Roger L. Simon

Is Rick Perry a Dope?

Despite being the longest serving governor of one of our most populous states, a state currently generating more jobs than the rest of the country combined (or close), Rick Perry is supposed to be a dummy. At least, that’s what some of the lefty blogs and pundits would have us believe — you know, brainy types like Ed Schultz.

I am a graduate of two so-called elite Ivy League universities and I never noticed this problem when I met Perry. But never mind. Maybe an intellectually-challenged reputation is good to have from a stealth point of view. Remember Tom Sawyer and that fence?

Unfortunately, however, the jig is up. As of the last few days “Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America” has been making the rapid rounds on Kindle (#2 in “politics and current events”). This download is actually a longish chapter excerpted from a work-in-progress by Sasha Issenberg — “The Victory Lab” — about new, scientifically-based campaign techniques said to be transforming the American electoral process.

The chief architect of Perry’s strategies — and central figure in the chapter — is Dave Carney, a hulking three hundred pound, six foot four political pro from New Hampshire who once worked for George H. W. Bush. Said to be camera shy, if Perry wins, or even if he is nominated, Carney is likely to become as much of a household political name as Karl Rove or David Axelrod.

Indeed, if I were Axelrod, I would have been up last night poring over “Rick Perry and His Eggheads.” It’s filled with radical ideas about campaigning. Carney abjures such staples as lawn signs, targeted mailings, robocalls (Thank God!) and even, to a large extent, TV ads. He advocates instead personal appearances and flesh-pressing by the candidate, taking it to the people, as it were, something for which Perry clearly has a gift. This, in turn, generates a constant flow of media coverage on old and, perhaps more importantly, new media (Twitter, Facebook, even ye olde PJM).

Indeed, the MSM is almost purposefully disdained (up to a point, anyway). In his recent campaign for governor, Perry refused even to meet with the editorial boards of leading Texas newspapers, preferring to spend time with actual voters.

This strategy — which is counter to decades of conventional political wisdom — comes from research undertaken for Perry and detailed by Issenberg in the chapter. Several years ago Carney brought in a pair of liberal Yalie academics to test the efficacy of various traditional campaign techniques and came up with the surprising findings. This resulted in changes in tactics and the supposedly-dumb Texas governor won re-election big, twice.

Will these tactics work well on the national stage? Time, as that hoariest of cliches reminds us, will tell. But it is worth noting that the three first — and highly significant — primary states respond well to Perry-style retail politicking. And as the stage expands, the media entourage that success engenders will only grow, following the victorious candidates like you-know-who trailing soldiers in war time.

But let’s examine the larger question of political leadership and intellect, at least as reflected in academic achievement. Many of our recent presidents and presidential candidates were Ivy Leaguers. Interestingly, however, only Clinton was much of a student. Bush was so-so. John Kerry was worse and Gore was a disaster. For some reason we don’t know how Obama did at Columbia, Harvard or even the less prestigious Occidental College, this even with the 1939-1940 JFK Harvard records readily available online. Is somebody hiding something? Whatever the case, the popular wisdom that liberals are smarter academically than conservatives is silly. As one who attended those institutions (as a liberal), I can attest to that.

I can also attest to the fact that an Ivy League education isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Whatever small accomplishments I have in life are not easily traceable to my academic achievements  (even though I was considerably closer to Clinton than Gore in class ranking). Arguably, the most successful president of the post-war period, Ronald Reagan, attended the ultra-obscure Eureka College. I don’t know what his grades were and I don’t much care. All I know is he got Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” (Not exactly, but you know what I mean.)

Turning to Perry, he was a mediocre student at Texas A & M, a school that emphasizes a more practical form of education than Yale. What does this mean? Don’t know, but these days going to an Ivy no longer appears to be the royal road to career success it once was. This study of Top 10 Job Placement Colleges only shows one Ivy, Cornell, in the tenth position. Number one, not surprisingly, is The University of Texas at Austin.

Perhaps more importantly… and amusingly… this study from the Wall Street Journal shows Perry’s Texas A & M the number two choice of corporate job recruiters with nary an Ivy in sight until Cornell (again) at fourteen. Harvard, Princeton and Yale did not make the top twenty-five.

So if Rick Perry is a dope, he’s the kind of dope we need. But obviously, he’s not. It’s all projection and wish fulfillment.