[Note: This post is a follow-up to a previous one I wrote after reading a hysterical column by Ruth Marcus on Rick Perry's "frightening manifesto", Fed Up! I floated the idea that we here on Ricochet have a discussion of the book so we could become more familiar with the candidate himself as well as to be in a better position to evaluate what is sure to be a torrent of negative advertising based on quotes taken from it.]
Since I began to follow politics closely (around the ’76 campaign … I was a Udall supporter) I have never wanted to support a candidate as much as I find myself wanting to support Rick Perry now. I guess it’s the combined effects of the urgent need to replace Obama and the unsettling feeling that Perry may be the only Republican with a reasonable chance to do so who’s not a squish. So it was with more than a little trepidation that I began reading Fed Up! – what surprises would I find? Reassuring command of the issues? Insightful analyses of our current condition? Or political bromides and pablum of the type that so frequently inhabit election year tracts?
Rick Perry claims he wrote this book to “help sustain a national dialogue about the proper structure and balance of government “ (p 178). I take him at his word – he seems to have written it with little regard to its effect on his presidential aspirations, as his intemperate remarks about social security (e.g., “By any measure, Social Security is a failure”, p. 62, and his assertions of its questionable constitutionality) have already given opponents plenty of ammunition to bash him with – these are clearly not the words of a cautious pol with his eyes on the presidency.
Frustratingly, for someone who was reading the book to get an idea for what a President Perry might do and how he would do it, the book left many unanswered questions. To be sure, his speech declaring his candidacy shared many of the themes he includes in his book (it doesn’t get much better than, “I will try to make Washington as irrelevant to your life as possible”). For example, after laying out some clear and persuasive arguments concerning the overreach of the federal government (most of the chapters in the book are devoted to this end), one is left wondering how he would address all of the problems he so ably delineates. But, since Perry does not discuss any solutions to the country’s problems before the last chapter, the reader is bound to be thinking, upon reaching that point in the book, “Surely they'll be coming up next”. So it was disconcerting that instead of getting right to it, he launches into his vision of America in 2026, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a libertarian’s dream essentially, but an utterly unrealistic one for a mere fifteen years out. Then, with about ten pages left to go, we get down to brass tacks – his 5-point plan for “Taking America Back”. They are: 1) repeal Obamacare; 2) resistance by states against federal intrusion into their affairs; 3) a national dialogue about limited, constitutional government; 4) the election of leaders who respect the Constitution; and, 5) adoption of structural reforms, especially with respect to limiting funding the federal government and curbing the power of the judiciary.
Now, those are five great ideas, necessary ones too, but they are far too vague and diffuse to provide much information about what a President Perry would do. What would he prioritize? How would he propose reforming entitlements? Etc. etc. etc. In the book, Perry never confronts the very real dilemma that “politics is the art of the possible”. As much as we here at Ricochet would like to see genuine discussion concerning the constitutionality of programs like Social Security, the rest of the country has moved on. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are part of the social fabric and will not be easily abandoned even with the most eloquent and logical of arguments. The knock on Sarah Palin is that her skills as a politician are not backed up by thoughtfulness or depth in her approach to governance. Regardless of the validity of that argument in Palin’s case, after reading Perry’s book, it seems that he can be described the same way. He does a great job critiquing the policies that got us to where we are, but does that mean he has the requisite skills to lead us forward? Finally, his focus on federalism per se is not as reassuring as would be arguments concerning the proper role of government at any level. He seems content to let individual states force their citizens into all sorts of things, provided that the federal government stays out of it. I’d prefer hearing that certain aspects of our lives are off limits to any government interference. I understand that such an approach could undercut his argument for federalism, but framed appropriately it need not do so and it would certainly give a more complete picture of how he views the relationship between the individual and the state.
So what to make of the book? Getting to know Rick Perry through his own words reminds me of the danger of designing a strategy according to the dictum, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. I love the man for his enemies, but that doesn’t mean I want him to be the general in the next fight.
Well, that's my two cents. Yours?