There is nothing quite like a vacation to allow you to clear your head and look at issues and ideas from a fresh perspective.
As I was finishing the first vacation in years during which I have done virtually no work and just focused on fun and family, I picked-up and read a newspaper article about the unfolding Republican Presidential race. As I finished the article, I reached a decision that really surprised me: if Rick Perry runs for President, I will support his candidacy.
Now before I explain why I will support Governor Perry’s candidacy, I need to write a quick disclaimer. I am declaring my support as an individual, and not as a representative of any group or club of which I may be a member or officer. Moreover, no one asked me to do this—this decision and the timing of this post were driven purely by me.
Ok—with that disclaimer behind me, let me explain why I am surprised by my decision, and why I reached decision.
I am surprised primarily by the change of fortunes and political viability of Governor Perry since 2006. Remember, that when he ran for re-election that year, he won with only a 39% plurality in a four-way field—not exactly a conventional predictor of a future presidential candidacy. Then, he pursued at least two policy initiatives that set his base on fire against him: his attempt to impose vaccinations on the young women of Texas without legislative approval; and his advocacy for the Trans-Texas Corridor development. When I ran for an appellate judicial seat in a ten-county district during 2007 and 2008, the negative reaction against the Governor and his political future were expressed openly in virtually every Republican meeting I attended. In fact, few openly predicted he would (let alone advocated that he should) run for re-election in 2010, and many were discussing Senator Hutchison as his successor.
Then, the Tea Party movement exploded. This new movement gave the Governor a new platform that he used effectively to articulate and advocate his political vision, and an attentive audience hungry for the message he was giving. The combination seemed to give the Governor a visible injection of energy and purpose as the 2010 campaign ensued. Eventually, he steamrolled over Senator Hutchison and Debra Medina without a run-off, and over the popular former Houston Mayor, Bill White, in the general election—a truly amazing turnaround. And it was a turnaround based on substance, which mixed the message of growth, frugality and federalism with the accomplishments of his tenure as Governor.
Given where his political fortunes stood a few years ago, and my own reservations over some of his specific decisions and positions over the years, I never thought I would be considering Governor Perry for President. But, in a time when our country needs a President who understands the need to down-size the federal government in order to reduce public debt and return political power to states, local governments and individuals, and in a year when there are obvious short-comings in each of the announced candidates for the Republican nomination, Governor Perry has emerged as the right man at the right time. He is the only candidate who seems to be clearly articulating the vision of the proper role of government at all levels.
Now there will be some who say that his prior political inconsistencies are too many to allow them to support him. To them, I recommend that they remember what Emerson said about “a foolish consistency.” In an essay about Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson asked us to not judge consistency on the day-to-day life decisions and actions that we often make in reaction to events that we had not previously planned to address, but on an individual’s character that can only emerge from looking at a lifetime of decisions and actions. With the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle, such perspective is harder and harder to apply. However, if we look at Perry’s career over three decades of public life, his positions evidence a remarkable consistency in support of the economic and social conservatism that forms the core of the modern Republican Party. Moreover, his stated positions are closer to the vision for the “new” Republican Party that Reagan first espoused in 1977 than any of the other candidates in this year’s field.
As I write this post, there are two concerns I still have about a Perry candidacy, which I hope he and his team will address if he chooses to run. First, he must address the schizophrenic view of government held by most Americans—the view that simultaneously wants a smaller government that lives within its means, and low taxes, but wants no change to the government benefits they, or their family members, currently enjoy. Over the last 100 years, we gradually have allowed the federal government to use public tax dollars to provide charity to the less-fortunate and to underwrite economic risks—the risks associated with disability, retirement, health, home purchases, a college education, small business creation, and many others. Any Republican, who wants to beat Obama and actually obtain a mandate to lead this country through the changes needed to address the size and debt of the federal government, must explain to the independent voters who leaned Republican before 2008, but who voted for the Democrats in 2006 and 2008, how these changes will affect their lives—how will charity be provided to the less fortunate, and how will the risks of currently underwritten by government be addressed? Will government have a role? If so, what level of government will have that role, and what role will that level of government have? If government’s role is to be reduced, what will be expected from each individual in order to provide for charity and to protect against the risks of life that we all will inevitably face? If the answers to these questions are not clearly articulated, a Perry Presidency may not ever occur—but if it does, I fear it will fail.
Second, Governor Perry must address the concern that many outside of Texas will have in electing another Texas Republican so soon after both Bush Presidencies. Part of this concern will be addressed by the story of Texas’ economic growth during his tenure. However, I think Governor Perry also needs to consider a running mate who is from another region of the country, and preferably one who is addressing the current economic and governmental problems effectively. Ideally, one of the Republican Governors from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio or New Jersey, would fit these criteria while also giving the ticket a better chance of picking up a state that Obama carried in 2008.
I know that this post (and its early timing) will surprise some of my friends and allies, as well as some within our party with whom I’ve had disagreements in the past, but I feel that, as Governor Perry makes his decision, it is important that he know the breadth of support he will have. To that end, I feel it is important for many of us in Texas to indicate our position about his candidacy now—one way or another. So, for what it’s worth, I pledge my support to his candidacy if he chooses to run.