Guest Submission by Jose R. Gonzalez
Fully understanding the power of iconography and the psyche of the American electorate, an as of yet unidentified media handler has seized on the most prominent Texas politician operating in the state. A man who dons fine tailored suits which he practically lives in, has been dressed in the first ad of his presidential campaign as a chaps wearing, ten-gallon hat sporting cowboy. We rationalize this as natural because he is a Texan and that is synonymous with cowboy. The excitement factor is fulfilled and presidential candidate Rick Perry is born.
Not so quick. This bull rider has not yet met the eight-second mark. Look closely at the cowboy. He’s merely playing dress up at a big city livestock show and rodeo.
Before delving into the false pretenses of Perry as a cowboy, let’s review what it is about the intrinsic link between the cowboy and Texas. Cowboys are found operating everywhere throughout the West. They’re not exclusive to Texas. Granted, some of the first cowboys were from Texas. However, it goes beyond the historical origins of the cowboy to explain the strong relation people have between him and the Great State of Texas.
There is definitely much to be found in the character of the cowboy and Texas itself. Texas is known as the Lone Star State far from simply because of the design of its flag. It was an independent republic for an entire decade. Throughout its existence, the Republic of Texas was not recognized as such by strong powers of the time, including the United States, due to claims of sovereignty by neighboring Mexico. Something like the issue of Taiwan and China today.
It was a fledgling but proud nation. Slightly uncouth but exceedingly determined. Much like a cowboy.
Life was hard in the early days of an independent state of Texas. It was largely undiscovered by settlers. Those who laid claim to the land were the cowboys who drove cattle from the central of Texas to the far north. They were the first heroes of the frontier.
Hence the rough independence and rugged individualism of the state and cowboys in general became interconnected. Coupled with the vastness of Texas and the heavy personality of a typical cattle driver and you have a rich and colorful legacy to last through the ages.
This is not the case with Governor Rick Perry. His is a tale of style (shiny, ornate spurs if you may) rather than substance (weathered boots if you’d like). What can be ascribed to Perry’s garb also applies to his portrayal as a Tea Party hero. The outfit suits him well on only the most superficial of ways.
Perry has assumed the title of “America’s Jobs Governor”, a title highlighted in the aforementioned campaign ad along with scenes of small town West Texas life. What isn’t highlighted? The incentives Perry as governor has implemented to create these new jobs he boasts about. What could be the reason for this omission? Perhaps the fact these jobs were not actually created by incentives put in by Perry himself. Tort reform, as admirable as it may be, has simply not been an incentive for these numbers. Other factors, including price of oil, are where credit is due. What else in information was sacrificed for the sake of watching Perry walking a horse? Oh yeah. The pay scale of these jobs; a great bulk of them are low paying.
Suddenly the ad has lost a lot of its luster. The viewer should probably ask him or herself what else lies under that delicately put upon cowboy veneer.
Other than the catchy “America’s Jobs Governor” header, what exactly is known about Perry outside of Texas? The allure of a cowboy is due in large part to the mystery surrounding his background. Consequently the mystery of Politician Perry thrives in the cowboy mystique his PR team is craftily enveloping him in.
How truly genuine a conservative candidate is Perry? A means of determining this would be by evaluating the moment of conservative clarity for a man who once campaigned for Al Gore. Many former Democrats, current Republicans today credit President Ronald Reagan for their political conversion. Perry was Al Gore’s chief campaigner for Texas in the then US senator’s run for the presidency in 1988. By the end of Reagan’s second term one would expect a potential GOP nominee today would have by then experienced that moment of conservative clarity. Not Politician Perry.
Actually, what made Perry a Republican? By 1989 in Texas the Democrat label was not as hot a commodity for electoral victory as was the Republican one. Pure political convenience would become a recurring theme in Perry’s career.
For many years Perry served as a largely inconsequential governor. In his second elected term he finally became more involved. Rather than using whatever little executive power he could wrest to limit government intervention in the lives of Texans, he actually attempted to amp state authority over the citizenry.
At the onset an HPV vaccine law as Perry ordered in 2007 would seem quite sensible. After all, HPV is the most common of sexually transmitted infections and has been proven to be a trigger for cervical cancer.
What rightly prompted outrage from so many Texas families was the vaccine would be designated for girls as young as eleven. A vaccine to help prevent an STI mandated on the parents of preteens; in anticipation that these girls would be sexually active at … thirteen? It was quite reasonable for many parents to view this as an infringement on their values. Not to mention the costly price of the vaccine: $360.
As it would result, a close Perry associate had a vested interest in this new vaccine. Gardasil, the vaccine in question, was produced by Merck. Conveniently enough, the lobbyist for Merck was a former chief of staff for Perry. The strong rebuke by Texas families of this most apparent of crony policy forced Perry to backtrack legislation on it. The lobbyist, however, is still in the inner circle of Politician Perry, having co-founded a political action committee for him.
Perry now claims the HPV vaccine mandate was actually a “pro-life” stance of his. If so in favor of protecting women’s health, then one is left to ask why Perry didn’t push with equal zeal a meningococcal vaccine mandate for Texas college students residing on campus. The fatal effects of meningitis are far more immediate than whatever an HPV vaccine may prevent. With Politician Perry throwing a conservative label on something (no matter how anathema the actual thing is to conservatism) is enough explanation to the folks.
Perry would somewhat learn that there are limits to rhetoric, though. When trying to orchestrate a land grab of private property by the government, call the deed by its accepted euphemism. As if eminent domain on its own wasn’t on most circumstances egregious enough, the developers of the toll and expressway cutting through the Texas countryside (threatening the livelihood of real cowboys) would be private contractors and foreign companies. A continuation of Politician Perry’s disregard for genuine conservative principles in governing.
Perry exhibited in both of these situations not merely a strong disingenuous streak but also a lack of grasp in governance itself. The Texas governorship really is largely symbolic. Politician Perry feeds off of symbolism so up until now this has served him well. What it hasn’t done is actually test Perry in dealing with a vast bureaucracy; much less prepped him for the behemoth one found in D.C.
Perhaps what has led Perry to exceed every other governor in Texas history regarding years in office is the weak executive power of the governorship. Texas has the weakest of governorships which by that definition has given Perry little actual executive experience. All those years as Texas governor has really been merely quantity in place of quality.
The willingness on behalf of Perry to remain in office for an unlimited duration and his reluctance to create an electoral successor should seriously concern members of the Tea Party movement. Placing term limits on office holders should be one of the instruments of reform at both the national and state level. Once more Politician Perry prefers the comfort found in a title.
Social conservatives now clamoring to Perry should take note that he in as recently as the 2008 election endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president. What was Perry’s expressed rationale for endorsing a pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-same sex marriage candidate? Other than a brief musing on Giuliani “cleaning up a city”, what Perry cited was the “America’s Mayor” title. For Politician Perry that sufficed as it does for him to now run for president with the hollowed credentials of being “America’s jobs Governor”.
Through his campaign ad Perry is extending his special brand of cowboy mannequin politics to the national scene. They say cowboy life is fast dying in America. This helps ignite the cowboy in the imagination of American voters seeking independence from candidates manufactured by the political machinery. What they may find with Politician Perry is a candidate whose conservative credentials are deader than any cowboy from the Old West.
Cross-posted at Awake till Dawn