Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rick Perry is Who George W. Bush Was Trying to Be

I thought from the moment that Rick Perry mused that Texas might secede from the Union (again) that he was going to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. I still think so.

George W. Bush was a good-old-boy in the making from a small town in Texas. Then they sent him off, against his will, to the fancy prep school and university that his northeastern blue-blood family traditionally attended. He didn't like either one, spending his real energy on social life and cheerleading. He even got a further degree from another fancy northeastern school. He was a military pilot, but mostly to avoid the war. But as I read his history, George W. Bush never really came into his own until he got to be head cheerleader again for a sports team. That job used his best, Texas-honed sales skills. His Texas Methodist wife finally helped him straighten out, dry up, find Jesus, and become a stand-up guy. He was always a political amateur, but he caught the eye of a political professional, Karl Rove, who recruited the money and borrowed other professional politicians from Bush, Sr.'s shop.

Rick Perry was a good-old-boy in the making from a small town in Texas. Except his Texas roots went back generations, proletarian and petite bourgeois all the way. He went to the local high school, was an Eagle Scout, married a Texas Methodist who was his elementary school sweetheart. He then went to an iconic Texas school, where he majored in social life and cheerleading. He became a military pilot, but for real. His real education, as he tells it, came from his boss when Perry was a door-to-door salesman. Perry was a serious and competent Democratic politician, supporting Al Gore for president and backing Bill Clinton's health care plan. Perry switched parties when the opportunities were better, and drew the attention of Karl Rove. When Perry and Rove fell out, Rove picked up George W. Bush.

George W. Bush represented what the activated part of the Republican Party wanted, but in him it was an overlay that went against most of his training. Rick Perry, on the other hand, really is a white Christian businessman who supports government spending for people and interests like his, but is suspicious of government spending for others. And he is a competent politician who can learn enough about government to make just-in-time executive decisions.

I think Gov. Perry will give the Republican base a chance to try to replay the Bush administration, only this time make it come out better.


ceemac said...


Here is the text from a column "Bush, Perry represent different Texas traditions" by William McKenzie in today's Dallas Morning News. Bill is a presbyterian. I mentioned your blog to him once and he indicated he knew you.

I think it would be fair to desribe Bill as a gruntled centrist though he comes at it from the center right.

The column is behind a pay wall so I will post the whole thing and not just a link.

It's too long so I will post the column in the next comment.

ceemac said...

Bush, Perry represent different Texas traditions (William McKenzie)

Do George W. Bush and Rick Perry loathe each other? Are they blood enemies?
There’s plenty of speculation these days about a personal animosity. Jeb Bush, the former president’s brother, says none exists. After covering both Texans, I still don’t know.
But I do know this: The distinction runs deeper than any personal grievance. The differences are more profound. And understanding them is a key to understanding Texas politics, which many around the country are trying to do again with Perry running for the White House.
Both are conservatives, but they come at politics from competing spheres — and I don’t mean Yale vs. Texas A&M. The universes represent a cleavage between the modern, business-style Texas politician and the cowboy brand of yesteryear.
Despite an occasional inclination for quick-draw comments as president — like his “Bring it on” challenge to Iraqi insurgents — Bush approached politics more as a problem solver. His orientation reflects the career track and culture he was part of before he ran for governor in 1994.
Texas has a broad base of corporate managers, business professionals and independent entrepreneurs. The orientation of this professional class, which includes many engineers and technocrats, is toward getting things done. Or, at least, focusing on how to get things done so their enterprises stay afloat.
If that means taking risks, they will take calculated ones. That’s essentially what Bush did when he tackled the state’s messed-up school finance system as governor and tried to reform the nation’s flawed immigration system as president.
Some Republicans opposed him on both issues. They thought he would spend his political capital unwisely.
They were right in one way: Bush lost those gambles, just as he lost before on oil ventures. But at least he tried to deal with a problem. People derided him for being a CEO president, and indeed he did seem too detached at times, but his MBA background guided his approach to politics.
It also reflected the modern professional class that populates metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth , Houston and Austin-San Antonio. That’s where you find the headquarters of such corporate giants as Exxon Mobil, Dell and AT&T.
Perry’s style is far more rooted in Texas’ past. In some ways, he is closer to the way Lyndon Johnson came up through politics.
Each came from rural communities and had their world widen once they hit college and bigger cities. But they never lost their rooting to Texas’ rural, cowboy heritage. Hence, the swagger that Perry brings, just as LBJ had his own in-your-face-Texan style.
Politics also was more of an industry in that older tradition. LBJ was a political lifer. And he was surrounded in his days in Congress and the White House by Texas legislators who were Capitol Hill barons, thanks to their staying power.
For them, politics was more akin to blood sport than solving problems. That’s been true, too, for Perry, who has been in elected office since 1984.
As governor, he’s not known for many major signatures outside of keeping taxes low and appointing allies to state boards. In fact, he’s often shown tepid leadership on such big issues as correcting Texas’ school funding problems. Getting too engaged could cost him politically.
What’s surprising about Perry’s rise is that the mythology he represents still lives on, even as the state long ago moved beyond its rural heritage.
But we keep dealing with these competing strains. Last year’s governor’s race provided another glimpse into the duality: Cowboy/politico Perry vs. manager/businessman Bill White.
My proclivities run toward the problem-solvers, but, as I noted on a column about White vs. Perry, they lack the frontier politician’s flair.
The country is getting ready to see one more example of the old style as Perry takes on all comers. He’ll reaffirm the old Texas stereotype, even though his home state is more complex. And the differences are reflected in the gulf between Bush and Perry today.

Gruntled said...

Ceemac: Thanks for posting Bill McKenzie's column. We are indeed old friends, having been churchmates in DC years ago.

I think Perry's appeal is not simply to "old Texas" but to a specific class and faith that we find in all states. They are exactly the kind of people who are mobilized against knowledge class cosmopolitans like Obama and against the corporate problem-solvers.

Anonymous said...

"... a white Christian businessman who supports government spending for people and interests like his, but is suspicious of government spending for others."

I think you've nailed Texas politics on the head. That's been the winning formula for Texas politicians, Democrat or Republican, since FDR.