Texas Gov. Rick Perry is coming under the sort of scrutiny you would expect a front-runner to face. Politico’s Jonathan Martin asks if he is “dumb.” (Martin’s answer: Just generally uninterested in policy.) The New York Times raises an issue that has given Perry the most trouble. Ironically it’s his favorite topic: The 10th Amendment. The Times reports:
Though the governor has a claim to acting on these principles, he has come to publicly embrace states’ rights as a defining issue only in the past few years, a period when the 10th Amendment has been a rallying cry for many Tea Party supporters, libertarians and others who make up his party’s conservative base. And he has been inconsistent in applying those beliefs, drawing criticism from some states’ rights advocates and raising questions even among fellow Republicans about whether his stance is as much campaign positioning as a philosophical commitment.
In one of his more well-publicized shifts, Mr. Perry proclaimed that gay marriage was an issue for individual states to decide, but backtracked in recent weeks and now says he supports a federal amendment banning gay marriage. He has also signaled support for various federal actions to restrict abortion rather than leaving the issue to states. And he used $17 billion in federal stimulus money to balance the state’s last two budgets.
The Times reports that Perry’s spokesman justified his state’s receipt of large sums of federal money in the past several years by claiming Texas is “a so-called donor state that pays more in federal taxes than it receives.” However, this may not be correct, at least not for the last eight years. The Austin American-Statesman looked into this issue and found: “On an annual basis between 1981 and 2003, Texas almost always paid more in federal taxes than it got back from Uncle Sam. But since 2003 the reverse has been true, with Texas receiving more than it paid in five out of seven years, which is close to routine.”
It likewise will be interesting to hear how Perry justifies his reversal on a gay marriage. One suspects many of his previous grand pronouncements on federalism were not all that well thought out. The stuff of Tea Party speeches and campaign books doesn’t always match up to the demands of governing, even in a very conservative state.
Likewise, Perry has frequently criticized the federal government for “picking winner and losers.” However, this hardly matches his own record on economic development in which he championed large government funds to dole out huge grants to those with political connections. Again he does not seem to have deployed his generic conception of what government should be doing in specific contexts.
We elected a president in 2008 based on platitudes; he was someone who excelled primarily at politics and left the details (on the stimulus bill, most clearly) to others. The results were not good. Perry will need to demonstrate that unlike the man he wants to replace, he really is adept at and interested at policy, has specific plans and is not simply going to leave the hard work to others. He’ll need to explain how his general philosophy is applied to a variety of policy issues. (You can understand why there are a bunch of misty-eye supporters of Rep. Paul Ryan longing for some policy meat.)
Perry’s rollout has been orchestrated with remarkable skill. Now he needs to show some depth, explain what some of his catchphrases mean and be prepared to defend his positions (and some inconsistencies) against tough competitors.