Rick Perry: The Middle Finger of the Right

Rick Perry: The Middle Finger of the Right September 14, 2011

The Presidential primary pains me to watch.  Not because the candidates are atrocious — I don’t think they are, and regular readers will know that I think highly of Mitt Romney — but because I don’t enjoy arguing with my fellow conservatives.  Actually, I really don’t enjoy arguing at all.  I could once argue for the sheer enjoyment of it, but then I saw relationships damaged through those arguments and became averse to stringent arguments.  When I speak up on some controversial matter, it’s because I feel compelled to defend the truth as I see it, and because I think (when I do) that I can bring clarity to the matter.

What can I say?  I’m a lover, not a fighter.

The problem when you write in favor of a particular candidate in the primary is that you win the opposition of (a) all the people who favor the other party and (b) all the people who favor another candidate in the primary.  In my case, this amounts to about 85% of my friends.  I don’t like arguing in general, but I really don’t like arguing against those who typically defend me and my points of view.  Ah well.

Yesterday I wrote my first piece at Evangelicals for Mitt.  It addressed a question that had been posed by David French: Why is Rick Perry considered more conservative than Mitt Romney?  Both have gone through less-conservative stretches in their past.  Romney was once pro-choice, and passed a health care bill some believe runs against the principles of conservatism; Perry was a Democrat not too long ago, campaigned for Al Gore, and advanced an immigration law very similar to Obama’s DREAM Act.  When it comes to their current positions, both are conservatives on fiscal, social and foreign matters.

So here, in a nutshell, is the theory I advanced.  The mainstream media perceives Perry as more conservative because they associate thoroughgoing conservatism with certain cultural trappings — a Texan accent, cowboy boots, coarser forms of communication, an A&M degree, a simple black-and-white style of communication, and so on.  For the liberal intelligentsia, those who appear more sophisticated and intelligent (in the way they expect intelligence to look) will generally be more liberal, and those who seem more rural and course will generally be more conservative.  Worse, Rick-Perry-like qualities not only scream “extreme conservative” in their ears, but they are also found irritating in the extreme.

Many conservatives too have fallen into the trap of believing that someone who looks like an elite New Englander simply cannot be as thoroughly conservative, especially on social matters, as someone who looks like a Texas rancher.  And when they see the Texas rancher assailed by the liberal media, this tells conservatives that this is “one of them.”  Romney, they think, looks too much like the limousine liberals to believe the same thing as the Texan rancher believes.  So conservatives defend the Texas rancher, insisting that he isn’t stupid and the America he represents really is worth preserving — and in the process of defending him they become attached to him.  The harder the MSM attacks him (or, more often in recent years, attacks her), the more often the Right defends him, and the more possessive they become of him.

Here are a couple paragraphs of what I wrote:

Just because the Left hates him does not mean we have to love him.  Just because he causes the veins in their heads to explode, does not mean that he’s the guy.

Supporting Rick Perry is one way for middle America to lift a big, white, hairy middle finger in the faces of the cultural elites.  If they say that the Rick Perrys of the world are racist, backward, ignorant troglodytes, then we’ll defend him come hell or high water and we’ll even subject the haters to a Rick Perry presidency.  One gets the impression that Mitt Romney could attend a dinner with New York liberals and have the grace and decency and savvy to get along with them.  Romney is redolent of the Northeast; can anything conservative come from Boston?  But that’s not what a substantial portion of the American electorate wants right now.  They want a two-fisted political brawler who offends and sneers at and stomps upon the liberal opposition.  They want someone who will take out their anger vicariously upon the establishment.  Sending Perry to Washington would be like sending a battleship straight into the culture war’s most contested waters.  He takes all the punishment, and he returns fire with gusto, but that doesn’t mean he’d be a better President.

Please read the rest, but note that this is not a fleshed-out argument against Perry.  This is just a perspective on the support for Perry and how it arises, in part, as a reflection of the Left’s attacks against him.  That’s why I said, in an earlier (much-criticized) post more critical of Perry,

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  • I think you’re onto something about Perry’s image being a large part of why he’s perceived as more conservative. As a Texan, though, I’d add that his actual policies, especially his refusal to accept federal stimulus money, have set him apart, conservatively speaking. I say this as a conservative with a strong dislike of Perry.

    • And by the way, when you say Perry campaigned for Gore as a Democrat “not too long ago”, you do realize that anything over a decade counts as a long time ago, right?

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        You’re right, James. My bad.

        By the way, he apparently didn’t “chair” the Gore campaign in Texas, as is often reported. But he did campaign for him, in 1988:



        • Brad

          The scuttle I read confirms what I suspected. Gore in 88 was proLife southerner. Palatable to most conservative southern voters in the D party at that time.
          Perry was at best a “co-chair” who held what was a largely ceremonial position in the ill-starred Gore prez candidacy.

  • Taylor

    James, as a Texan, I’m pretty sure Perry only gave lip service to not taking federal stimulus money. There are construction projects all over the state that are the result of that money.

    • Texas Independebt

      While Perry sneered at the stimulus funds, he and Texas accepted $6.1 billion. And when the wildfires were burning homes outside Austin, judging from the rhetoric, Perry’s people were pretty dang mad when it took about 24 hours for the Obama administration to approve the state’s request for a disaster declaration.

    • Yes, you are right. I only mentioned that because the discussion was about Perry’s image, not reality.

  • Chris B. Behrens

    I’d say that Sarah Palin is the middle finger of the right. And as far as Rick Perry’s conservatism versus Romney’s, where is the Perry policy that parallels RomneyCare, which Romney refuses to repudiate? Gardasil, Trans-Texas Corridor? Bah. Even immigration is a mixed bag.

    RomneyCare is the deal-breaker for me. The tragedy for Romney is that it’s really the ONLY problem for me, and all of the other primary voters. But for whatever odd reason, he’s never been willing to fully walk away from it. In the end, he will have chosen his attachment to that plan over the nomination, I think.

  • Greg Metzger

    I think you would be better off saying Romney is better, rather than that he is more conservative, especially because by conservative so many mean Christian culture warrior–something that Romney by definition is not. He is a better president for America than Perry, not a better Christian conservative.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Well, for internal reasons, it’s important to respond to the contention that Perry is the true representative of conservatism. He better represents a certain cultural form for what conservatives are supposed to look and act like. But when it comes down to actual policies on social, economic and foreign matters, it’s not clear that Perry is any more conservative than Romney is.


  • Kevin Foytik

    I think you’re right about the right’s relationship to Perry, but there’s something about your post (and posts in general) that never sits well with me. It sounds silly when you use phrases like “liberal intelligentsia” and “cultural elites.” It’s just as ridiculous as liberals using “conservative “hatemongers,” “conservative troglodytes,” and “conservative corporate cronies.” Sure, these words provide an easy way to signal your affiliation with other conservatives. But they also caricature the other side (thus discouraging liberals from trying to converse with you) and imply that you’re more interested in securing your group’s dominance than defending your ideals (thus disenchanting any moderates who might otherwise have resonated with your message). So, if you’re willing to take advice from the “liberal intelligentsia,” ditch the shibboleths and adopt some more inclusive language. It’s the only way you’ll advance your ideas beyond your own backyard.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      One difference between “liberal intelligentsia” and “conservative troglodytes” is that “intelligentsia” is not a pejorative whereas “troglodytes” is. When I refer to liberal intelligentsia, I’m using a generalization to refer to people of liberal political persuasions who are academics, commentators, think tankers, and (in some cases) journalists. If I say that the liberal intelligentsia tend to associate coarseness with conservatism, this should be understood as a generalization. Sometimes generalizations are helpful. Sometimes they’re true. I don’t mean to use it as a Shibboleth or some kind of conservative gang sign. I use it because it’s a helpful and necessary shorthand. If you try writing much commentary without using generalizations like this, you’ll find it’s virtually impossible. One just has to generalize responsibly.

      Even a generalization like “conservative hatemongers” can be helpful, if one is referring to people who are conservative and hatemongers. If one is using this as a term to describe all conservatives, then obviously it’s silly. But I can refer to “compassionate conservatives” and “selfish conservatives” and do so in a fair and responsible way. So if you disagree with the particular contentions (that the liberal intelligentsia tend to see things in way X), then I’d love to hear about it. But I don’t really feel any compunction about using phrases like that. If the liberal intelligentsia really do tend (*tend*) to see things in way X, then it’s perfectly fine to say so. But if they don’t, or if half do and half don’t, then it’s a sweeping generalization that confuses more than it clarifies.


      • Kevin Foytik

        I’m not arguing for us to discard all generalizations. However, the kind that I see your blog are indeed pejorative, or could at least be interpreted as such. Many conservatives have used phrases like “liberal intelligentsia” as indicating an arrogant, self-satisfied demeanor. These people tend to disparage advanced degrees and careers in academia, claims that are almost always coupled with a sneering disgust. Obviously, you’re not one of those people, since you’re associated with both indicators of education. But what I’m concerned about is the us-versus-them mentality this kind of language promotes. It’s prejudice, plain and simple, and not all that different from words like “kike” or “heeb,” which, by the way, were and are used against many Jews for the same reasons: a hysterical fear of cultural invasion by wealthy, educated elites.

  • You may not like arguing, and you may not like to watch Republican candidates arguing, but in many ways it is good for you and good for them. It strengthens your convictions when you are compelled to defend them. I’ve watched the last two Republican debates and have been very encouraged precisely because of the contentiousness. For the most part, the arguments have been remarkably substantive. As a Texan who has followed Perry for many years, I have a lot of problems with him, and cringed at the thought of him entering the presidential race. However, watching the debates, it is easy to understand his appeal. It is visceral. He comes across as the living, breathing embodiment of his positions. Romney, who is better by orders of magnitude than in 08, is quite articulate and convincing on an intellectual level. Even so, I can’t help but get the feeling that Mitt is promoting and defending his conservative positions in order to win an election whereas Perry is articulating similar positions because that’s who he is at the core. It may indeed be a sophisticated ruse by Perry, but from my perspective as someone who was fully prepared to oppose him, it works to cast him in a favorable light. I’m still disenchanted with many of Perry’s past activities,. But now I’m thankful he is in the race, because his confidently overpowering presence will strengthen whoever ends up getting the nomination.

    • Ellen

      @Ralph: I think you’re spot on. As my husband and I watched each of the three debates, I really tried to like Romney. It doesn’t happen. Perry has an appeal to people because they feel he’s just like them. That being said, however, I’m not sure that’s right for the country. We need someone who can articulate both a vision and the plan that backs up the vision, which Perry hasn’t done yet. He’s great at slogans and quips, but there’s no substance in what he’s said. And I think 12 months of campaigning will find lots of things in his history that may be less than favorable. And Texas rubs a lot of people east of the Appalachians the wrong way (I can say that having lived both places).

      What scares me most is that people voting in Republican primaries may well forget the wise words of William F. Buckley: “Vote for the most conservative guy that can win.” These folks need to remember that the candidate who appeals most to them may not be the one that can defeat the President in the next election.

  • Randy G

    No doubt, there is truth in what you’ve brought up, Tim. Part of the problem with arriving at our opinions of candidates in this manner is that it is hard to get a clear “read” on many of them. Is there any such thing as a “pure” conservative, and what would that look like anyway? Adopting the old adage, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” may have a lot of appeal, especially in the face of complicated people who never seem to quite measure up to our expectations, but it’s also a convenient way out of doing the hard work necessary to find out what candidates really believe. At least, it is for me.

    Perhaps some of our Texan brothers and sisters can help us with one bit of confusion. I heard one commentator who claimed to be familiar with Perry say basically that he liked his stated positions and rhetoric, but always got the bottom-line impression that he is “slimey.” Any insights as to why that label might be appropriate?

  • John Haas

    I think you’re right, that so much of our politics is driven by (forgive this) “elective dis-affinity.” Perhaps you’ve seen the old bumper sticker from 1964: “Annoy The Media: Vote Goldwater.” When did this begin? Certainly it was already up and running by 1828, where a vote for Jackson was an effective way to distinguish yourself from the John Quincy Adams’s and N. Biddle’s of the land–people who not only lived in a different world from yourself, but who disdained you and your world. Peter Viereck (a kind of conservative) lamented the effects of this populist resentment on the conservative movement in the ’50s and ’60s. And while there is much, often shockingly cruel and misplaced, disdain for rural conservatives among liberals, I’m not convinced their politics is actually animated by this disdain in the same way (this is not to argue for any relative superiority on either side–it’s just different). Liberals, back in 1972 when they had a real liberal to vote for, weren’t trying to piss-off conservatives. They wanted to end the war. I think this is because if you’re a liberal, for much of the century, you could ignore conservatives and even forget they existed. Now and then you’d run into some guy selling literature about the gold standard or the Rothschilds at a swap meet, but that was rare. Conservatives cannot forget the degree to which America is run by liberals: from the media, to numerous people on the street, to their own candidates (who seem to never deliver much on issues they care about–from shrinking the government to energy in the pro-life cause). And, to the degree that conservative and liberal maps onto a rural-urban split (which is imperfectly, to be sure, and more at the level of symbols and atmospherics of the kind you’ve indicated here), it is very much the case that rural American lifestyles were all but vanquished long ago. For those who find their likes aligned with that way of life, America is a frustrating and gloomy place indeed, but, again, it’s not as if any conservative candidate can do anything about that. In part, for these folk, voting becomes a way of protesting modernity–a way of joining Bill Buckley athwart history and shouting “Stop!” It doesn’t stop of course, and therein is something like a tragedy.

  • hillplus

    Has anyone spent any time looking over rickperry.org? I feel that we would be electing another largely empty suit with a ‘corporate crony’ background. I wanted to like Perry and if he is the nominee, I will vote for him, BUT, the more I get to know the guy, the more I distrust him.

  • Supporting Rick Perry is one way for middle America to lift a big, white, hairy middle finger in the faces of the cultural elites.

    Wow, Tim. It sounds to me like you really don’t think very charitably about your fellow conservatives. Maybe we aren’t thinking at all about the cultural elites (and maybe you’ve hung out with them a bit too long if you think we are that preoccupied with them).

    Maybe we just want to nominate someone with plenty of executive experience and a better job creation record than Dukakis. Maybe we want someone whose health care plan didn’t include an individual mandate that many of us view as constitutionally questionable. Maybe we want to nominate someone who doesn’t choose to give more power to the pro-abortion planned parenthood as part of ‘healthcare.’

    I’m not sure if Perry is the answer, but I know I don’t trust Romney, not even a little bit.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Nothing wrong with giving the cultural elites the middle finger 🙂 And I don’t say it’s the only reason for support of Perry. Far from it.


  • Oh, and why don’t I view Perry as unreliably conservative? While I’m not sure I trust Perry, I think its difficult to make a strong case for distrust out of his democratic past.

    He was a TEXAS Democrat in the 80’s. Before the 90’s Texas and many other southern states were pretty much ‘one-party’ states. Texas Democrats from the 80’s weren’t nearly as liberal as current Democrats (in fact, I consider many Northeastern Republicans to be more liberal than Southern Dems from the 80s). Finally, he was a Democrat more than 20 years ago. Also he switched to the Republican party in one of the earlier waves of ‘southern party switchers’. So he was not a blatantly opportunistic late-comer to the party.

    Since I immigration is not a huge issue for me, I think his choices have been reasonable enough and might even improve his electability. So that’s not a big ‘red flag’ in my book.

    Still, Perry has some obvious drawbacks. Unnuances rhetoric, an inconsistant record, and a pragmatic streak that might be interpreted as opportunistic. He might not be trustworthy…. but it is hard to find anything as obviously unconservative as ‘RomneyCare’ in his executive record.

  • John Haas

    After the Florida debate, Mark Shields described Rick Perry as the only compassionate conservative on the stage. This past week, Perry was pressed on Texas’s in-state tuition policy for the illegal immigrants:


    Dave Connors, a 67-year-old small-business owner told Perry that the tuition policy didn’t “make any sense.”

    Perry said it was a state’s rights issue that the overwhelming majority of Texas officials thought would benefit the local economy.

    The question, he said, was whether undocumented immigrants would be on the “government dole” using state social welfare programs or a subsidized education program that would allow them to become productive members of society.

    “In Texas, we made the decision that it was in our best interests as a state, economically and otherwise, to have those young people in our institutions of higher learning and becoming educated as part of our skilled workforce,” Perry said. “If you don’t want to do that in your state, I absolutely respect that right.”


    It seems to me Perry has actually absorbed the basic premise of the New Deal as accepted by Democrats and Republicans for most of the 20th c., ie that government spending that increases productivity and prosperity is a good investment. That would also make him more truly–in the Burkean sense–conservative than his stage-mates (though I suspect Romney is in that camp, too).