Is Rick Perry a 'sucker,' or was he just lying?

Here’s a good catch by Kevin Drum, by one of his readers in Iowa, and then by the Des Moines Register:Rick Perry Gets Suckered by an Urban Legend.”

From Kevin’s reader:

I was at the Iowa State Fair today and caught Rick Perry’s speech. He started talking about this stupid new regulation that would require farmers to get commercial drivers licenses if they drive their tractors across the road. I remember reading about this very issue on your blog so I yelled “That’s not true” a couple of times (as can barely be heard on the video at the link) and later asked the Des Moines Register’s political editor to fact check the story.

I exchanged emails with her tonight and she sent me a link to their story.

That’s pretty awesome. My only quibble is Kevin’s headline — “Rick Perry Gets Suckered.”

That’s the most charitable possibility — that Perry didn’t know what he was talking about and passed along a right-wing urban legend as truth. But it doesn’t seem to be the most likely possibility.

It seems far likelier that Rick Perry wasn’t himself “suckered,” but rather that he was just trying to sucker Iowans into believing what he knew to be a steaming pile of nonsense.

Here’s what Perry said:

You need to free up the employers of this country to create jobs. Get rid of the regulations that are stifling jobs in America. Free up this country from these stifling regulations. Let me give you just an … this is such an obscene, crazy regulation. They want to make … if you’re a tractor driver, if you drive your tractor across a public road, you’re going to have to have a commercial driver’s license. Now how idiotic is that?

Maybe he really believed that. Maybe the single example of “stifling regulations” that he chose for his stump speech was some wild rumor that, despite being a state governor, he never bothered to check into or to have an aide check into. Maybe he is as naive and gullible and prone to misplaced knee-jerk indignation as the Facebook fools denouncing stories from The Onion thinking they’re true.

But for that to be true, Rick Perry would have to be really lazy and really gullible.

It seems far likelier that Rick Perry was just assuming that his audience was that lazy, that gullible, that naive and that prone to misplaced, knee-jerk indignation.

It seems far likelier, in other words, that Rick Perry didn’t get suckered by this urban legend, but was retelling it to his audience in order to sucker them — to sucker them into supporting his candidacy, to sucker them into thinking that government is always their enemy, and to sucker them into thinking that unfettered, unregulated giant corporations are their friends.

The likeliest explanation for Rick Perry telling this foolish falsehood at the Iowa State Fair is that Rick Perry was lying and that he has so little respect for the decency and common sense of Iowans that he thought he could get away with it.

The presumption of charity teaches us not to presume that someone is lying just because they said something that isn’t true. That presumption works much like the presumption of innocence in criminal court — innocent until proven guilty, or misinformed until proven mendacious.

There’s an impressive circumstantial case against Perry here. He ought to have known better and could easily have found out the readily available truth. He claims to be upset about this, but he never did what any reasonable person would reasonably be expected to do if upset about such a thing — he never checked into it. And he had motive — his falsehood benefited him personally and benefited the interests with which he is allied and benefited the corporate donors who have enriched his campaign.

So I’d ask the jury to consider which is more likely: That Perry is merely gullible and lazy? Or that his self-serving falsehood was deliberate?

There remain two more pieces of evidence that should settle that question. First, will Perry correct his earlier falsehood? And second, will he continue to repeat it?

If he never corrects it, and especially if he continues to repeat it after being corrected by the Register, then I think the presumption of charity can reasonably be replaced with a conclusion of guilt.

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