Douglas MacKinnon writes at Investor’s Business Daily:
Beyond the usual suspects in the far-left media, many in the GOP establishment such as Karl Rove, are doing all they can to derail the Perry campaign. Again, why?
Erick Erickson, in an excellent horse race summation in Red State, nails the answer:
“So you have these guys … trying to settle every score they can with Perry and his consultant, Dave Carney. … Because so much of the consultant class will be shut out of the White House should Rick Perry win, their livelihoods depend on Rick Perry losing either now or in November.
And frankly, for a few in the GOP consultant class, they’ll gladly see Perry lose in November just to ensure they are not shut out of a Republican White House. For all the talk of Perry being an establishment guy, the establishment hates his guts as much as the left does . . .”
No, no, no. This is not the right way to go. When conservative writers adopt a populist stance and inveigh against the “GOP establishment,” this reeks of a kind of class warfare that should have no place here. Conservatives should not demonize those who have been successful and gained influence and experience. Casting doubt on the motives of anyone who opposes Perry, suggesting that they oppose him only because of their professional aspirations, is also cheap rhetoric. Is that also why Perry supporters support him, because they want a job? Speculating on motives gets us nowhere. The truth is, our motives are often mixed. Many fiscal conservatives have misgivings regarding Perry not because they want jobs in a Romney administration, or not only for that reason, but because they (also?) believe Romney is far better equipped to manage the current financial crisis and guide the country back toward economic health.
Let’s see if we can get to the heart of the matter. I realize this is going to upset some of my fellow conservatives who read this blog. But my job here is to speak honestly. So I’ll be honest with you. Perry scares me. He embarrasses me. He makes me uneasy.
If there’s one thing I have done frequently in my writings on political matters, it’s defending against caricatures. I’ve rejected the caricature of the Tea Party, rejected the caricature of Sarah Palin, and rejected the caricature of conservative Christians from Christine O’Donnell to Michele Bachmann. I’m not about to caricature Rick Perry. He’s no “dominionist,” i.e., someone who believes that Christians should rule (and take by violence, if necessary) all the power centers of society and impose an Old Testament or theocratic law. That’s rubbish. And yes, he considers climate change and evolution overhyped and oversold — but so do most Americans. Those beliefs are not unreasonable in themselves; what matters is the way in which you came to them.
So what concerns me so much about Rick Perry? He’s a strong proponent of limited government — which I favor. He’s strongly opposed to abortion — and I am too. So what’s the problem? The truth is, I have a hard time defining what I find so unsettling about him. I’ll try to flesh it out in a series of posts on this blog in the weeks and months to come. But here are a couple quick thoughts:
1. Even for a Christian and a conservative like myself, Rick Perry’s brand of god-and-country politics goes too far. To be sure, he’s no theocrat. But there is a subtle blurring of the lines between the church and the state amongst Perry and his devotees that could end up greatly damaging the church. Political leaders cannot be religious leaders. I do not mean that he cannot pray in public; but Perry managed to position himself as a kind of political, cultural and pseudo-religious savior all at once, someone who would restore small government, a respect for law and life, and a commitment to fundamental Judeo-Christian values and truths.
When church and state grow intertwined, the state always wins, and the church is distorted. This is because the state appeals to the flesh, appeals to our natural inclinations toward power, fortune and fame. The church asks you to put these inclinations aside. When the two enmesh, and the state becomes the means for the church’s ends, then eventually you find religious leaders so thoroughly imbricated in the pursuit of power, fortune and fame that they cannot find their way out. Another way of putting this is: When the church and state are enmeshed, the church cannot gain the distance it needs to speak prophetically over against the state and the culture it sanctions. Thus the earlier generation of the Religious Right, when it lost its way, essentially became incapable of criticizing the GOP. This is not healthy for the church, and it’s not healthy for the state, which always needs a prophetic critique.
I hope my fellow Christians will think long and hard on these things before they support Rick Perry. There’s a sense of mounting pseudo-messianic expectation around Perry. He’s happy to accept the religious adulation of conservative Christians, for political purposes. It’s worrisome.
2. The world is a complicated place, and Perry sees things too much in black and white. To be sure, I believe in truth and falsehood, right and wrong. I never felt that Bush was in the wrong when he called some things good and some things evil. But how those truths are understood and how those goods are enacted are very complex things. I’ve seen no evidence so far that Perry understands the world in all its numerous layers of complexity.
This is not to say that he’s unintelligent or foolish. He is a very accomplished governor. Fools don’t get that far. It’s more of a mindset. Voting for Rick Perry feels like a vote for battling the opposition; it’s putting a bruiser in the ring, someone who will take the fight to the Democrats and then cut loose like a bull in the beltway China shop, breaking up the old Washington order. And I too feel like we need dramatic change. But we need exactly the right kinds of changes, in exactly the right order and the right timing and the right modulation. We are at a delicate moment in our history. If we mismanage the transformations that we so desperately need right now, we are going to suffer for years, even decades. I’m not sure that Rick Perry is the right person to manage this tremendously precarious moment in our national history.
A vote for Perry feels destructive — in the best sense, destructive of those things that seem to conservatives like they are the enemies of the state. A vote for Romney, to me, feels constructive. I’m open to having my mind changed on this, but Romney communicates the optimism and hope of Reagan, whereas Perry feels like a battleship in the culture war.
I also don’t think that Perry could win. This is not going to be a cakewalk. Electability is important. As the public gets to know Perry better, I firmly believe they’re going to like him less. And if he did win, would we spend 4-8 years making apologies and explanations for a President who says the Fed chairman is guilty of “treason”? A guy whose swagger turns off half the country, and half the world?
3. Finally, this is just an impression, a personal sense, but I feel a kind of falseness to Rick Perry. There is a kind of performance he presents in order to win the support of the religious right. And another performance to win the backing of the Tea Party. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t believe the things he says he believes. He almost surely does. But I think Rick Perry believes, first and foremost, in Rick Perry. I hate to say this, but in many ways he feels like the mirror image of Barack Obama — a conservative, Texas farmer version of Obama, as far to the Right as Obama is to the Left, as anti-intellectual as Obama is fawningly pro-intellectual, but ultimately shifting and performing in order to advance himself. There is a kind of arrogance and self-interest in Rick Perry that I think people on both sides of the aisle should be able to recognize.
I realize many people say the same thing about Romney. But I haven’t seen Romney perform his religious beliefs in the way Perry has performed his. Maybe Romney has changed his views on a point or two, in part because of political expedience. But the whole of Perry feels rather like an act. Friends who know Romney (and know him well) say that he is, through and through, a man of great integrity. Friends who know Perry (and know him well) say that he is not. The word “slimy” comes up repeatedly.
Again, I’m just beginning to observe Rick Perry. As a matter of intellectual integrity, I should keep an open mind. And I will. And I’ll write about this more as I sort through my feelings. But right now I’m not liking what I’m seeing. Sorry.