Jonathan Chait

What Does Rick Perry Believe?

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I have to admit I don't know very much about Rick Perry yet. I don't have a strong feel for how radical his beliefs are, and how far to the right he intends to position himself in the campaign. Andrew Romano has a good scoop on Perry's total opposition to Medicare and Social Security, at least as federal programs:

I spent the better part of an hour talking to Perry about his political philosophy and policy prescriptions back in the fall, right before he released Fed Up!, his first book. At the time, Newsweek chose to print only a short excerpt from our interview; few readers knew who Perry was, or cared. But now that he’s running for president, it makes sense to publish a longer version of the conversation, which reveals a lot about Perry’s politics. (For the full transcript, click through.)

In the interview, Perry hints that he would do more to limit the power of the federal governmentor at least attempt to do morethan any president since Calvin Coolidge. His argument is basically that we should dismantle most of the last 75 years of national policy and relinquish even Washington’s least controversial responsibilities to the states.

Perry believes, for example, that the national Social Security system, which he calls a “failure” that “we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” should be scrapped and that each state should be allowed to create, or not create, its own pension system. “I would suggest a legitimate conversation about let[ting] the states keep their money and implement the programs,” he says.

Perry also includes Medicare in his list of programs “the states could substantially better operate,” suggesting that each governor should be “given the freedom from the federal government to come up with his own innovative ways [of] working with his legislature to deliver his own health-care innovations to his citizens.”

Is this a case of the mask slipping? Perry never contemplating at the time that he'd have to run for office outside of Texas? An actual plan to run a far-right campaign? I don't know.

Here's another puzzling thread of the Perry ideology. During his public prayer remarks, he said this about the economy:

 

I tell people, that "personal property" and the ownership of that personal property is crucial to our way of life.

Our founding fathers understood that it was a very important part of the pursuit of happiness. Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique. But I happen to think that it's in jeopardy.

It's in jeopardy because of taxes; it's in jeopardy because of regulation; it's in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God and say, "God, You’re going to have to fix this." 

 

This reminds me of an old line of right-wing Christian thought that discouraged efforts to mend injustice and instead place faith in God. It was a notion mocked in the old radical song "The Preacher and the Slave":

 

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer in voices so sweet
Chorus
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die

 

Now, this isn't exactly what Perry is saying. His ideology seems to reflect the fusion between right-wing Christian thought and economic libertarianism, the market as the reflection of God's perfect plan. Dave Levinthal reports that the right-wing filmmaker working for Perry is an atheist, and doesn't seem to mind:

Minnesota filmmaker Michael Wilson best known for his 2004 documentary film “Michael Moore Hates America” told POLITICO that Perry “built a part of his announcement speech around it, which is amazing – I had no idea it would turn into this.”

In the video, a man, woman and two tow-headed children, eyes closed, fold their hands and pray around a table as a narrator says, “No matter what they’re raised to believe, my children should know that faith is none of the government’s business.”

The video, with an Independence Day theme, also talks of financial prosperity, limited government, health care choice and the “simple beauty of free markets.”

Again, I don't know enough about Perry to separate out conviction from message. It seems like the perfect Republican synthesis, free markets as an extension of Christian belief.

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