Michelle Bachmann's best day of her political life and her worst day were probably one in the same. She rose to the very top of the pack of contenders for the GOP nomination by winning the Ames Straw Poll... and completely vanished from national media attention within 48 hours due to Rick Perry announcing his run from President the same day. Perry appeals to almost exactly the same voters who support her, but has an actual resume, having been governor of Texas for 11 years.
Nothing is certain in politics, but at this point, I have to assume that Perry will be the Republican nominee. He's got the red meat rhetoric that will fire up the base, an economic track record that fiscal conservatives can pull behind, and a state's rights view that libertarians like myself can find intriguing.
It's a rare day that I don't read about ten editorials on Real Clear Politics, and I have to sigh at the weary sameness of the attacks against Perry. They boil down to: 1. He's too religious and anti-science. 2. He's a radical right-winger. 3. He's racist. 4. He's dumb.
The thing is, these same labels have been stuck on every republican candidate since Reagan. I think that most voters just tune out these labels at this point. For what it's worth, I think that Republicans have mushed up the word liberal until it's almost meaningless. Bill Clinton was a fairly middle of the road politician who was called liberal every day he was in office. Barak Obama actually was liberal, but voters didn't seem to be afraid of liberalism any more, probably because the label had been overused. So, now the right has had to ramp up the rhetoric from liberal to socialist. One day, perhaps, it will provide the groundwork for electing a genuine socialist.
So what do I think of the four main charges?
1. He's too religious and anti-science. I'm not a bigot. Even though I'm an atheist, I think a man should be free to profess his religious beliefs. I'm just curious if Perry feels the same way. The first Bush said that he didn't think atheists could be patroits. I can't google any similar comments by Perry, but rest assured I'll be listening for this closely. As for being anti-science, he doesn't seem to believe in evolution, which is a strike in my opinion. But, he's really being attacked for denouncing man-made global warming as a hoax. I'm not prepared to call the theory a hoax. I think it's an interesting theory that explains a lot of evidence. But, I also think that people who say that the debate is settled are equally anti-science. There have been radical temperature changes in the past plainly not triggered by human action.
I want a president who is capable of thinking about science in a rational manner. I'm not sure Perry can do this. On the other hand, I don't doubt that Obama can think rationally, but what has it gained us? I'm not sure that understanding evolution helps make better decisions about, say, conducting unauthorized military operations in Libya.
2. He's a radical right-winger. He thinks social security is a Ponzi scheme. He thinks states should be free to chart their own courses on marriage and drugs and education. He thinks it's treasonous for the Fed to keep printing money. Will the American people put up with this? Who the hell knows. But, I read an article denouncing almost every idea put forth in Perry's book "Fed Up," and I found myself thinking that Perry was right almost every time. If he does stick to his guns, he will be presenting voters with their most conservative presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater. But, his state's rights position, in my mind, provides a buffer against his most radical positions. It can shift the fights on social issues out of the federal level and back to the states.
3. He's racist. Some of the articles I've read treat Perry as the second coming of the Confederacy. Anyone who champions state's rights must deal with the problem that this was a code word in earlier times for allowing state sponsored segregation and oppression.
But, these aren't earlier times. The true meaning of the tenth ammendment strikes me as a fair constitutional debate. If there is any evidence that Perry holds racist views, I'm open to hearing it. So far, the attacks are remarkably unpersuasive.
4. He's dumb. Meh. As a certified smart person, I can tell you that raw intelligence is a vastly overrated commodity. I heard he had mediocre grades in college. So what? He's climbed up out of extremely modest beginnings and gone on to be elected governor of one of our largest states three times. I don't know if he's read Camus or can give even a short hand overview of quantum mechanics. He's demonstrated that he can govern a state without taking it completely off the rails. I don't think he's a genius, but I don't think most political decisions require genius.
So, after writing a reasonably pro-Perry column, do I intend to vote for him? Probably not. I've got a good track record going for voting Libertarian. In the past, my choices have been to vote for a Libertarian who can't win but who I agree with on 95% of issues, or a Democrat or Republican who will win but whom I disagree with on 95% of issues. I think I'd have to agree with Perry in the 30 to 40% range to switch loyalties. So far, I'm not there.