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Rick Perry: A Much Lesser Reagan

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OK, by way of full disclosure, I want to state that I am not related to Rick Perry, nor do I want to be. I am a native Texan, and way back when Texas Agricultural Commissioner Rick Perry and I were sitting on a friend’s back porch a little north of Ennis, Texas, he did tell me that his Perry line was from Mississippi; so is mine. That is as close as it gets.

My other family lines got here earlier, some in the days of the Texas Revolution and the Republic.

The media and a lot of Americans see Rick Perry as the image of a Texan. Some are hoping he is a Reagan substitute. That is a curious image. I still have a campaign button picturing President Reagan in a cowboy hat. Reagan’s hat fits. I’m not sure about Perry’s.

Let’s take a look at Reagan. Like Perry, he was the politically successful and photogenic governor of a large state. Success in politics is marked by electability. It is not marked by principle. The Alamo’s walls have etched in plaques the names of men with principle. There is a difference.

As Governor of California, Reagan increased taxes. He also narrowed the eligibility for welfare recipients, but he increased the benefits for those in the program. Not exactly conservative, more like managerial. I’m not sure anyone in the executive branch at present understands management, so by itself that would be an improvement.

President Reagan came to office while the U.S. economy was in shambles. Double-digit inflation, rising interest rates and unemployment stalked the land and shrank the middle class. Reagan with a cooperative Congress cut tax rates, while the Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker continued a campaign of squeezing inflation by forcing interest rates up. Unemployment came down as capital was deployed into business and consumer spending rose. Eventually the Fed eased interest rates as inflation fell. Life got better, but it really didn’t take much by comparison with the big government, high tax rate regimes of Carter, Ford and Nixon, not to mention LBJ. 

During Reagan’s second term, he allowed taxes to be raised several times in response to budget bills passed by Congress. He also supported raising Social Security and corporate taxes. Many conservatives began to wonder if all of the fight was out of their President. In fact, Reagan was back to his old habits. His actions on domestic policy going back to his time as Governor often did not match his rhetoric. Reagan was, after all, a successful politician, not always a statesman, and he often was more managerial than ideological on domestic issues.

Rick Perry has presided over a large increase in government hiring in the state of Texas. Our bureaucracy is on the march. Perry’s sweetheart deals with corporate buddies from foreign contractors for toll roads to sordid domestic ilk like Countrywide Home Loans are legendary. The legislature has provided him his own slush fund that he sometimes doles out to buddies for special projects.

Perry’s attempt to rule by decree in regard to his mandate of the Gardasil vaccine, where Merck made the expected and customary monetary contributions, fortunately failed. Most legal scholars doubted whether the Governor had the legal power to mandate the vaccine. The legislature in a rare fit of wisdom concurred.

Where the worst side of Reagan for a conservative was managerial, Perry’s dark side harkens back to the days of slick good ol’ boys and clumsy favoritism.

The Cold War and what most regard as a very real threat to our very existence helped to minimize the political effect of Reagan’s domestic policy foibles. Ronald Reagan faced an enemy worthy of central casting. The Soviet Union – the Gulag was a constant reminder of who it was – was Mordorlike, playing every angle in its efforts to gain victory over the West.

Atheistic values and what passed for morality lived to serve the state. Communism was playing every card in its attempt overcome the huge shortcomings of a state-directed economy in an attempt at global dominance. Guerilla fighters were trained by instructors in the Soviet Union in everything from terrorism and torture to firing an RPG.

Those students of mayhem were exported worldwide. Sometimes they just taught others. An American General was even kidnapped in Italy by the Red Brigade. Meanwhile, the tortured Soviet economic system was strained into overdrive to provide high-tech weapons to contest the West.

Where moderate Republicans and then floundering Democrats such as Jimmy Carter had practiced a strategy of give and take with the Soviets, Reagan decided to face them head on. Accelerating a build-up of defense forces that was actually initiated under Carter after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Reagan all but dared the Soviets to try to match it.

Suffice to say, the Soviet economy was never even as strong as the American intelligence community told our public that it was. Documents released since that time indicate that the Soviets were simply not able to keep up with the West’s and especially the United States’ defense build-up under Reagan. Non-Ivy Leaguer and former actor Ronald Reagan was right, and much of official Ivy League-trained Washington had been wrong. The Soviet system collapsed under the weight of its own imperial ambition, paranoia and hubris.

If he is able to navigate the national Republican primary process and then go on to defeat the incumbent, what kind of President will Rick Perry make? I suspect, like Reagan, his days in the Governor’s mansion are a clue. Where Reagan could be accommodating with the Democrats and yet managerial, Perry has a coarser side. Perry is a crony capitalist.

Sometimes this side of him is almost cartoonish, it is so in your face. At times he reminds me of Mel Brooks as the Guv in “Blazing Saddles” (1974), a tool for those trying to make money off connections, and way too big a fan of crony no-bid projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor and other sweetheart deals. Of the insider deals with corporations, some are not even domestic – Cintra-Zachry comes to mind, that one is legendary.

The question is, What is it about a 2012 presidency that will bring out the best in Perry? No question the Soviet Union, a truly evil empire, made Reagan, Reagan. It covered him for failing to rein in the ever-increasing federal government that is now threatening to choke out our entrepreneurial energy and our Bill of Rights.

Candidate Reagan saw the problem. He talked about it, but in the end, the Departments of No-Energy and No-Education, among many others, still stand as monuments to mal-employment, federal overreach and adipose. As President Reagan, there was little follow through.

In the movie “Idiocracy” (2006), a firm that makes a sports drink ultimately buys out its federal regulators. The drink is then mandated by the regulators to replace water for everything from crop irrigation to public water fountains.

Something like that seems to be going on in both D.C. and Austin. Regulators are too numerous have too much power and seem to be for sale.

The problem didn’t start with the current administration, although they aren’t doing anything about it. My biggest concern with Perry is that he will try to govern like a Pasha distributing favors here and there through government agencies while engaging in an avalanche of conservative rhetoric, much of it empty. Such a man could do a lot of damage to conservatism as well as the core values the Republican Party. He has in Texas.

I will not be voting for tricky Ricky in the primary, but because of my fear of what four more years of Obama could do to the remains of our Republic, I will vote for any of the present Republican primary candidates in the general election.

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About Paul D. Perry

  • Paul,

    I don’t disagree with your observations about Perry. I think conservatism has very few champions in reality. Those who are best at talking the talk are the ones who are most electable, and Perry is pretty convincing on that plane, his record of expansion notwithstanding.

    As we Texans have come to accept cronyism as a way of life in our politics — note Ann Richards as a prime example — principles are no longer what they do, but what they say. Nationally, just as President Obama has disappointed many liberals, Perry will disappoint many conservatives in his results should he be elected.

    Rather than simply being a lack of principle, this is symptomatic of the inevitable ends of chronic expansive government. Nothing short of a psychological change in the masses will keep conservatism or liberalism from failing. Neither Perry nor anyone else currently playing in the sandbox will be anything other than incidental when it’s all said and done. The dysfunctional monster is already on the loose.

    It’s good to see you writing. Our paths crossed years ago, you may remember.

  • I don’t think it came as much of a surprise to anybody that the Soviet Union turned out to have been in an economic shambles.

    We all knew the stories of bread lines, of people with advanced engineering degrees working as road sweepers, of money diverted to defence, to prestige programs and to lining the pockets of the Politburo rather than feeding the people.

    In hindsight, we should have known it couldn’t last and that the intelligence community was feeding us a line. I’m certain Reagan knew it. His master stroke was to keep sabre-rattling (but not too too much) so as to feed that same line right back to Moscow: causing them to keep on hurling money at the military until they imploded under the weight of their own fear and hubris.

  • Paul D. Perry

    Dreadful, your theory of that is much like my view of how the 2nd war with Saddam was brought about with a managed escalation. I’m not so sure about the Soviets.

  • Baronius

    Dread, you can find experts swearing to the success of the USSR up through 1985 at a minimum. The bulk of sovietologists were calling for a return to detente. CIA forecasters were predicting Soviet per capita income to surpass American in a matter of years. We’d heard of bread lines, but told that the Russian people could endure anything, and besides, they were turning out the most advanced farm equipment in the world.

    A few experts pointed to the Soviet failure in Afghanistan and said that the Russian people wouldn’t tolerate loss. They said that just as the defeats to Japan and Germany had caused the Russian Revolution, so we could see a collapse of the Soviet system. How everyone laughed at that! They even laughed at the idea that the Soviets were losing in Afghanistan. The Soviets had fought of the Nazis; there was no way they’d lose against tribesmen on horseback.

    Poland was going the way of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Reagan had no moral authority to challenge the Soviet Union on human rights, when the US had such an abysmal record towards blacks. The people of Central America were throwing off the capitalist families who ran the dictatorships that had been oppressing them, and Africa was awakening to the realization that America was just another colonial power.

    Russia had gold and oil. They had half of the countries in Europe as trading partners. No one could outproduce Germans, and a good chunk of Germany was behind the Iron Curtain. And if push came to shove, they had China on their side. The US economy was Made in Japan, who was buying up the few remaining properties still in American hands. We had skyrocketing debt and were losing our manufacturing base. The US was not only losing to the USSR, it wasn’t even a fair fight anymore.

  • If that’s the case, Baronius, then what happened? In this theory, is Gorbachev to blame for being all nice?

  • Baronius

    Dread, don’t you remember this at all? I’m not saying that the Soviets were winning; I’m saying that it surprised nearly everyone how badly they were losing.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    You complain about Reagan and his saber-rattling, but I don’t. Why? Because when a nation dissolves as the Soviet Union did, war – whether civil or with other nations – is not at all uncommon. It could easily be said that Reagan’s massive military build-up helped convince the Soviets that a war with America was not a good idea by any means.

    Maybe I’m wrong – but the end result was that the Soviet Union dissolved, we won the Cold War, and the free world breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I’m not about to argue with the results.

  • Baronius, I remember there being an awareness of poorly-concealed domestic penury behind the Iron Curtain, running in parallel with a somewhat muddy concept of the Soviet population as a horde of brainwashed communist automatons who could be mobilized into an unstoppable military force at the shake of a general secretary’s fist.

    Some people may have been caught off guard, yes. Perhaps I had the benefit of being several thousand miles closer to the action, but the major surprise to me was how quickly it all collapsed, rather than that it did.

  • Glenn: not complaining, just analyzing.

  • I’m reminded of an old Jewish joke that did the rounds back in the Cold War days, concerning two Russian Jewish men standing in the bread line.

    After an hour huddled in the cold without the line having moved an inch, one of the men says, “This is ridiculous. I’ve had enough. I’m off to the Kremlin to shoot Brezhnev.”

    So he stomps off. About an hour later he reappears and takes his place back in line next to his friend.

    “Well,” his friend asks, “did you do it? Did you shoot Brezhnev?”

    “No,” he says. “The line was longer there.”

  • Baronius

    Dread, I don’t know what to say, but I don’t want to leave your statement unchallenged. I remember the claims of moral equivalence of the East and West, the protests against Thatcher and Reagan, the propaganda on Ted Turner’s CNN. I remember it.

  • So do I, Herr Baron (not CNN, though – we didn’t have it in Britain in those days).

    Undoubtedly some of those protests were motivated by fear – a desire to pacify the Russian Wolf. Others involved people who weren’t buying into the whole communist automatons narrative. A few were actual communists: there was a minor but determined vogue for communism throughout western Europe when I was a youth.

    Perhaps, during the sixties and seventies, there was a feeling that the West was weak and the East was stronger, but I do remember a growing awareness of the economic hardships behind the Iron Curtain, however hard the Soviet leaders and their puppets tried to conceal them.

    So perhaps a growing number of those conciliatory voices were from those who perceived that the communist bloc was not as mighty and voracious a threat as it seemed, and that the hopes and fears of its people might be roughly parallel to our own.

  • “he did tell me that his Perry line was from Mississippi”

    I’d prefer to see his birth certificate, though I notice the birthers weren’t concerned about those running in the Ames poll. Wonder why?

    Perry [a] politically successful and photogenic governor.

    Photogenic? Maybe in TX, but that terrible dye job and that wrinkled, weathered mug would not to well on Southern CA TVs.

  • Arch Conservative

    Perry has that creepy used car salesman feel to him.

    Not to mention he is a big spending, war mongering neocon. Oh well with the exception of Ron Paul they’re all worthless.

  • Clavos

    Naw, they’re all worthless — period.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Frankly, the only Republican I thought had a real chance – if the GOP had gotten behind him – was Huntsman. He was the only moderate and had great foreign policy experience. Without him, well, there’s a reason Karl Rove is coming out and telling the Republicans to beware of posturing too far to the right…for if they go too far to the right, they will lose many of the independent voters that they might otherwise have had thanks to the terrible (Tea-Party-downgraded) economy. Huntsman’s only weakness – electorally speaking – was his Mormonism, but the evangelicals in the Bible Belt would have held their nose and voted for him in droves rather than voting for the Democrat presently in the White House.

  • Paul D. Perry

    Actually Rove and Perry have a personal issue. Plus Rove’s candidate for Guv. lost big to Perry this last time. Their beef is not ideological. I just confirmed that tonight with someone who has dealt with both of them

  • Baronius

    John Lake and Glenn have both said that Huntsman caught their eye. But realistically, should the Republicans pick a candidate who appeals to John and Glenn? I’d like to see a pro-life Democratic nominee, but that’s not going to happen. And while I’d like to see the Democratic Party drift back in that direction, the point of a primary is to nominate someone that the party wants. (OK, maybe the point of a primary is to nominate an *electable* candidate that the party wants, and that’s an important distinction, but I don’t see it applying to this case.)

  • Baronius

    Dread, thanks for the reply. I feel a little better. It was getting like one of those Outer Limits episodes where you’re the only one who can remember the space ship landing. But now I believe we’re telling the same story from slightly different perspectives.

  • Dread, thanks for the reply. I feel a little better.

    Glad to be of assistance, Baronius.

    It was getting like one of those Outer Limits episodes where you’re the only one who can remember the space ship landing.

    Or an alternate reality? So I suppose the words you’re looking for now are something along the lines of, “My lip’s bleeding, Bert! How about that? My lip’s bleeding!”


  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    When you say “what the party wants”, that’s not so easily definable either. For instance, poll after poll showed that a majority of Republicans wanted taxes raised on the rich during the recent debt ceiling crisis – but almost zero Republicans in Congress was willing to agree with that, absolutely none of the candidates in the recent GOP debate were willing to even entertain the thought.

    There are many Republicans – in some states, even a majority – who are okay with gay marriage, gays in the military, abortion, legalization of marijuana, but what about the candidates?

    Polls have shown that a majority of NRA members support registration of all firearms – but can you find a GOP candidate who supports it?

    What all this boils down to is that the candidates are fighting over the Republican base and ONLY the base. They’re all playing “I’m farther to the right than you!” – except for Paul, who’s just playing with himself. They’re forgetting all about the GOP moderates who hate Obama, but who are seeing their party drift somewhere over to the right of McCarthy.

    Reagan once said he didn’t leave the Democrats, but the Democratic party left him. I think in the years to come, you’re going to see more than a few former Republicans saying the same thing about the Republican party.

  • Clavos

    Polls have shown that a majority of NRA members support registration of all firearms…

    Someone else (Cannonshop?) on another thread asked for a citation on that.

    Still haven’t seen it.

  • Much as I loathe him, I believe Perry is the most likely nominee at the moment.

    But if he keeps making gaffes like that idiotic Bernanke crack yesterday, he will be easy to paint as an extremist…a sure path to losing the general.

    When Rick Santorum attacks a fellow conservative as being unreasonable…you have a problem.

  • Perhaps the poll Glenn is referring to is one that was conducted soon after the Tucson shooting in January of this year. It was conducted by liberal pollsters Momentum. 1000 registered voters, 450 of them in ‘gun-owning households’ but only 115 of them NRA members.

    Do you favor or oppose:

    Banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines
    Total — Favor 58%, Oppose 36%
    Gun Households — Favor 49%, Oppose 45%

    Requiring every gun owner to register each gun he or she owns as part of a national gun registry
    Total — Favor 66%, Oppose 32%
    Gun Households — Favor 49%, Oppose 48%

  • Michael Gerson called Rick Perry a “retail politician.” I like the term. Gerson worked in the George W. Bush White House.

    However, when Governor Perry used the words “wore the uniform,” he did not use the word “veteran.” Whether or not he was trying to degrade the president’s lack of military duty or that of Representative Bachmann is irrelevant. It is a “retail” comment, a price leader.


  • Paul D. Perry

    “a price leader” Yes, that is a summary of my view of him.