RickPerry.jpg

Rick Perry: First Impressions

Yesterday, I listened twice to Rick Perry’s first advertisement. This afternoon – at the office where the internet connection is fast – I listened carefully to the first speech of  Rick Perry’s campaign. And I can say that I am both pleased and mildly worried.

The video I thought fabulous. It was low-key, gentle, soothing, and devastating. It muted the drama and appealed to the intellect, pointing to the obvious and quietly encouraging the listener to compare President Obama with Governor Perry and to judge them by their accomplishments. If Perry and his team can keep this up, he is likely to win. I am of two minds, however, about his announcement speech.

SoftDespotism.jpgOn the one hand, he sounded the right themes. The antidote to this country’s soft despotic  drift is decentralization. When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about this question, he had his eye on France, and he was offering the American example – federalism, decentralization within the states, religion, and the nuclear family – as an antidote. As I argued two years ago in Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift, our troubles today today arise from the partial collapse of the family, from religion’s decline, and from our abandonment of federalism. Think through the implications of Terrence Moore’s first post – on the welfare state – and you will get the picture. In his speech and video, directly or obliquely, Perry touched on all three of these questions, reasserting the central importance of the integrity of the family, intimating that religion is our moral anchor, and demanding a return to federalism. If he thinks through the logic of his own commitments – and perhaps he has done so already – his instincts will be pretty consistently sound.

On the other hand, Perry was folksy throughout – and that worries me a bit. The tone of the speech and the manner of delivery were pitch-perfect for Texas. I am not, however, certain that this will play for a national audience. I do not mean to suggest that Perry should never be folksy. He comes from Paint Creek, and this comes naturally to him. Moreover, he needs at the outset to gather to him those who belong to his natural constituency – which is made up of white people who live in the countryside and in small towns. But to persuade a wider audience, Perry will have to pitch his argument to an audience that thinks itself more sophisticated. I am not arguing that the city slickers really are more sophisticated; I am arguing that they are in the grips of a powerful prejudice against people from places like Paint Creek.

You will respond that Bill Clinton came from Hope, Arkansas, and you will be correct. But Bill Clinton went to Georgetown University and Yale Law School, and he did a stint at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He was vetted. Perry is an outsider. Even in some circles in Texas, Aggies are regarded as hicks. It is easy to see what sort of campaign David Axelrod and his associates will gin up against Perry. It will draw on the instinctive bigotry that made it so easy to demonize Lyndon Baines Johnson and the younger Bush. Obama cannot run on his record. To win, he must demonize the alternative. It is going to be ugly.

Perry is an exceedingly successful Texas politician. He comes from a place that is self-regarding in the extreme (I speak as a native of Oklahoma) and inward-looking. He has never operated outside its borders, and he may be unaware of its parochial character. If he is, he needs to wake up right away – and Mitt Romney is perfectly situated to give him that wake-up call.

Here is what Perry needs to do. He needs to anticipate the assault.

For example, if Obama’s people play anti-Texas prejudice against him, he should mock their advertisements. Indeed, he might do well to hit them hard the day they play this card – by preparing humorous advertisements ahead of time comparing Texas . . . with Chicago. They could touch on corruption, gangsters, population explosion and population implosion, political practices. And it could all be done with a light touch.

The larger problem is this, however. Most Americans – outside Texas – associate a West-Texas accent and a folksy manner with stupidity. The Obama people – and, perhaps more subtly – the Romney people may try to depict Perry as a hick. This he can head off if he has the wit to recognize the obvious: that what plays in Texas may not play as well elsewhere.

My suggestion would be that he give two or three speeches at venues associated with the conservative intelligentsia. The speeches should be low-key, gentle, and, above all else, thoughtful. In them he should outline in a manner almost academic what he intends to do and why. One could deal with defense and foreign policy. Another could focus on healthcare. A third could take economic growth and the prerequisites for economic growth as its theme. In these speeches, his purpose should be to demonstrate that he is anything but a hick, anything but stupid, and that he has thought in depth and carefully about the larger issues we face. There should not be a hint of the campaign speech in them. They should be intellectually devastating without being polemical. His aim should be to dispel once and for all the suspicion that he is just another hot dog from Texas running his mouth in predictable ways.

I mention this now in the hope that someone in Perry’s entourage reads Ricochet. What Perry did in South Carolina on Saturday was appropriate for the occasion. But there are other occasions, and most of us are not Texans. If I were the head of the American Enterprise Institute, I would get on the phone tomorrow and invite Perry to give three lectures in DC. The trick here is to get out ahead of the onslaught and to kill the appeal to prejudice before it is even launched.

  1. Skyler

    Paul Rahe wrote:  “Even in some circles in Texas, Aggies are regarded as hicks.”

    I think that regard is most especially felt among the Aggies themselves!

    We could do much worse than Perry.  It seems to me that whoever the Republican nominee is, that will be our next President.  I think this will create a race to the right among the Republican candidates.  Once nominated, it would be an exaggeration to say that the nominee need not campaign any further, but not much of an exaggeration.

    The Texas twang and mannerisms will likely serve him well.

  2. JeffreyJay

    I’m new to Ricochet and very excited to be a part of this amazing vehicle.

    For folks concerned about the notion of Gov Perry being perceived as not “intellectual” enough or lacking “substance”  please see the following 2 urls if you haven’t already from our good Professor Sowell …

    http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2010/01/05/intellectuals_and_society http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2010/01/05/intellectuals_and_society_part_ii

    Also, regarding history on the Gov see Kevin Williamson’s article at – http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/print/265309

    Cheers,

    Jeffrey

  3. JeffreyJay

    Oops, new guy.  Multiple post.  Nothing to see here.  Cheers, Jeffrey

  4. David Williamson

    I have also been listening to Mr Perry for the first time – his recent Waterloo speech and QandA.

    Prof Rahe – if you want a smooth-talking intellectual, soothing to the NE and NW effete elite, you have your man already in the White House – how is that working out for ya?

    If you want Mr Ryan, so do I – but he is not stepping up to the plate.

    So, we conservatives are left with a choice between Mrs Bachmann and Mr Perry – I will watch them both closely, and decide on one or other for the Primary. We may end up with Mr Romney, anyway – we shall see.

    So, Prof Rahe, do you see an alternative scenario that I am missing?

  5. Viator
    Perry’s Problematic Pals

    by Pamela Geller

    “It was bad enough that Bush was close to Norquist. There is no way the GOP can again nominate anyone who is so completely and utterly clueless about the fifth column within. Ten years after 9/11, can’t we nominate someone who can speak to the ominous threat posed by Islamic supremacists in this country?

    Rick Perry must not be the Republican nominee. Rick Perry must not be President. Have we not had enough of this systemic sedition?”

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/08/perrys_problematic_pals.html

  6. Claire Berlinski
    C
    JeffreyJay: I’m new to Ricochet and very excited to be a part of this amazing vehicle.

    For folks concerned about the notion of “intellectual” please see the following 2 urls if you haven’t already from our good Professor Sowell …

    http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2010/01/05/intellectuals_and_society http://townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/2010/01/05/intellectuals_and_society_part_ii

    Also, regarding history on the Gov see Kevin Williamson’s article at – http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/print/265309

    Cheers,

    Jeffrey · Aug 15 at 1:28am

    Welcome, Jeffrey, we’re delighted to have you with us.

  7. TeamAmerica

    Brian Watt-”Does Perry believe as Hagee does that the End Times are upon us now? I thought I’d ask the question before Chris Wallace does.”

    Are the End Times upon us now?

    Well, as the subtitle of Mark Steyn’s latest bestseller implies, only if Obama and the Dems in the Senate stay in power.

  8. iWc
    Viator

    Perry’s Problematic Pals

    by Pamela Geller

    “It was bad enough that Bush was close to Norquist.

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/08/perrys_problematic_pals.html · Aug 15 at 2:22am

    Come on! I have no love for Islamists, but being seen on the same podium as Norquist does not make one a supporter of radical Islam or a squish! It is not like Christie, who nominated some seriously bad guys for state positions.

    Geller is very good at calling the alarm. And she is right that Bush was FAR too close to Saudis and other Arabs. But so far, I have not seen any evidence that Perry would not be FAR better on the issue of Islam than Bush was. It may be there, but Geller does not bring it in that post.

  9. JeffreyJay

    on Perry’s Problematic Pals by Pamela Geller

    Hi Pamela,

    I went to the url you provided and read it completely, but with difficulty.  Its tough getting past the hyperbole of that article and I find quite often articles written in that style are long on wind and short on facts.

       Regarding Gov Perry’s relationship to Muslims as distinguished from “Radical Islamists”, please view the speech from Nov 2010 at the Heritage Foundation via url – http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/FedU and specifically minutes 23.00 to 25.20 and especially that last 20 seconds.  Gov Perry is answering the first question from the audience posed by a Pakastani fellow.

    Thanks,

    Jeffrey

  10. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    katievs: Please, all, read this WSJ article before you get too enthused about Rick Perry. · Aug 14 at 8:13p

    Thank you for this. Perry obviously comes from the old Tory wing of the Texas Democratic Party. It is not pretty, but it is not as off-putting as Obamacare. I do wish that Paul Ryan would run.

  11. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Mike LaRoche

    Ken Sweeney: Ok, I will say it: Sarah Palin with cowboy boots. More intellectual substance is required. · Aug 14 at 8:07pm

    Edited on Aug 14 at 08:08 pm

    Better to have Sarah Palin with cowboy boots than John McCain with better hair. · Aug 14 at 10:24pm

    Nice. Very nice.

  12. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    David Williamson: I have also been listening to Mr Perry for the first time – his recent Waterloo speech and QandA.

    Prof Rahe – if you want a smooth-talking intellectual, soothing to the NE and NW effete elite, you have your man already in the White House – how is that working out for ya?

    If you want Mr Ryan, so do I – but he is not stepping up to the plate.

    So, we conservatives are left with a choice between Mrs Bachmann and Mr Perry – I will watch them both closely, and decide on one or other for the Primary. We may end up with Mr Romney, anyway – we shall see.

    So, Prof Rahe, do you see an alternative scenario that I am missing? · Aug 15 at 1:42am

    Not unless Paul Ryan or Chris Christie gets into the race.

  13. Mel Foil

    Texas is in the worldwide oil business, so Governors of Texas will talk to some Muslims. It’s not a sin.

  14. The Mugwump
    Paul A. Rahe

    So, Prof Rahe, do you see an alternative scenario that I am missing? · Aug 15 at 1:42am

    Not unless Paul Ryan or Chris Christie gets into the race. · Aug 15 at 5:11am

    Paul Ryan is good on fiscal issues, but he does not have Rick Perry’s executive experience.  Chris Christie is tough and very articulate, but he’s not even a mainline conservative on some issues (e.g. gun control).  We need to face the fact that there is no perfect republican candidate.

    At least with Perry we have someone with solid conservative instincts.  He understands the value of faith and family.  That recognition alone is absolutely essential l if the nation is going to recover from our fling with socialism.

    I agree with those who sense that Mr. Perry is an “operator.”  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s part of the skill set of most successful politicians.

    As for the rest keep in mind the power of advertising.  Judging by recent political ads the republicans have finally hired the right ad-men.  They’re going to turn Mr. Obama into a punching bag this year and next.  Enjoy the show.  

  15. liberal jim

    Rick Perry should make a good leader for the “we’ll make things worse more slowly” party.  I see he is getting the nod from some establishment Republicans.  How exciting!!!!   I  am beginning to understand why the good professor keeps talking about Ryan.

  16. Brian Watt
    TeamAmerica: Brian Watt-”Does Perry believe as Hagee does that the End Times are upon us now? I thought I’d ask the question before Chris Wallace does.”

    Are the End Times upon us now?

    Well, as the subtitle of Mark Steyn’s latest bestseller implies, only if Obama and the Dems in the Senate stay in power. · Aug 15 at 3:51am

    I appreciate the whimsical connection (at least I think you’re being humorous) and not to speak for Mark Steyn, who can speak quite well for himself, but I think his latest book is about the possible demise of America not the entire planet on a Biblical scale because, according to Hagee, natural disasters and the cryptic messages of various prophets are all adding up in his mind that Judgement Day and Christ’s return will happen in our lifetime.

  17. Songwriter

    Paul writes: “The larger problem is this, however. Most Americans – outside Texas – associate a West-Texas accent and a folksy manner with stupidity.”

    Over the years, a lot of folks who thought they were smarter than some dumb West Texan got their wallets cleaned out. Don’t ever assume the toe-in-the-sand “aw shucks” demeanor of the West Texan to be anything other than a wily move made just prior to attacking. They are a cagy lot. I know. I was raised by one.

  18. Lady Bertrum

     I both agree and disagree.  Living in the Northeast, his twangy Texas accent and evangelical like delivery is somewhat grating.  That being said, what really matter is whether or not he is fast on the draw.  Can he aggressively articulate his positions and defend them against all comers?  Has he got the skills and the game – in other words.  Substance can uplift and overcome style, but he must have the substance to sustain.  Only time will tell.

  19. Jimmy Carter

    Professor Rahe, I’m Here in Texas and have voted for Gov. Perry for every one of His runs, but to You outsiders may I describe Him thus: “shady used-car salesman.” I don’t know another way of saying it, but I bet a number of people would agree.

    Gov. Perry has delivered.

  20. jeffp

    To add to Songwriter’s point, there’s this from Charles M. Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy in Concord, N.H (quoted on Jen Rubin’s WaPo blog this morning): “In fact, some conservatives see a Southern accent as a likely indicator of conservatism.” I think it poses risks for the general (“Texas fatigue,” as I’ve seen it called), but for securing the nomination I expect Perry’s persona is a feature, not a bug.

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