What did we learn about Rick Perry at the Republican debate this past week? Did he show us anything of himself he had not already revealed in statements and interviews? The answer is no, he did not. The answer is that Rick Perry is apparently as dishonest as the Staked Plains are dry and as elusive as a greased pig at the Texas State Fair.
We also learned that like Sarah Palin, Rick Perry doesn’t know how he knows certain things. Like her, he just seems to know them. Intellectually, he did not come across as any more of a powerhouse than his Texas predecessor, George W. Bush, who most of the time looked like a deer caught in headlights.
We also learned that like all Republican candidates, Rick Perry has never met a question he wants to answer. Watching Perry at the Reagan Library was like watching a replay of John McCain and Sarah Palin in ’08. He was going to talk about what he wanted to talk about and no efforts to pin him down were going to have any effect: Intellect is for losers. He wanted to emote, dammit!
A few examples from the debate Wednesday night in Simi Valley, California should suffice:
In discussing the “Massachusetts plan”, the moderator, John Harris of Politico, turned to Perry and said, “about a quarter of the people don’t have health insurance. That’s 50 out of 50, dead last. Sir, it’s pretty hard to defend dead last.”
Stuck like a bug on flypaper, Perry should have been squirming but he was ready for this one. His brief answer was that apparently folks in Texas don’t want no damn health insurance:
PERRY: “Well, I’ll tell you what the people in the state of Texas don’t want: They don’t want a health care plan like what Governor Romney put in place in Massachusetts. What they would like to see is the federal government get out of their business.”
He then quickly changed the topic to Medicaid rather than justifying or explaining this lack of healthcare in his own state, though he did promise to take away our healthcare first thing as president:
On day one, as the president of the United States, that executive order will be signed and Obamacare will be wiped out as much as it can be.
With either an over-abundance of optimism or a deplorable lack of understanding of his man, Harris repeated the question:
HARRIS: Governor, quick follow-up. Why are so many people in Texas uninsured?
Perry’s response was to blame the federal government (of course):
PERRY: Well, bottom line is that we would not have that many people uninsured in the state of Texas if you didn’t have the federal government. We’ve had requests in for years at the Health and Human Services agencies to have that type of flexibility where we could have menus, where we could have co-pays, and the federal government refuses to give us that flexibility.
We know for a fact that, given that freedom, the states can do a better job of delivering health care. And you’ll see substantially more people not just in Texas, but all across the country have access to better health care.
No, he wasn’t going to take that bull by the horns. For a supposedly plain-speaking Texan, Rick Perry can be as oily and elusive as a snake-oil salesman.
It would be nice to get the opinions of all those uninsured Texas about what it is exactly that they want.
Harris asked Perry about his opposition to Social Security and his claim that Social Security is a “Ponzi” scheme, pointing out Karl Rove’s and Dick Cheney’s opposition to this language, which gave Perry an opportunity to diss both of these powerful Republicans – that “Karl has been over the top for a long time in some of his remarks. So I’m not responsible for Karl anymore” and that Dick Cheney is a liar. He didn’t explain how he would actually fix the troubled program so Mitt Romney tried to pin him down, which elicited this epic non-response:
PERRY: We’re about fixing things. You can either have reasons or you can have results. And the American people expect us to put results in place.
You cannot keep the status quo in place and not call it anything other than a Ponzi scheme. It is. That is what it is. Americans know that, and regardless of what anyone says, oh, it’s not — and that’s provocative language — maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country and say things like, let’s get America working again and do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Asked about George W. Bush and whether or not Bush was too quick to intervene militarily, Perry denounced Keynesian economics:
HARRIS: Governor Perry, as we approach the 9/11 anniversary, I’d like to stick with national security for a moment. You recently said, quote, “I do not believe that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism.” Looking back, do you think President George W. Bush was too quick to launch military intervention without thinking through the risks?
PERRY: I was making a comment about a philosophy; I don’t think America needs to be in the business of adventurism.
But let me just say something about the president of the United States. And I know he’s — he’s taken lots of slings and arrows here today. But one thing that I want to say that he did do that I agree with is that he maintained the — the chase and — and we took out a very bad man in the form of bin Laden, and I — and I tip my hat to him.
I give more props to those Navy SEALs that did the job, but — and the other thing this president’s done, he has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We’ll never have to have that experiment on America again.
And I might add that he kept Gitmo open against the will of his base, and I’m glad he did that. America’s safer for it.
Perry sounded more like a professional athlete hear giving his pat answers to media questions after a big game than a presidential candidate addressing issues that affect millions.
Rick Perry was asked to explain his opposition to the science behind global warming. He was completely unable to do that despite attempts by Harris to elicit a precise answer from him:
HARRIS: Governor Perry — Governor Perry, Governor Huntsman were not specific about names, but the two of you do have a difference of opinion about climate change. Just recently in New Hampshire, you said that weekly and even daily scientists are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?
PERRY: Well, I do agree that there is — the science is — is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at — at — at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just — is nonsense. I mean, it — I mean — and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell.
But the fact is, to put America’s economic future in jeopardy, asking us to cut back in areas that would have monstrous economic impact on this country is not good economics and I will suggest to you is not necessarily good science. Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.
HARRIS: Just to follow up quickly. Tell us how you’ve done that.
Are there specific — specific scientists or specific theories that you’ve found especially compelling, as you…
PERRY: Let me tell you what I find compelling, is what we’ve done in the state of Texas, using our ability to regulate our clean air. We cleaned up our air in the state of Texas, more than any other state in the nation during the decade. Nitrous oxide levels, down by 57 percent. Ozone levels down by 27 percent.
That’s the way you need to do it, not by some scientist somewhere saying, “Here is what we think is happening out there.” The fact of the matter is, the science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man to the point where we’re going to put America’s economics in jeopardy.
Specific…Perry. Seriously? Perry clearly was unable to answer the question. He had no idea what, if any science, might support his position (there is none) so he just fell back on a Palinesque repetition of talking points: we “need to find out what the science is” and “the fact of the matter is that the science is not settled.”
And no, he doesn’t know what books he read that in. Don’t even ask.
Jason Easley called Perry a “winner” of the debate from the perspective that he loves his talking points and stuck with them, and he wasn’t guilty of any major Bachmann- or Palin-like mistakes. I can’t disagree with that analysis. He definitely showed his Republican bona fides. From the applause, Republicans seemed to love Perry’s non-answers and evasions – it’s what they’ve been conditioned to expect, after all. But liberals, progressives, and especially independents, won’t be so easily fooled.
It’s important to see this man for what he is. For a man who claims Obama is out of his depth and doesn’t know what to do, to be unable to provide any answers himself is – or should be – a mortal blow to his presidential aspirations. To essentially say, “Well, I don’t know what the answer is but his [Obama’s] answer is wrong!” is not the stuff of inspiration. America needs more than that. It does not need another George W. Bush, and at the debate, that’s the only face Perry showed us.