Recall in 2011, political watchers had expected Rick Perry to enter the race weeks before he announced. The media started touting their objections early. At the time I was in London blogging as an expat and I wrote an explainer post about the objections. Most of that old post holds up well. Those issues are still relevant, even more relevant, today. Therefore, to my August 2011 analysis I have added 2015 commentary.
In the anticipatory media vetting, the main lines of attack against Perry were illegal immigration, vaccines, the ’empty suit’ and weak Texas governor claims, and the Texas swagger. There were Bush redux objections, too, but those came mostly from serious partisans wishing for the opportunity to run Obama against Bush. Republicans and conservatives knew that the men are very different politically. So on to the vetting claims.
2011: Immigration is a hot topic in the US, just like in the UK. As I stated in that post, US immigration arguments have a different scope than UK arguments. Most of the heat of the US immigration debate is not over immigration but over what to do with existing illegal aliens. Some want to grant amnesty and then secure the border. Others want to secure the border and then talk about some sort of amnesty. The immigration position likely most popular among conservatives is ‘tall fences and wide gates’ most notably championed by Charles Krauthammer, which seeks to secure the border first, then grant amnesty for some, while even increasing legal immigration. Based upon Perry’s immigration policy history, I think he is probably in line with ‘tall fences and wide gates’ position.
The complainers object that Governor Perry has taken contradictory positions on the border, like opposing the border fence while calling for more guards on the border. But those positions aren’t at odds. A border fence along the Mexico/US border is a useless waste. That border is 1969 miles. For perspective, Paris to Moscow is 1544 miles. A fence of that magnitude is of no use unless it is manned, and if the border is manned, then you don’t need the fence. (President Obama recently joked that perhaps we’d want a moat too, but we have a moat, an alligator and snake infested moat, in fact. It is called the Rio Grande.)
Perry supports “strategic fencing” in urban areas to shut down some of the major routes of illegal immigration and more manpower, of the Air National Guard type along the remote areas of the border.
2015: Immigration is still a hot topic, because the problem has been exacerbated by the Obama Administration’s policies. Obama created an implied amnesty when he declared that officers would not enforce US immigration law and opportunists in Central and South America sold it to the desperate as amnesty. This resulted in a flood of immigrants who simply turned themselves in once they reached US soil. Supposedly, the feds shipped the many unaccompanied children all over the country (secretly, of course) but the primary burden for providing for these immigrants has fallen to the border states. (Crowd sourced map of relocations here.) Texas has since sued the federal government for failure to enforce US law and has an active injunction against the non-enforcement policies.
2011: Governor Perry tried to make a Human papillomavirus virus (HPV) vaccine mandatory for girls. There were two types of objection to this effort. One, people think vaccines are dangerous. Due to fraudulent research and lack of experience with diseases that used to devastate, vaccines have fallen out of favor, especially and ironically among the well educated. Therefore, supporting a mandatory vaccine seems heavy handed (probably especially to Europeans for whom vaccines aren’t usually mandatory). This is true even when the illness has the distinction of being one of the few known causes of cancer and an uniquely undetectable and deadly cancer at that. (Most ’causes of cancer’ stories are about things that correlate with cancer.) Perry’s sin is supporting a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer in women. Not exactly a horror. [Who’s waging a war on women again?]
Nevertheless, fundamentalist concerns about promoting promiscuity—the jab prevents a sexually transmitted disease—combined with the anti-vaccine fear mongering and helped stoke the anti-vaccine terror against Gardasil, the HPV vaccine in question. The Texas Legislature overturned Perry’s executive order, even after Perry had softened it with easier opt outs. Perry seems to get it from all sides for this one: from anti-vaccine laymen and fundamentalist conservatives for promoting the vaccine and from professionals for standing up for the vaccine and making the vaccine PR situation worse because it is fashionable for people with credentials to think of Perry as a dolt.
The second objection suggests that Perry is less of a limited government supporter than generally understood; if he liked limited government, why would he mandate healthcare anything? First, even in staunch libertarian circles limited government doesn’t always mean no government standards. Herd immunity is the societal advantage of vaccines. So even for people with strong libertarian tendencies, vaccines can logically fall within acceptable state power. Second, Perry is more federalist than libertarian. We federalists are more concerned about the national government mandating things from afar than state governments mandating things locally. Without going into a US federalist system primer right now [I wrote a Federalism 101 article a few years later], a state governor pushing for state mandates is less worrisome than a president seeking such mandates at the national level. People have more objection power at the local level.
Incidentally, this local government concern is Romney’s essential problem. His only way out of the Romneycare albatross was to show that he was merely a conservative governing a blue state, that Massachusetts wanted state healthcare so he tried to give a conservative version of it, which did not work that well. That is, Romney had to make clear that Masscare was something created specifically for Massachusetts and that he had no intentions of trying similar legislation at the national level. Depending on the facts, on how he sold this point, federalists might have made peace with Romneycare as a conservative solution in a liberal environment. He didn’t do that. We don’t trust him. He can’t win.
2015: The prevailing attitudes about vaccines changed earlier this year with the Disneyland outbreak of measles. Those who thought vaccines too dangerous were people who had never lived though an outbreak. That is, fear of vaccines was only possible in the spectacular wealth and health of the West. Watching children suffer through preventable disease is an horrible and terrifying reality check.
Prior to January, most people simple did not know how prevalent vaccine refusal was. The vaccine debate had raged in the Mommy Wars for about 15 years, but it had never broken into general public knowledge. A quick background:
In 1998, The Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals, published a study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that claimed that a preservative element in the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine was responsible for the rise in autism rates. Jim Carrey and his then wife Jenny McCarthy spearheaded the publicity push for vaccine refusal. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote “Deadly Immunity” for Salon and that bastion of journalism standards, Rolling Stone. While vaccine refusal became fashionable, the “science” became clouded. It turns out, there wasn’t any. The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s article in 2010. A year later a British medical investigation found Dr. Wakefield had forged some of his research and failed to disclose a conflict of interest, specifically that lawyers who planned to sue the vaccine companies were funding his research. They stripped him of his medical license. Meanwhile, the endemic spread of measles had halted in 2000 but rates began to rise in 2004. It was just a matter of time, about 10 years as it happened, before endemic spread in the US returned.
Worse, anti-vaccine fear has a nocebo effect that seems to be fueling outbreaks of conversion disorder, more commonly known as mass hysteria. Piling on the the vaccine revelations, just last month news broke that the highest profile HPV-vaccine-causes-cancer testimony turned out to be a whole foods blogger seeking attention. She never had cancer.
Vaccines are not the terrible big pharma boogie man anymore. It is fear of vaccines that is on the fringe.
And the Texas governor who took a stand for women’s health in the face of loud and fashionable objections—he comes out looking like a leader, because he was.
(As for Romney, well we know how well the Romney campaign did. Run the moderate, they said. He’ll get the crossover votes.)
The Empty Suit and Texas Figurehead governor
2011: These are related accusations that Rick Perry is just a pretty face in the Texas Governor’s office. He’s stupid, albeit with good political instincts, but his stupidity doesn’t affect Texas that much because the Texas governorship is a weak executive. First, the empty suit truth will out, and out quickly. If he gives poor debates, the charge will stick and he will be out of the race. This is one of the big advantages to Perry’s campaign. If it is going to implode, it will do so quickly and not interfere close to the election. Second, a comparison Brtis will get, Texas does have a weak governor, but the office certainly has many more powers than the Queen and she is still quite influential. The Texas governorship is similar.
2015: His margin for debate error is even slimmer than last time. This time, however, he is far more prepared. And he isn’t riding in on a moments notice to save the day. No candidate has ever attempted to recover from these numbers. It is Quixotic. But as the saying goes, “The fastest way to get something done is to tell a Texan it can’t be done.”
The Texas Swagger
2011: Not much to be done about that. That charge will stick. Perry will wear it with pride, in french cuffs and cowboy boots. As he should. (This blog isn’t the place to go for an antidote to the Texas swagger.)
2015: No additional comment for that one. The man has earned it.
2011: Perry should be able to mop the floor with the inept economic policy of the Obama Administration. The differences between the Texas economy and the US economy in this recessionary period are stark. And Obama’s go to defense that he inherited a Bush economy opens him wide to a one line Perry quip: So did I.
Kevin D. Williamson has many background posts on Texas budgets, economy, and school stats. Yet, the Left seems to be counting on the Bush/Texas association. The Guardian thinks they need a plan B. Plan B is mud slinging. Perry is bracing for things like attacks that he is gay. (Always interesting how the Left is willing to use homosexuality as slander, no? I know they use it because they think conservatives care, but the tactic does sacrifice those the left claims to support.) Paul Begala has already been unleashed; no reasoned political analysis there; and the slander isn’t limited to Perry, either.
I first met Rick Perry in 1985. He was a Democratic freshman state rep, straight off the ranch in Haskell, Texas. He wore his jeans so tight, and, umm, adjusted himself so often that my fellow young legislative aides and I used to call him Crotch. Even among state representatives, even among Texas Aggies (graduates of this cute remedial school we have in Texas), Perry stood out for his modest intellectual gifts. Hell, he got a C in animal breeding. I have goats who got an A in that subject. But lack of brains has never been a hindrance in politics.
2015: And we all know what happened after that. This year, the media vetting is all about discounting the Texas Miracle, essentially how Texas alone could account for the positive job growth in the country. The state is drawing so many people in that it is now the startup capital of the US and entrepreneurial Austinites are running campaigns discouraging people from moving there.
And while we carry the bulk of the country’s current economic success, President Obama’s policies have created two main threats to our powerhouse. One, we are venerable to crashing oil prices due in large part to the collapse of Middle East and Russian stability after American retreat from moral and physical force. (The world wanted a kinder, gentler America and we obliged. It did not result in the peace and prosperity the world anticipated.) Two, the mass of new environmental regulations take aim directly at the Texas and other actually productive economies. Obama claimed our economic successes as his own while hamstringing us so that his successor could not do the same.
Even still, the state is faring far better than it did in the oil crisis in the early 80’s, and this time, we have natural gas options. We are a getting things done kind of people. We can adjust and resist at the same time. And we are about to learn just how much adjusting Rick Perry has done in the past four years.