Confounding the conformist class: The words of Rick Perry come from a better time and place
No sooner did Texas Gov. Rick Perry stampede into the Republican primary like a cowboy rescuing a damsel in distress, bringing energy and dynamism into the campaign, than media elites — including conservative writers — began their putrid attempt to muzzle him.
In an Aug. 28 column in The Wall Street Journal titled “Perry’s Popping-Off Problem,” Peggy Noonan addressed Mr. Perry’s so-called “quick-draw machismo” that “might scare voters away.” Evidently it has not occurred to her that Mr. Perry’s outspoken, passionate manner is precisely why voters are flocking to him in droves, leading to a current double-digit lead — 29 percent to 17 percent according to Gallup — in contrast to his closest competitor, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. A mere few weeks after entering the race, Mr. Perry is soaring in the esteem of the American people because he speaks his mind, without apology or fear.
“Americans want a president who feels their anger without himself walking around enraged,” writes Ms. Noonan in nonsensical, inside-the-Beltway Idiot-speak. How exactly is a candidate supposed to “feel anger” but not be “enraged”? Is it possible? Evidently, there is a way to achieve this: by faking emotions. Essentially, Ms. Noonan has been a columnist too long: this is the kind of diabolical advice that, if taken, can lead a man to lose his soul in order to gain power.
Amazingly, after rendering such poor advice, Ms. Noonan accuses Mr. Perry of “poor judgment.” Especially troubling, she writes, are three statements he made. The first of these is his now-famous reference to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s over-eagerness to print money, leading to weakening the American dollar. “If this guy prints more money between now and the election,” said Mr. Perry, “I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.”
Mr. Perry did not say that Mr. Bernanke committed treason and should be hung on a street lamppost: He said the action “is almost treasonous.” In other words, he was using hyperbole to make a point. And most Americans got the message: Printing money so recklessly is not good for America. We do not need a doctoral degree to understand what the governor meant.
Nor are the other comments Ms. Noonan highlights objectionable. Mr. Perry said that if the American government becomes too overbearing, a backlash will occur: “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.” He did not say any state should secede; he said that the sentiment of anger will grow — and it is, and it will.
In addition, reporters asked the governor if he was suggesting Mr. Obama did not love this country. He said: “I dunno, you need to ask him.” That sounds like a very tactful response, given what he could have — and probably should have — said: “The president’s actions are so destructive of the body politic he either does not love this country or does not know what he is doing: neither is good.” Instead, Mr. Perry made his meaning clear, conveying profound doubt about President Barack Obama’s policies, without going for the jugular.
It is not just Ms. Noonan but other leading columnists on the right, such as Karl Rove and Jonah Goldberg who bristle at Mr. Perry’s use of language. Ultimately, they do so because Mr. Perry is effective: his words are rich with meaning. He is making very substantive, alarming statements at a time of national crisis. And that is exactly the problem in Washington: speak without saying anything, work without doing anything, run for office without upsetting the status quo too much. That is the ethos of a conformist, sycophantic media class that no longer serves America.
In fact, Mr. Perry’s ability to cut to the quick, to penetrate the heart and mind with fiery words, renders him a brilliant communicator. All the candidates in the field have yet to make any statement — not even one — that is memorable. Yet, Mr. Perry is already leaving a legacy of words behind him. They are not gaffes; they are his calling card.
“When I’m in; I’m in all the way,” he said to thunderous applause as he compared his late entry into the race to a lengthy, slow courtship of his wife that he met when he was eight years old — brilliant parallel; moving imagery. “I think you want a president who is passionate about America — that’s in love with America,” he said during a visit to the Iowa State Fair. This line was an act of genius — a communication coup de grace — professing one’s love for the nation in such an intimate and personal way; humanizing America and humanizing himself like a courtier romancing a noblewoman. Most Americans fell out of their seat: “Mr. Perry, I’m in love with the fact that you’re in love with America and have the courage and sweetness of soul to say so,” we want to exclaim.
Mr. Perry is a romantic nationalist — proud, forthright and uncompromising. His language is that of another time and place: when character was more important than spin; when genuine emotion, especially if supported by deeds, was more valued than chic detachment.
A man who speaks the truth, whose language reflects the substance of his character, is a threat to contemporary America: his very existence is an indictment of the prevailing worldview. By contrast, when then-candidate Mr. Obama used fiery language, there was applause by most of the Washington punditry precisely because they saw in him a politician whose words were not revolutionary — they were feel-good platitudes from an empty suit. Remember Mr. Obama’s: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”? The media swooned because the statement is a classic example of the art of saying nothing.
When Mr. Perry speaks, however, he conveys that he is a unique individual on a mission — an original, a nonconformist. And he thumbs his nose at conformity. It is no accident that so many of the nation’s leaders in the past half-century have come from Texas. In that state, being innovative and fresh, one-of-a-kind, is still highly prized. Speaking frankly is still a virtue. That used to be the case in America at large as well. Now, the wind of freedom blows intermittently only from a few quarters of the nation.
Mr. Perry is bringing a slice of that Texan originality to the campaign trail. His cowboy individualism harkens back to a different America, a better America. Let freedom reign.
–Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.