Thursday, July 28, 2011
Via RealClear Politics, I ran across an article from Texas Monthly called, "Dear Yankee," in which Paul Burka offers journalists, "Eight things you ought to know before you start writing stories about Rick Perry." This is (or could be) timely advice to journalists and voters alike, especially since Perry polls well and some are practically begging him to throw his hat into the ring for a possible Presidential run against Barack Obama. The article is more human interest than anything else, but I found the following, from Burka's fourth item, rather disconcerting, given what I know of Perry.
Texas is not a "weak governor" state. A common misconception. It used to be true, but during his historic governorship, Perry has reinvented the office as a power center. This may be his greatest accomplishment. Yes, our state constitution, written the year before Reconstruction ended, created a weak governor's office (as did most constitutions of the states of the former Confederacy). We had two-year terms (the Legislature changed it to four-year terms beginning with the 1974 election) and a fragmented executive department with power divided among the governor, the lieutenant governor, the comptroller, the land and agriculture commissioners, the attorney general, and the railroad commission. But Perry has used his appointment power to install political allies in every state agency, effectively establishing a Cabinet form of government and making him vastly more powerful than any of his predecessors. In this regard, the Texas politician he most resembles is LBJ, who, Robert Caro reports, once told an assistant, "I do understand power, whatever else may be said about me. I know where to look for it and how to use it." Rick Perry, to a tee. [bold added]At a time in which the biggest threat to individual freedom is excessive government power, someone who is good at consolidating power can potentially do enormous immediate harm, as well as set the table for a successor to abuse such a consolidation. Regarding the havoc that one powerful Chief executive can wreak, we need only consider the man to whom Burka just compared Perry: LBJ. Johnson's legacy most notably includes his "Great Society" program, which greatly expanded the welfare state into the life- and liberty-threatening monster that it is today. (It is an interesting exercise to see what comes up from a search of the terms "Lyndon Johnson Great Society site:capitalismmagazine.com".)
Of course, a Tea Partier might counter, a powerful man could do great good. True, but that good can only arise if such a man does what we need him to do, which is to start dismantling the welfare state. For all his alleged fiscal conservatism, Perry has shown no such inclination. Rather, he has displayed a tendency to merely transform the welfare state into a religious welfare state. For example, Perry signed into law a nanny state measure that penalizes couples for not taking marriage counseling classes, in addition to "[o]ther such laws, passed by the majority-Republican Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, [that] take aim at such 'deadly sins' as gluttony and sloth." Not that I regard raising a child alone as optimal, or advocate laziness, but by what right are such matters the concern of the government?
Perry is also, crucially, indifferent (at best) to freedom of speech, as witnessed by his signature of a bill that, "has a provision that allows film grants to be denied 'because of inappropriate content or content that portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.'" The state shouldn't be funding movies in the first place, much less dictating their content. The fact that Perry spoke of secession a while back, rightly described by Burka as opportunistic on Perry's part, also indicates to me that the man is unprincipled and sees speech only as a means of acquiring political power, and not as an instrument of effecting meaningful cultural change by persuasion. I don't see how such a person would come to the conclusion that he should be vigilant about protecting that right.
The Burka piece mentions that many people underestimate Perry. That fact; Perry's record of co-opting for religious purposes the welfare state that his fellow Texans, LBJ and George W. Bush, greatly expanded; his indifference to freedom of speech; and his knack for acquiring political power all show him to be a menace to the cause of individual rights. A despised incumbent President and the relative economic success of Texas compared to the rest of the country may be just the opportunity he needs to become Chief Executive.
I disagree that Perry has a substantially different agenda than LBJ, or that he has little in common with Dubya. These men are three peas in a pod, and Americans concerned about where our country is heading would do well to look elsewhere than Perry for our next President.