I wasn’t surprised by the announcement this morning that Rick Perry has thrown his hat in the presidential ring for 2016. I had read on the web that he might run again. But Sandra was. In fact, she was shocked.
Rick Perry? The Texas governor who made such a fool of himself in one of those Republican debates last time around? The guy who couldn’t remember the third federal department he would eliminate if elected?
“They’ll be playing that clip of him all through the campaign,” she predicted.
Sandra’s comment reminded me of a satirical song by Randy Newman in which he pointed out an enduring truth about American politics. It was about Lester Maddox, the legendary governor of Georgia back in the Sixties. Here’s the line I found so insightful:
Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool.
You might remember Lester Maddox, his Jim Crow sayings published as ads in the Atlanta Journal, his stubborn refusal to accept desegregation, and his remarkably idiotic view of life. He insisted, for example, that black people were intellectually inferior to whites, that integration was a Communist plot, that God favored segregation, and that school integration was “ungodly, un-Christian and un-American.”
On one occasion he and his supporters used ax handles to drive away three black students who tried to dine at his restaurant.
Lester Maddox became a symbol of Southern white stupidity, and was widely ridiculed in the national media. But in the South – especially in Georgia – he was a hero to many.
Rick Perry reminds me of Lester Maddox. His family even owns a hunting camp they called N—–head.” (I believe they changed the name after the press found out about it.)
Perry is not as smart as Maddox. Indeed, he is not as smart as most people.
But he is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who has learned all the fatuous talking points that push conservatives’ buttons.
You might think that some college-smart candidate like Ted Cruz would easily outdraw Perry. The Texas senator also spouts the dogma favored by the Republican base. But Cruz was born in Canada and that might disqualify him from the presidential race. And even if he could claim his American parents make him eligible, he just isn’t dumb enough to win the trust of those white, working-class, male voters Republicans rely on.
They’re a lot more comfortable with a candidate who’s too dumb to dupe them.
And Perry certainly fills that bill.
In the 2016 Republican primaries, Perry will probably face Chris Christie, who has won a lot of media credibility by his common-sense acceptance of President Obama’s aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. The New Jersey governor has even had surgery to rid himself of some of that blubber he carries around.
But I wouldn’t bet on Christie. The Republican Party has a stubborn – and zealously active – base centered around the values and beliefs of a bygone era – bygone everywhere but in the deep South and rural Midwest. Christie doesn’t fit that pattern. Perry does.
If the base buys Perry’s country-boy persona, he just might get the Republican nomination.
And the presidency? Who knows?
This is America, after all, and Americans have elected some famous dummies – Warren G. Harding and Andrew Johnson, for example. Remember?
Perhaps not. But, surely, you remember George W. Bush, that other Texas governor?