The article below appeared in “The Corner,” a column that appears regularly in National Review Online earlier this month. The author commented on my post of March 4, “Last Words on the GOP Governor’s Race.” For readers’ convenience, the excerpts from my post are quoted; the author’s comments are in italics. I made some comments at the end.
Rick Perry, the Contender [Kevin D. Williamson]
National Review: Paul Burka of Texas Monthly is not an admirer of conservatives in general nor of Gov. Rick Perry in particular. Here’s how he sums up the gubernatorial primary:
“Anyone who doesn’t recognize Perry’s political talent by this time has to be deaf, dumb, and blind. He has assembled an electoral juggernaut that is brutally efficient. The Perry team knew in 2008 the strategy they were going to use against Hutchison in 2010. I was working on a story about the race for the February 09 issue, and they told me what it was — that Hutchison was a spender, an appropriator, and they were going to shove Washington and all its sins into her lap. They didn’t care whether Hutchison knew it. That’s how confident they were about this race. Perry lives, eats, and breathes politics 24/7. That’s his strength, and also his weakness. But he is far better at it than anybody Texas has produced–better than Bush, better than Richards. The only Texan I can think of who had a similar focus on nothing but politics was Lyndon Johnson. Or, I should say, LBJ as portrayed by Robert Caro. … The only unanswered question about the race is whether Hutchison ever had a chance.”
National Review: I don’t think that’s true of Perry — he’s no LBJ-level cynic. He’s a true believer on a lot of issues, including some quirky ones that don’t earn him a lot of political advantage. Burka, like a lot of Texas liberals, is half condescending, half in awe of Perry. Here’s the advice he gives to Perry’s Democratic opponent, Bill White:
“Your natural impulse will be to react to Perry as Ann Richards did to Bush, only moreso: underestimate him, underrate him, regard him as dumb, treat him as a lightweight. If you do this, and I’m not sure you can help yourself — Richards couldn’t, Hutchison couldn’t — you will lose by fifteen points and be like all the other corpses in the political graveyard who can’t believe they lost to … Rick Perry? Perry is many things you and I don’t admire, but he is not a lightweight. … Laugh about his hair and he’ll destroy you the way he did Hutchison.”
National Review: Burka, of course, wants to dismiss Perry as a mere political talent: a super-effective hack. That’s a bedtime story that liberals like to tell themselves: “We’re smarter than those other guys, we’re better, more decent … we’re just not cynical enough, not mean enough, not sufficiently callous political operators.” Burka advises White: “You’re smarter than [Perry] is. In every other aspect of politics, he is better than you are.” But if ruthlessness were all it took, Ann Richards wouldn’t have topped out as governor of Texas; she’d have ended up Queen of the Known Universe.
[I have omitted a paragraph that by the author that mulls on Perry’s future; readers may access it by clicking on the link to the article.]
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The author begins his piece with the observation that “Paul Burka is no admirer of conservatives….” He is quite right. Nor am I an admirer of liberals. I believe that strict adherence to ideology and litmus tests are impediments to the practice of politics. When I write about politics, I try to look at the merits of an issue, not whether it fits somebody’s preconception of whether it is conservative or liberal. Although the media write about politics as though it were a conflict between implacable enemies, I believe most Americans, and most Texans, abhor the degree to which our politics has become polarized and would prefer for their elected representatives to come together to address the nation’s (and the state’s) problems rather than jockey for political advantage. Unfortunately, that is not what ideologues want – and that includes The National Review.
Take the comment that I regard Perry as “a mere political talent.” No, I consider him a great political talent. But there is always the bothersome question, “To what end?” When the history of his governorship is written, it will be evident that he has been the strongest governor in Texas history, that he has, without making a single overt move, established a cabinet form of government in the state that gives him unprecedented power to direct the actions of state agencies. He will be recognized, too, for his genius as a campaigner, someone who (unless Bill White can do what no one, Democrat or Republican, has done) has never lost a race. He has achieved all this without enjoying much respect from the public or support from the Legislature.
But there’s that question again: To what end? His ten-year tenure has been marked by indifference toward the state’s biggest problems. School districts are in a financial bind due to a school property tax cut that created a structural deficit in future state budgets. Many districts are being forced to dip into their reserve funds for operating expenses. Texas leads the nation in kids without health insurance, but the state’s leaders have refused to expand CHIP, which is not an entitlement program, even in flush times. The ideologues will say, oh, the schools spend too much anyway, and families can always take their kids to emergency rooms for health care. But we all know that the clock is running, that Texas will be an Hispanic-majority state in the year that Perry’s next term as governor expires (2015), and that the future of the state depends upon educating this generation of Hispanic kids. Those kids don’t even know who Rick Perry is. You can’t blame them for that. Rick Perry doesn’t even know who these kids are. You can blame him for that.