Leadership is deeds, not speeches (except, one supposes, speeches that take on the force of deeds). The media and Washington-the-place are the problem. The surplus of spirit in the people is the solution. The president should serve something greater than himself — like Washington-the-man going back to his farm, a very Cincinnatus, relinquishing power after fully discharging his duties. Mr. Perry obviously believes he would not shrink in the comparison — he could withstand the gaze of millions, like the poet says.
The exordium of the speech is a brief biography that brings out two related things, the dignity of work and the restlessness of the American race. Americans cannot be satisfied with what they have. Instead, they strive to acquire more, to do better for themselves and by each other. Mr. Perry’s argument is that success for Americans is a confirmation of dignity rather than an alternative to dignity. This is his best argument about bringing the nation together — he would have done better to choose Lincoln for his exemplar, but Washington was manlier. Mr. Perry has much to boast about, to which he is not adverse, and much to be grateful for — his audience can be gratified on both counts, then.
The peroration is comparatively somber. It centers on Vietnam heroes — Medal of Honor recipient Michael Thornton — and Afghanistan and Iraq heroes — Marcus Luttrell and Chris Kyle. See the brave Luttrell brothers behind him — both SEALs, battleborn. (You can see Mr. Marcus Luttrell crack a smile, surprised by the joke about Mr. Carter…) The argument moves from that kind of selfless striving to the selflessness proper for civilians, which is closer to endurance — Mr. Perry talked about Mrs. Taya Kyle and the grief of all those families who have lost loved ones in war. This, of course, is not how liberals think of presidential politics, but most GOP contenders are not keen on it either. It is not a foregone conclusion that manliness is not a political virtue in America — but that proposition seems more plausible than the contrary. It seems, Mr. Perry wants to change that — it seems, he believes America wants a man, not a nice guy. I believe much could be said about the connection between giving people second chances and leadership.
Rights come from God, not government, says Mr. Perry. But he moves on to one of his themes, the social compact between the generations. (The implication seems to be, without a believable promise of progress, society would fall apart.) Military sacrifice protects this social compact. People should judge themselves by the standard of republican virtue, because that is something in which all citizens can share.
Instead, he implies, partisan politics has divided America and the result is that the economy is not working; policy problems, however, can be fixed — the problem goes deeper and is revealed by the catastrophes of foreign policy. The liberal world of Mr. Obama is fantastic; Iraq should not have been abandoned: The war had been won, so the peace should have been secured. Remember Vietnam: Do not let politicians betray the military.
This sequence shows that America really is divided — liberals and conservatives do not see the war in the same way anymore than the economy. How to bring America together? Americans have come together in their rejection of Mr. Obama is the implied answer: To the dislike of Mr. Obama, some are born, some achieve it, and some have it thrust upon them — and they can all vote for Mr. Perry in the upcoming elections.
Naturally, we must wonder about Mr. Perry’s America. But first, we have to see what America was, to see what she is and what she could be, in the happy event. The quality Mr. Perry brings out is the resilience of America — enduring the Civil War, the World Wars, the Great Depression, Mr. Carter — I paraphrase here — and Mr. Obama. America may look incompetent to prevent the greatest political problems, but she will find a way to get through crisis (I might add, unlike any other modern regime). This argument from mere survival contains within itself something far more serious and more questionable: America should be proud of civilization. America does not have to settle for a mediocre economy and rule by bureaucracy. Innovation is the solution. Within the survival of America is concealed the pride and the taste for innovation.
Mr. Perry thus comes around to showing what is good and what is bad. It’s time to create opportunity for everyone, to give everyone a stake in the country, to restore hope to forgotten Americans — millions of middle-class and working Americans who have no hope in the future. Keeping faith with them is good; not keeping faith with them is bad. That is the standard by which political action should be judged in America. This standard has been abandoned. Washington the place is too arrogant. It does not agree that communities are unique, that individuals should be free. Mr. Perry does not return to speak about community, but he has a lot to say about individualism. Individualism is stifled by the regulations which are hurting the economy.
In light of this judgment, the problems of the future can be specified. In his first direct address to a part of the electorate, Mr. Perry addresses the millennials — after all, they are the future: Our generation is passing debt on to your generation. (Again, breaking the social compact.) I will reform entitlements responsibly! Everyone who counts on retirement can rest easy; everyone else has to get serious about reform. Mr. Perry may justify this inequality, but he cannot change it. As for everyone else’s future, Mr. Perry addresses the forgotten Americans in his second direct address: Middle-class life is harder and harder for America: I hear you! I’m gonna do something about it! You are not forgotten! I’m running to be your President. His third, last direct address is to small business: Dodd-Frank is hurting you — but I hear you — your time is coming. Capitalism is not corporatism nor benefits guaranteed without risk — nor yet putting Wall St. above Main St.
Now, we come to Mr. Perry’s America. He says, there is nothing wrong with America today that a change in leadership will not make happen. We’re just a few good decisions away from — I paraphrase here — paradise. Behold tax reform: Loopholes will be eliminated and the corporate tax rates will be lowered. (How the first one can be achieved politically, given the opposition of the few, whose support he needs, or why the second one would really move the people, whose votes he needs, is unclear at best.) Blocking Obama-era regulations. (The Day One promises about stopping the regulatory state are obviously easily done where pending regulations are concerned — but how about everything already done? The suggestion that it was Mr. Obama’s fault as opposed to the logic of the regulatory state is rather unfair.) Building the Keystone pipeline. Energy is the core problem of modern times, wherein we see all that we could do and therefore must do. Mr. Perry has seen energy and has concluded that America could be as successful as Texas.
Witness then the success of Texas. Witness the educational achievements: Texas high-school graduation rates — second in the country; first in graduation rates for blacks and hispanics. Witness border security — which carefully avoid talk about immigration probems — the deployment of the Texas National Guard in 2014. All of this is attributable to Mr. Perry. Texas looks so good it makes the rest of America look bad by comparison — it is the most successful state and without it, America would have lost jobs during Mr. Obama’s administration. He was governor both during the boom and during the bust — the man is equal to unequal times.
But success does nothing to foster indolence or forgetfulness in Mr. Perry. He knows the ugly truth: National security requires strength — the presidency is about defense, basically — there is no peace other than by threatening to kill your enemies and doing it when necessary. Hence, there will be no deal with Iran while Mr. Perry is president.