JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 15, 2011
[Guest post by Matthew Zeitlin]
While a big part of Rick Perry’s campaign pitch is comparing the job growth in Texas to that of the rest of the nation, it seems likely that another aspect will be implying that Rick Perry—a conservative, white Southerner from Texas—is more American than Barack Hussein Obama. A good insight to how this line of attack might develop is in Perry’s recent comments about the military “respecting” the commander-in-chief:
One of the reasons that I’m running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States.
This is interesting for two reasons. First, it’s another example of Republican politicians who, especially when a Democrat is president, think that the president has to earn the military’s respect, usually by doing what the generals say when it comes to policy disputes. A classic example of this tendency is Lindsay Graham’s reaction to Obama’s most recent Afghanistan speech, where he announced a mild lowering of troop levels, to which Graham responded, “Biden won, Petraeus lost.”
Second, it’s also interesting that John McCain, a genuine war hero who literally sacrificed his body for the country, largely shied away from attacks on Obama for his supposed lack of, in Kathleen Parker’s words, “blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values.” McCain continually hedged on whether or not to bring up Obama’s connection with Jeremiah Wright, and when he finally did, it was hardly a full-throated attack. Instead, the campaign that at least thought the most deeply about attacking Obama for not being “American” enough was the Hillary campaign, which brought up Jeremiah Wright repeatedly and whose senior strategist, Mark Penn, wanted to argue that Obama’s “roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited.”
Of course, conservatives, writ large, have been busy arguing that Obama is fundamentally disconnected from core American values—that, as Norman Podhoretz put it, Obama is an “anti-American leftist” with a “reprehensible cast of mind” or, as Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry wrote in a National Review cover story, “Obama’s first year in office should be seen in the context of contemporary liberalism’s discomfort with American exceptionalism.”
If Rick Perry is nominated, in other words, we will probably finally see the campaign that conservatives have been wanting since the day Obama got the Democratic nomination. And it’s sure to be ugly.