You can understand Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s dilemma. He is personally unpopular with Republican voters. The Post-ABC News poll tells us:
As Perry has become better known, formerly undecided Republicans have veered away from him. Fully 38 percent of Republicans have unfavorable impressions of Perry, up from 24 percent a month ago and just 11 percent in September. Nor does Perry have outsized appeal among the “very conservative,” with more than a third of those Americans now holding unfavorable views of the candidate.
Overall, 42 percent of Republicans have favorable views of the Texas governor, well below Gingrich’s 57 percent in the new poll. Fewer than one in four Republicans (23 percent) hold unfavorable views of the former speaker.
Arguably Gingrich’s numbers will go up as scrutiny increases and his rivals attack, but that won’t necessarily make Perry any more popular with primary voters.
Given that problem, and the fact that attacking his opponents will probably make him even less likable, Perry is understandably desperate to make an impression. He now is taking to a decidedly unconservative idea, rewriting the Constitution. In a speech in Iowa today he was candid about how radically he wants to proceed:
I do not believe Washington needs a new coat of paint, it needs a complete overhaul. We need to uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C. and our federal institutions.
We should apply the wisdom of Solomon to Washington. Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, says, “there is a time to plant and a time to uproot, there is a time to tear down and a time to build.”
It is time to tear down the monuments to bureaucratic failure, and in their place build a smaller, more efficient federal government that puts the American People first.
He contends that the way to do this is to rewrite Article III of the Constitution. He proposes: “Part one of my plan is to reform the federal judiciary by ending life terms for unelected federal judges. Too many federal judges rule with impunity from the bench, and those who legislate from the bench should not be entitled to lifetime abuse of their judicial authority. Under my plan, future appointees to the federal bench will not receive a lifetime appointment.”
There is no chance, of course, that Congress or the states will must the needed majorities to amend the Constitution. Nor is it clear that this will get at the problem Perry intends to address, that is judges who depart from the text of statutes and the Constitution. Do we think more frequent appointments and the shuffling in and out of judges would make them less political?
His next idea: “It’s time to create a part-time Congress where their pay is cut in half, their office budgets are cut in half, and their time in Washington is cut in half. And if they do not submit a budget that balances by 2020, as my plan calls for, we should cut their pay in half again. And when I take office, we will work to freeze congressional and agency salaries until the budget is balanced.”
I’d like to see Congress vote on that one. But more to the point, do we think less time is necessarily an improvement? They already don’t read legislation, avoid full hearings and operate behind closed doors. Do we want to give them more excuses ( No time!) to do this?
The problem of runaway judges is solved by a president who appoints people who eschew policy-making and by a Senate that takes its confirmation duties seriously. A constructive Congress is obtained by elections, every two years fortunately. There is no need for these pie-in-the-sky “reforms.” They don’t show a seriousness of purpose. Furthermore, they don’t evidence a conservative mind, which would look for the least intrusive and least cataclysmic changes to obtain better results.
This sort of showboating will get Perry nowhere. It simply re-enforces the perception that he’s not ready for more than the governorship. (A part-time legislature and term-limited judges are straight from a state playbook.) Far better, as Byron York argues, just to gladhand in Iowa. (“Traveling around Iowa for long encounters with voters at Pizza Ranches and town centers would allow Republicans to see Perry in a new way. If Perry made a good impression, word would get around. Sooner or later, the media would catch on, too.”) It is what he does best.