Rick Perry’s announcement of his presidential ambitions marks the triumph of fantasy over reality in American politics. Among our more pressing problems are global climate change caused by human production of greenhouse gases; religious fanaticism and interference in governance; and the structural deficit faced by the US government
It used to be that political divisions were about the different methods proposed to deal with social problems by persons with different political philosophies. Nowadays, politics is about which fantasy-land the politicians and their admirers reside in.
In the mid-to-late twentieth century, liberals wanted to address lack of proper housing for the poor by building tenements for them. Conservatives like Jack Kemp (Housing secretary under Bush Senior) argued that market mechanisms could be enlisted to get them housed. It is not clear that the conservatives were right, but the liberals definitely turned out to be wrong. The public housing had no stakeholders and it quickly deteriorated into a kind of hell. But all parties to the argument, including Republican Kemp, took the problem of housing for the poor seriously, and everyone learned from the success and failures.
Nowadays, Kemp’s analogues would likely just blithely deny that there are any poor people lacking adequate housing.
Thus, Rick Perry not only denies global climate change but has sued to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from trying to curb emissions in Texas. Ironically, if anybody will suffer from global warming, it is Texans, and the warmer temperatures of recent years are hitting them especially hard.
Perry’s response to Texas’s drought? To pray for rain.
(If anything, the evidence from teams of scientists at MIT and elsewhere is that the pace of climate change has been underestimated by international bodies like the IPCC).
Perry has links to a theocratic evangelical movement that, like the Khomeinists in Iran, believes that religion should take control of the 7 power centers in society, including the arts, media, the family, and the government. He led a national day of Christian prayer to which he invited other governors, raising questions about his commitment to the separation of religion and state. The religion Perry promotes is not the social gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, but rather an absolute worship of property rights dressed up as spirituality. His religious commitments are to be imposed on the rest of us (as in Iran). Thus, he will work against women’s choice and against the rights of gay partners to be married, because of his own personal theology.
He is another one of those dreary Red State governors who denounces Federal taxes but is first in line for Federal help. In fact, he covered a $6 bn. shortfall in the Texas budget with $6 bn in stimulus money from Barack Obama, & now boasts of his governing skills with regard to the economy. The only way to eliminate the long-term structural deficit in the Federal budget without harming Federal programs like social security and medicare is to raise taxes on the wealthy (including closing their tax loopholes). Perry denies this simple fact.
Indeed, Perry has said he believes Texas has the right to secede from the union at will, making some wags ask the question of what country he wants to be president of. (Given his dedication to public imposition of religion, maybe he should try Iran).
Perry is in the American tradition of the huckster and the booster, the snake oil salesman who promises you a cure for what ails you that turns out to be one part pretty words and another part dream castle. He is no Jack Kemp, who saw social problems and sought fixes for them in the private sector or in public-private partnerships. Perry sees no problems that can’t be fixed by slashing taxes further on our 400 billionaires and then holding prayer meetings for the unemployed. This blindness is not an accident. The Republican Supreme Court’s interference in election campaign reform has ensured that the super-wealthy in this country can get the best politicians money can buy into office.
The preference of the campaign funders for colorful and slightly unbalanced fanatics sure to do their bidding is probably unwise, since in its pure form Ayn Rand selfishness among the rich is unlovely in the eyes of the public, especially when espoused by attractive neurotics. Perry has an advantage denied to the Bachmanns and the Palins, of being well-spoken and seeming like a normal person; but his positions do not materially differ from most of theirs.
And so our national debate is stunted and distorted. Instead of arguing over the best ways of dealing with our most pressing problems, we are reduced to disputing about whether a problem even exists. The latter is a rhetorical device of wealthy special interests designed to derail the ordinary workings of democracy. Perry is among their would-be standard-bearers.