The Post’s View

An ugly start to Rick Perry’s campaign

“IF THIS GUY prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”

Thus spoke Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, referring to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. You might chalk the remark up to a weak attempt at humor — if you watch the video, you’ll hear a few nervous laughs from the small crowd — but then Mr. Perry went on in an even less appropriate vein.

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“Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion,” Mr. Perry said.

“To play politics”? Mr. Bernanke was appointed chairman of the Fed by a Republican president, George W. Bush. He was reappointed by a Democratic president, Barack Obama, in an acknowledgment of how indispensable he had become in a time of crisis. In fall 2008, when global finances threatened to spin out of control, Mr. Bernanke responded with a steeliness that may have saved the country from disaster far worse than the severe downturn it has experienced.

That’s our view; it’s the view, we’d wager, of most economists. Mr. Bernanke’s actions had the support of both Mr. Bush and then-candidate Obama, of Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and future Democratic Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. And in the years since, Mr. Bernanke and his team have done as much as the Fed should do to get the economy moving again.

Now, if Mr. Perry disagrees, that’s fine. The actions of the Fed leading up to, during and after the crisis will be studied and critiqued for decades. Maybe Mr. Perry could have done better; we’ll be interested to hear about his economic program in the days to come.

But there has never been a whisper, let alone any evidence, that Mr. Bernanke’s actions have been motivated by anything but patriotism and determination to see the U.S. economy regain its footing. There was never a whisper, let alone any evidence, that the Republican-appointed Fed chairman sought to help Republican candidate John McCain in 2008, and there is no reason to believe he is playing politics now.

If Mr. Perry has evidence to the contrary, he should present it. If not, he should apologize.

But questioning his opponents’ good faith seems to be part of Mr. Perry’s early playbook. He already has disparaged Mr. Obama for not serving in the military, something that Mr. McCain — with far greater claim on the nation’s gratitude for his military service than Mr. Perry has — never stooped to. And when asked whether Mr. Obama loves his country, Mr. Perry responded, “I dunno, you need to ask him. . . . You’re a good reporter, go ask him.”

When we asked the campaign about these remarks, a spokesman e-mailed, “The Governor never said the President does not love his country.” As to his remarks concerning Mr. Bernanke, “The Governor was expressing his frustration with the current economic situation and the out of control spending that persists in Washington.” But frustration does not excuse accusing people of treason if you don’t like their policies.

In the days after the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others just outside Tucson, there was widespread revulsion at the nastiness of much political rhetoric and widespread commitment to argue about issues without questioning opponents’ motivations or character. Mr. Perry’s presidential campaign, not yet a week old, suggests he didn’t get the message. We hope he begins to make his case in a way that will reflect better on his own character.

 
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