Like the character in the old Tom Petty song, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry won’t back down.
He stands by his charge that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. He won’t apologize for blasting the Federal Reserve’s policies as “treasonous.” And he hasn’t reversed course on his dismissal of mankind’s role in climate change. “There may be slicker candidates and smoother debaters,” Perry said recently while campaigning in Michigan, “but I know what I believe.”
So, it will be interesting to see what he believes these days about his two-decade-old dis of North Carolina barbecue.
The Raleigh News & Observer’s “Under the Dome” blog recently unearthed a Perry quote from the book “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.”
The quote dates back to 1992 when Perry was an aspiring Texas politician attending the Republican National Convention in Houston. After eating some eastern North Carolina barbecue, he announced: “I’ve had roadkill that tasted better than that.”
After the News & Observer item appeared, WCTI-TV asked Wilbur King of King’s Restaurant, whose barbecue Perry, um, reviewed, what he thought of the comment. “He has admitted to eating road-kill, and knowing what it tastes like,” King said. “How can this person possibly judge any food?”
The Los Angeles Times rose to Perry’s defense. “Look, North Carolina, California has been taking it on the chin for the better part of 20 years — and deservedly so, considering our dysfunctional government and elevation of an action hero to governor,” wrote Paul Thornton on the paper’s “Opinion L.A.” blog.
“So when the great state of North Carolina fiercely stakes out a side in the cow vs. pig barbecue row in reaction to flippant comments Texas Gov. Rick Perry made 19 years ago, it suggests one of two things: Either today’s political culture of umbrage-taking, and over the smallest offenses, is fed primarily by the media (thus this story is way overblown), or we snobby coastal dwellers are right to regard anything between Miami and Seattle as flyover country.”
The Atlantic refereed the fray, giving a TKO to North Carolina. “They’re guilty of...defending their delicious foods?” wrote Alexander Abad-Santos. “Perry probably owes them an apology and giving himself a harsh sentence of eating some N.C. barbecue while smiling for cameras. Thornton has done himself no favors. Hasn’t he seen enough mayors challenging each another with regional foods during the Super Bowl? This contest is in the same vein. And barbecue, whether it’s from Texas or North Carolina or any other place that takes smoked meat seriously (located in what Thornton calls ‘flyover country’) will always be superior to a Californian without a sense of humor.”
Meanwhile, Richard Averitte of the Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q chain in North Carolina, sent Perry two pounds of barbecue, some slaw and hot sauce. He included a conciliatory letter, asking the tough-talking Texan to give North Carolina barbecue another chance.
The Charlotte Food Examiner’s Jeffrey Weeks was less forgiving. Citing the Texas governor’s impolitic comment, Weeks wrote: “Rick Perry is not fit to be president of the United States.”
“Holy Smoke” co-author John Shelton Reed was philosophical. “Barbecue,” he was widely quoted as saying, “is the third rail of North Carolina politics.”
Think he’s joking? North Carolina 1984 gubernatorial candidate Rufus Edmisten blames his loss on calling barbecue “that damnable stuff.” More recently, Michelle Obama was roundly ridiculed in ‘cue country for saying, in an announcement about the Democratic National Convention, that ‘cue-challenged Charlotte had “great” barbecue.
No word at this writing from the man who knows what he believes.
Smoke Signals believes Perry will likely find a way to eat crow. For the candidate, anyway, it would beat eating North Carolina barbecue.