Now that Rick Perry is a candidate for president of the United States, liberals should take the opportunity to make a decent joke: Do you know the difference between the current governor of Texas and ex-President George W. Bush, his predecessor in charge? Answer: Bush is smart, but Perry is no fool. Just look at the timing of the announcement of his candidacy at the end of the week. He stole the scene from the Republican’s first contest in the state of Iowa (with Michele Bachmann’s victory) and introduced a new dynamic to the race.
Perry does not constrain his robust conservatism and exudes charisma. In spite of the swagger and Texan accent, he is more like Sarah Palin (and what will she do now? Make another bus tour though the country?) than the discredited Bush. He is a genuine cowboy from humble rural origins, in contrast to Bush, who came from an elite family in the north and learned to pose as a populist down-home boy. Perry hopes to ride between the diverse conservative wings, with his anti-tax message, aversion to Washington and religious fervor.
In the primary race, this Texas governor, re-elected three times, is a threat both to the record and experience of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He is seen with distrust by the conservatives, such as the “darling” of the tea party, Deputy Michele Bachmann, imbued with a religious fervor, but lacking in management experience. Clearly there exists another dynamic: Perry and Bachmann might split the most conservative vote, thus favoring Romney. It is true that along the marathon, one of them might drop out, ceding supporters against their common enemy: Romney, a liberal disguised as a conservative inside the new, rigid Republican Party.
Before the primaries, were Perry to emerge victorious, the dynamic of the general election would be uncertain. With a strong platform and his record of job creation in Texas (although generally with low salaries), Perry may be a strong candidate against Democratic Barack Obama, leader of a country whose rate of unemployment stands above nine percent. Moderates and independents, in truth, may be frightened by a politician who considers global warming a hysteria, takes creationism seriously and gives a rhetorical nod to the secession of Texas from the United States of America. The folklore about Perry includes that he petitioned the Almighty in April for rain to counter the drought in Texas. (The prayers were not answered.)
Here below, we could experience an epic and muddy duel about the future of the United States. Perry roars that the government is the root of all evil (although he has accepted money from the federal stimulus package), and Obama reminds us that not all social safety nets should be torn. The Republicans will insist that Obama is the president of a downgraded country, while the Democrats will counter that Perry does not deserve to be promoted for being a supposed managerial genius. It is the geography, stupid! Perry received a note of credit from the Divine, who blessed Texas with oil as he cursed his people with low educational standards and little social protection.
Many conservative Americans like John Podhoretz (son of the iconic neo-conservative Norman) see in Perry the most vigorous conservative candidate since Ronald Reagan 30 years ago. But here lies a curious observation (I will be a little repetitive because I treated this subject in my last column): Reagan, as governor of California, undertook a historic increase in taxes and did the same in the White House, although he also sponsored a historic reduction. Reagan negotiated with his adversaries (whether Democrats in congress or Mikhail Gorbachev). Reagan would not survive today’s Republican primaries’ unending combat. It is relentless, relentless, relentless.
He would simply be devoured by a political culture in a party hijacked by the tea party. Tools of economic policy became a religious catechism. In last week’s debate sponsored by Fox News, the participants were united. They held up their hands to say they would not accept a big agreement with the Democrats based on 10 dollars of cut for each one dollar of increase in taxes. This is all good; in the primaries it is important to pamper the ultraconservative base, but, with this type of ridiculous theatrical promise, the Republican candidates wear an idealogical straight-jacket.
These bonds do not constrain Rick Perry. Low taxes clearly are a good idea economically, but they should not be an unbreakable mandate. This visceral intransigence is not good for the health of the Republican party, for the movement or for the country. The Obama Democrats could have trouble motivating their supporters in this economic climate. The Republican drama is over-enthusiastic at its core. Obama is positioned in the general election with an eye on moderates and independents, while the Republicans are captives to their base.
It remains to be seen if someone like Perry can ride beyond the corral of the Texan elections or the Republican primaries. As for the governor of Texas’ prayers, at least a few were answered here in the sky. On Sunday, I wrote this text under torrential rains in New York. God is also a New Yorker; who knows, maybe even a liberal!
Translator’s note: The word “manda-chuva” in Portuguese translated to “chief” in the title. This word has multiple meanings, and it is the translator’s opinion that the author intended readers to also think of them (as with a pun). “Manda-chuva” is a colloquial word meaning “chief,” “boss,” “big shot,” “important person,” but written as “mandachuva” (without the hyphen) can also mean “rainmaker” (a more obscure meaning). It is also the name of a well-known cartoon character: “Manda-chuva” in Brazil is known as “Top Cat” in the USA.