry has a strong economic record, and this, in most people’s minds, will be more important than some exams he took forty years ago; which leads us directly to…


Prove it!
Perry’s most powerful argument for his candidacy is Texas’s record of job creation- 37% of all jobs created in the United States since June 2009 were created in the state. Perry argues this is a result of sound economic management, low taxes, minimal regulation, tort reform, etc. To which Democrats and media talking heads reply: Texas is just lucky, it has oil, the military, and most of those jobs are minimum wage anyway. Plus, you’ve still got high unemployment.

Will it work?
Iran is awash with oil and soldiers but it is not very successful economically. Obviously policies play a part, otherwise California, blessed with abundant natural wealth, beautiful weather and the 8th largest economy on the globe, would not be teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and experiencing a mass exodus of its population…into Texas. The comments about minimum wage jobs smack of an elitist disconnect from reality as these days just about any job is a toehold on the ladder up. Nor are they true: since the recession started, hourly wages in Texas have increased at the sixth fastest rate in the US. Texas unemployment is still high, but lower than the national average, and Obama is on very weak ground indeed when he talks about job creation.


Prove it!
Perry held a big prayer rally in Houston at the start of August - creepy! He talks about Jesus - what a nut! He’s against gay marriage…. probably hates Muslims, too.

Will it work?
Perry’s religiousness and social conservatism is something he shares with many millions of Americans, so see the problem with Criticism #1 above. His stance on gay marriage is the same as Obama’s. I vaguely recall that Perry once received complaints from Buddhists who were upset when he said they won’t go to heaven when they die. Some reporters will have fun with that if they can be bothered to dig it up. At the end of the day, when one in five people in the country are on food stamps and the economy smells like a vast sinkhole filled with rotten fish, only ideologues care about these issues.

Thus I am not persuaded that these early lines of attack will prove very effective against Perry, who has never lost an election. Unless the governor fails to adapt his Texan “screw you” style of campaigning to the national level, or is revealed as a cannibal, he will prove a strong candidate. The key thing to know about Rick Perry is that in Texas, nobody loves him very much, not even Republicans, and yet he always trounces his opponents. He has great political skill.

Meanwhile, in Democrat news, President Obama is taking a leaf out of Sarah Palin’s book and tootling about the Midwest in a bus in a bid to “connect” with “ordinary voters.” The AP  reports that in Iowa he whined about the small but vociferous minority of Tea Party Republicans in the House who hate his policies, then asked for tips from the audience on how to revive the economy. Evidently Obama is casting himself as a “Washington outsider,” a “regular Joe” frustrated like you,” and not what he is: the millionaire leader of the most powerful country on Earth, the veritable eye atop the pyramid on every dollar bill.

Surrealism as a reelection strategy: it’s new, I’ll give him that.