Texas Gov. Rick Perry has carved out an identity, if not a career, from worshiping the 10th Amendment and slinging invectives at the Beltway. There’s a lot to the frustration with the federal government. And without a doubt a legitimate aim of conservatism is to limit the size and scope of government. But is it to denigrate Washington?
Perry dipped a toe in the national media market with an appearance on the Laura Ingraham radio show. Obviously at home in the talk show milieu he let loose: “With all due respect to anybody that’s out there either directly or indirectly criticizing me because I speak plainly, I call it like I see it. Look, I am not an establishment figure, never have been, and frankly, I don’t want to be. I dislike Washington; I think it’s a seedy place. Our country is in trouble and I don’t have the privilege to sit on the sideline and watch our country be destroyed economically by a president who has been conducting an experiment on the American economy for the last two and a half years.”
So is D.C. “seedy” or does he just not approve of the current White House occupant? Here’s the thing: When he does his anti-Washington shtick he sounds like someone who doesn’t have the patience or the skill to govern from there. He’s going to have a tough time governing in a place for which he already has shown contempt.
Ronald Reagan certainly was the ultimate advocate of reducing the federal government’s role. (“Government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem.”) But he didn’t make it his business to slam institutions and officials, or to display contempt for Washington itself. I frankly can’t recall any president doing that.
Who sounds more like a presidential candidate — Perry or freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)? Moreover, when Perry talks in this fashion he reinforces the notion that he’s all about Texas provincialism, and not so much about leading the whole country. (Would he have said that Austin is a “seedy” place?)
Now, perhaps if he had been more articulate in spelling out why he disapproved of D.C. it would have come across as smarter and/or funnier. Perry is a smart man, but the language and his bravado that allowed him to succeed in Texas aren’t going to cut it when he wants to convince people he has the gravitas to lead the free world. Does he want to sound less presidential than Ron Paul? Or does he want to exert the energy and demonstrate the self-discipline to show there’s more to him than his critics claim? The jury is out.