Although humorist S.J. Perelman popularized the phrase “crazy like a fox” with his 1944 book of the same title, Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry seems to fit the bill exactly in 2011. Perry has slyly kept out of the media spotlight for most of this year, only recently gaining widespread attention with his appearance at ‘The Response’ evangelical rally in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. With crowd estimates ranging from 15,000 to over 30,000, conservative estimates indicate at least 20,000 turned out for seven hours of prayer, gospel hymns and fasting. The event was not without controversy, given the anti-gay rhetoric of co-sponsors American Family Association and Focus on the Family. But in the end the rally would probably be viewed a success under normal circumstances, given that only 8,000 people had pre-registered.
Nonetheless, the rally might have gone largely unnoticed to most, but then the house of cards known as the U.S. economy seemed to come crashing down, almost on cue. On Friday, Standard & Poor’s ominously downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time after markets had closed for the weekend. The downgrade alone could have spurred greater interest in the rally, as Americans are becoming increasingly frustrated with their financial prospects and many turn to religion to fill the void. To add insult to injury, the United States suffered a major setback in Afghanistan on Saturday, as 30 U.S. troops were killed, 22 of them Navy SEALs, in the single deadliest attack on U.S. military forces since combat operations began. Only two weeks earlier, on July 22, Norway was shocked by a nightmarish twin attack in Oslo that claimed the lives of 77 people, many of them teenagers. The negative news continued on Monday as the stock market took a turn for the worse, with all three U.S. stock indexes losing between 5% and 7%.
In previous weeks many political analysts had viewed Perry’s participation in the rally as foolhardy, or at best a wash. Instead, in a stroke of blind luck, Perry is poised to look almost heroic for his at-times tearful weekend performance, particularly as reports leak of President Obama playing golf over the weekend. Perry’s political gamble seems to have paid off, and his campaign seems ready to pounce. There is widespread speculation Perry will give a “soft” announcement of his candidacy this Saturday at the RedState Gathering in Charleston, South Carolina. Such an unofficial announcement would not only draw attention away from the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, in which Perry is not listed as a candidate, but would also allow Perry to continue to amass donors and staff members without adhering to the stricter guidelines that fall into place once a candidate officially announces. When and if Perry finally does officially announce his candidacy he could very well find himself near the head of the pack. Recent aggregate polling data from Real Clear Politics shows Perry closing in on Mitt Romney, with Perry polling at 14.4% versus Romney at 19.6%, on average.
Perry is in a comfortable position that allows him to sit in the wings as his competitors face media scrutiny and attacks from each other. As soon as Perry announces he will face immediate scrutiny himself. Atlantic Monthly recently published a piece on what some consider Perry’s most negative attributes. Some of them are not easy to get around. In 2009, for example, Perry seemingly openly called for Texas to secede from the Union, a stance that many found to be unpatriotic and irresponsible. Others are appalled by media reports that Perry has been known to carry a pistol while jogging (specifically, a laser-sighted .380 Ruger with hollow-tip bullets), ostensibly because he is afraid of snakes. Others view Perry as simply another good ol’ boy from Texas who will only offer a continuation of Bush-era policies. (Interestingly enough, the two Texans reportedly have a strong dislike of each other). On a variety of other issues Perry is seen as out-of-step with large parts of the country: environmental protection, social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, education (he has advocated for intelligent design), the death penalty, etc.
Yet, despite his idiosyncrasies Perry will look very good to many Americans, at least on paper. He is an evangelical Protestant (Methodist), which, although off-putting to some is very appealing to a large segment of the population. He has been governor of Texas for over 10 years, which makes him the longest continuously serving current U.S. governor and also makes him the longest-serving governor in Texas history. As governor of a border state, some speculate that Perry would be more equipped to handle the complex politics of immigration. Perry has also shown admirable courage at times. For example, in 2007 Perry advocated for all Texas girls to receive the HPV (human papillomavirus) before reaching 6th grade, a political risk that was hugely unpopular with social conservatives and which is a cause of hostility toward him even today.
As governor he oversees an economy of $1.2 trillion, the second-largest in the United States. Perry’s calls for limited government, less regulation and low taxes have made him a hero to many. Texas has maintained a low cost of living and relatively low unemployment rates (8.2% in June, versus the national average of 9.2%) and accounts for 37% of all net job creation nationwide since the economic recovery began. Whether the robust Texas economy can be attributed to Perry is another question entirely. A fair point is that many traits of the Texas economy are simply policies inherited from previous administrations. Texas has the good fortune of being blessed with a wealth of natural resources, including oil, minerals and seaport access. Texas has also benefited of course from cheap immigrant labor. Still others describe the Texas economy as a race to the bottom, and an experiment in economic liberalism at its most cynical. Critics cite, for example, statistics from 2010 which indicate that 9.5% of Texas hourly workers are paid at minimum wage or less, an embarrassing distinction Texas shares with Mississippi.
Once Perry officially recognizes his candidacy, which seems inevitable at this point, we will learn much about the man, the governor, and his policies, whether we want to or not. One issue that will surely rise to the surface is the controversial execution in 2011 of Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia, but that discussion is for another time. Perry will be a force to be reckoned with during the Republican primary season, and he has the potential to draw from a deep well of supporters including social conservatives, libertarians and Tea Party activists. He may have difficulties appealing to some moderates if he wins the primary, but politically it’s easier to move toward the center than move to the right.
But for the foreseeable future what many Americans will remember is that on Saturday, Aug. 6 Perry prayed for America during a free rally open to the public in an urban city in Texas. While juvenile to some, the gesture alone could mean thousands of votes and thousands of supporters. Romney and Obama would do well to tiptoe around the subject of the rally in any debates or discussions. It will be difficult to defend a criticism of Perry’s most popular quote from the event, especially when so many millions of Americans are struggling to survive financially and spiritually:
“Lord, you are the source of every good thing, you are our only hope. And we stand before you today in awe of your power, and in gratitude for your blessings, in humility for our sins. Father our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see angers in the halls of government. And as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness. We pray for our nation’s leaders, Lord, for parents, for pastors, for the generals, for governors, that you would inspire them in these difficult times. Father we pray for our president, that you would impart your wisdom upon him, that you would guard his family. We pray for our military and the families who love them. Father especially, for those special operators who lost their life yesterday in defending our freedoms. You call us to repent, Lord, and this day is our response. We give it all to you. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.” (Fox News)
Christian Science Monitor, Fox News, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, Huffington Post, Washington Post, ThinkProgress.org, DepartmentOfNumbers.com