I happened upon Rick Perry’s speech this weekend in a manner typical of myself. I had just turned the TV on to program my DVR to record some obscure foreign cultural something-or-other when the Texas governor appeared onscreen to announce his candidacy for president. I had never seen Perry speak before. I’d asked my knowledgeable friends about him. Some loved him; some said he was a twit. I sat down to watch to see for myself. Here is what I saw.
The speech started out uncomfortably. I was put off by the mawkish tribute to the fallen Navy SEALs at the beginning. Our hallowed dead are worthy of every honor, but there was something ever-so-slightly unpleasant about a politician attempting to harness our grief and pride in order to serve a moment of career self-advancement.
Then came Perry’s life story. His childhood on a cotton farm in the tiny town of Paint Creek, Texas; his wooing of the childhood sweetheart who became his wife; his graduation from Texas A&M; his stint in the Air Force. I hadn’t heard it before and was interested and favorably impressed.
Next there was the red meat indictment of the current administration for its abominable failure on almost every score. I like red meat as much as the next man and I joined the crowd’s applause from my sofa. After all, Barack Obama’s failure is so abysmal and complete that he’s turned even the killing of Osama bin Laden into an asterisk. It can’t be told often enough.
But then came something better, something really good. Perry, whose state holds ten percent of the country’s population and yet is responsible for more than 40 percent of new American jobs created since June 2009, began to talk more or less specifically about his approach to the economy. Ticking off four goals on his fingers – controlled spending, low taxes, fair and simple regulations, and tort reform – he outlined his accomplishments in Texas and his plans for the nation.
With this, the Perry speech began to lift off and become truly elegant and excellent. It was a repudiation not merely of Barack Obama and his horrible record, but of the underlying ideas that guide and motivate them. This is what we need. This is what we have to have. We need smart politics – sure. We need a reasonably appealing and scandal-free candidate – of course. But if that candidate is not willing to speak out loud and bold against Obama’s ideas and in favor of the ideas of the American founders then we cannot win the minds of the people for the business that has to be done. Beyond pat phrases like “big government,” and “low taxes,” and “balanced budget,” we conservatives have got to let people know what we stand for and why. Perry did that – he made a beginning anyway. And he made it clear he’s not afraid to say much more.
“I’ll promise you this,” Perry said, winding up to his peroration:
I’ll work every day to make Washington, D.C. as inconsequential in your life as I can.
When I heard that, my heart actually stirred. Now there – there – is hope and change I can believe in.
Perry’s speech was good. It was damned good. I thought a chill wind of fear must have blown through this miserable excuse for a White House when they heard it. Perry still faces a lot of obstacles: primaries, unfair media coverage and the dirt-digging of the opposition. But his ideas are right and the left’s are wrong – his ideas work and theirs don’t – his ideas tend toward freedom, theirs toward stagnation and collapse.
If he can continue to make that case as forcefully as he did this weekend, he’s in with a chance.
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