Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And so it starts.

I watched Texas Governor Rick Perry over the weekend. Gotta say, great start. Perry should rip Mitt Romney apart. He delivers a great vision speech. And the primaries lay out well for him. Iowa and South Carolina should be easy, and New Hampshire will be discounted, because even if Romney wins there, he will be viewed as a favorite son.

A Republican friend, close to Perry, demurs. "We will win New Hampshire. I have never been with a political person like this in my life. He is the best guy working a room ever. Better than Reagan. That speech went right into the living rooms like RR used to do."

My son reads this, and has the perfect new age response: "I should put some Intrade money on him while it's cheap." But the Perry contract is not cheap. He just announced and he is already at 38, eight points over Romney.

I have had two reactions. I listened to Perry's stump speech. He is delivers a great speech. He has a very strong voice. Clear vision on opportunity and the future. As my friend said, it goes right through the medium—radio, TV—to the person. Visceral. He has a power and passion that elude Romney, who is the epitome of Just Words. Seemed apparent to me that Perry can run away with the nomination. 

Then I took a look at Perry's other words. Not his record—as that really matters little, ironically, despite how it will be spun and debated—but his temperament. And boy is he out there. There is a reason Karl Rove and the Bush family have fought this guy. He is the opposite of their notion of a conservative Republican. W worked hard to convey a sense of being a unifying figure, the Compassionate Conservative and all that. In that regard, Dick Cheney really was his undoing, the Sith Lord who brought him under his wing, taught him the arts of war—domestic and international. In contrast, Perry just either says what he wants with no regard for outcomes, or says what he wants with full regard for outcomes. I suspect it's the latter.

The bit about Texas and secession is notable. When Texas joined the union, it had the right to choose to divide up into six states—to have more senators. It did not have the right to exit. Yet secessionism remains such a visceral touchstone of American Nativism, something that Perry has played well. Does it matter that Texas has no such right? Does it matter that we fought a long civil war over the this issue? Of course not. This is politics, not political science.

Playing the secession card is directly linked to Perry's comments on the Fed.  "If this guy [Bernanke] prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we—we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas." His unwillingness to acknowledge those comments as grossly inappropriate—and instead to simply retort "Look, I'm just passionate about the issue"—tells you exactly why he is cut from a different bolt of cloth than the Bush clan. He also knows that they—Karl Rove and others—have no choice but to come around. Perry knows well that, in the famous words of Toby Ziegler, "They'll like us when we win."

I had my own personal, visceral reaction to Perry's attack on Ben Bernanke, rooted in my own family history in Alabama, where by grandmother taught me that the rules by day were different than the rules by night. Filtered through my own rendering of family and national history "I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we—we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," translated into "I don't know about y'all —but we know how to handle Jew bankers down in Texas."

I know, I need to have my filters cleaned. But even if this reaction was unfair and unreasonable, it reflected my larger reading of Perry. As a politician who can reach out and grab his audience by the jugular, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.

So, if my first reaction was that he can run away with the nomination, my second reaction is that he may well run away with it. At 38, the Perry contract on Intrade may still be cheap.

Never before could I imagine that monetary policy could generate such heat. I mean, does any politician really understand the workings of monetary policy and the mechanics of money creation in a digital age? I don't think many people do. But Perry's words, like his words on secession, had nothing to do with the facts of the matter, but rather the roots of popular distrust of federal institutions, to say nothing of Wall Street and bankers.

And never before could I imagine that a leading presidential contender could verbally threaten a high public official—much less a thoroughly decent man of his own political party. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell—who governs a state where one must understand history and language and code, provided an understated assessment of Perry's words—"I thought the remarks probably were something that could have been said differently."

But McDonnell was speaking to a different time, before Tea Party anger swept away the Republican Establishment as it was, and before all notions of temperance and self-restraint were swept out of the public square. Today, Rick Perry is in perfect alignment with his audience. His words are pitch perfect. He will not be admonished by Bob McDonnell or Karl Rove for intemperance. Intemperance is his brand.

It is particularly odd to see Karl Rove and the Bush loyalists so far outside the mainstream of their own party, unable to channel the currents of conservative opinion in a direction of their choosing. But this is indeed a different time, and so far they have found themselves powerless to stop it.

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