November 10, 2011

In defense of Rick Perry

Media coverage of yesterday's Republican debate has zeroed in on Rick Perry's inability to remember the third of the three government departments that he said he wanted to eliminate.

Commentators are saying that this is the last straw for Perry. This may be true, given the shallowness of the political campaign and the people who cover it. But looked at dispassionately, why is it such a big deal? Which one of us hasn't had such a moment? I know I have when giving public talks. Even at faculty meetings it very often happens that people forget the point that they wish to make even as they are trying to make it and we just move on because it is so common. In Perry's case, he must have been nervous because his prior debate performances have been panned so badly. So I can understand why, when he did not immediately remember something, his brain froze.

While following this crazy Republican primary, I have to say that the one candidate whom I have got to like better as it went on is Perry. All the Republican candidates favor policies that I abhor, but on a personal level, Perry has a kind of appealing goofiness, a relaxed congeniality that is really quite appealing. In my opinion, even his widely ridiculed New Hampshire speech revealed a playful side. If it was because he was drunk, we at least know that he is not a mean drunk. His fellow Texan George W. Bush had a sneering, arrogant, supercilious, and condescending attitude to mask his ignorance that made him obnoxious. Bush had all the characteristics of a cruel and petty bully. Herman Cain is in the same mold as Bush, a thoroughly unlikable character. Perry, on the other hand, does not seem to have that same meanness or think that highly of himself and seems to be self-deprecatory. His 'oops' at the end of his flub was a telling indicator that he takes these things lightly, always a good sign.

As to the other Republicans, Mitt Romney has a smarmy, phony quality, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann seem to be crazy religious nutcases who are quite capable of instituting vicious and hateful polices because they truly believe god wants them to do so, and Newt Gingrich is under the irritating delusion that he is some kind of genius when he is just a political hack long past his expiry date. Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, and Perry are the only candidates whom I feel I could discuss politics with without being tempted to throw things at them.

I can understand why Perry is such a political powerhouse in his home state where he has lived and worked all his life. If he is familiar with the issues, his genial personality can work powerfully in his favor. His problem is that he is simply out of his depth on national and international matters and he does not have the debating smarts to mask his lack of knowledge or the bullying arrogance to intimidate his critics.


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