Perry, Iowa — After witnessing the Perry rally in Perry, Iowa, I have a sudden urge to rush out, purchase a firearm, and start rearing eagles. And if it had that effect on me, you know it was potent stuff.
The Perry rally at the Hotel Pattee was far, far nicer than the Santorum rally. Santorum stood on the stairs and addressed a tepid crowd of people without amplification, only four of whom were holding signs, while someone vacuumed in the background. Perry had a country music performer entertaining crowds in a nice room that Santorum seemed unaware was part of the building. The crowd was large and energetic. They shouted, “Amen!” and waved flocks of Perry signs. They interrupted him with tumultuous laughter and applause.
In the anteroom where Perry rallied, there is a painting of a man playing the fiddle in field of wheat and wearing a cowboy hat. The hotel walls are covered by paintings that look like Grant Woods but aren’t. They depict all sorts of pastimes that have not actually happened since the 1950s. Women in headbands and aprons and cat’s eye glasses, canning. Faceless men in wide-brimmed hats standing in fields. More faceless hatted men in fields. Faceless hatted men in fields in profile. It seems as though this artist had a great deal to say about men in farmer hats standing in fields, and he left none of it unsaid.
A mural on the wall where the rally is held depicts a train making a beeline for an enormous stalk of corn in a sunset as two men in a horse-drawn cart ride to market and gaze in wonder at the train. And there is another inscrutable man in a farmer hat. That was the rally in a nutshell.
Whenever you thought you had reached the absolute high-water mark of patriotic fervor, something else happened. First, a grizzled man played country songs on his guitar. Then Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal spoke. Then Kansas governor Sam Brownback came to the mic and complimented Iowans on the depth of their soil. Then, finally, Rick Perry, who had been bouncing on his feet and looking a bit puzzled – although that might just be his resting expression – stepped to the mic. He began by establishing to the crowd that never, under any circumstances, would he apologize for America. It had not occurred to me that this was the most pressing issue on American minds, but as the crowd murmured its approval I saw what a fool I had been.
“Damn straight!” someone yelled.
A long line of the people who show up at Republican debates and yell that you ought to dump the indigent elderly on the steps to die seemed to be standing in the back row.
And it only escalated. Next, Perry brought out not one, but two honored veterans, whose stories he told with the insertion of long, dramatic pauses, pacing and waving. His eyes grew moist. The soldiers nodded. He thanked them for their service. The crowd went wild. “That’s part of what this is all about,” Perry said. “It’s about these young men and women, about supporting ‘em when they come home.” But not only that. “It’s about being American, saying ‘God bless you’ for serving, for putting your life on the line. Thank you for doing that.”
But this was only the beginning. Next Perry complained about the EPA’s effect on tractors. The crowd concurred that it was idiotic to make a tractor cost $20,000 more for a minuscule reduction in the amount of nitrous oxide, or whatever, in the atmosphere.
Surely there was nowhere left to go.
The tenth amendment, Perry’s faithful companion of nearly a decade, came out and waved, metaphorically. “You let the states compete!” Perry yelled. He mimed signing a giant executive order wiping out Obamacare.
Surely there was now really nowhere left to go, no stop on the national organ of Behaviors To Evoke Love of God and Country that had yet to be pulled out.
“I’ve thought about what the prophet Isaiah said,” Perry said.
Then there was nowhere left to go.
It was all so aggressively, enthusiastically appealing to all patriotic impulses as to be very nearly cynical. “Here I am! Send me!” Perry volunteered, in the words of the prophet. The crowd went wild. You couldn’t stand there unmoved as two governors, two veterans, a country singer, and Rick Perry, with tears in his eyes, begged you – in front of a mural with grain on it – to “have my back tomorrow at the caucuses, and I’ll have your back the next four years in Washington!”
You felt that it might be almost cruel to send this man to Washington, a place he so clearly hated. But he had to go, because Isaiah had said so. Next I was expecting a yellow Support The Troops bumper sticker to emerge from the wings shouting, “I, too, endorse Rick Perry!” as several eagles flew overhead in formation and someone drilled down into the middle of the assembly to release a flood of oil and Jesus glanced down from the sky and nodded a manly nod, as though he approved.
Perhaps that’s what Perry has planned for tomorrow.