Ruth Marcus
Columnist August 30, 2011

Rick Perry is no George W. Bush.

This is not a compliment.

Ruth Marcus is a columnist and editorial writer for The Post, specializing in American politics and domestic policy. View Archive

Perry’s 2010 Tea Party-steeped manifesto, “Fed Up!,” makes George Bush look like George McGovern. Perry has said he wasn’t planning to run for president when he wrote the book, and it shows:

●The Texas governor floats the notion of repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorized the federal income tax. Perry describes the amendment as “the great milestone on the road to serfdom” because it “was the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States.”

Raise your hand if you believe, as Perry suggests, that it is wrong to ask the wealthiest to pay a greater share of their income than the poor.

●He lambastes the 17th Amendment, which instituted direct election of senators, as a misguided “blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government” that “traded structural difficulties and some local corruption for a much larger and dangerous form of corruption.”

Raise your hand if you’d like to give the power to elect senators back to your state legislature.

● Perry laments the New Deal as “the second big step” — the 16th and 17th amendments being the first — “in the march of socialism and . . . the key to releasing the remaining constraints on the national government’s power to do whatever it wishes.”

●He specifically targets Social Security for “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government,” and asserts that “by any measure, Social Security is a failure.”

Not by the measure of the dramatically reduced share of elderly living in poverty. Perry’s description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” was impolitic, but he has a legitimate point about the program’s funding imbalance. The bigger problem is his fundamental hostility to the notion of a federal role in retirement security — or, more broadly, a federal role in much of anything beside national defense.

●As much as he dislikes the New Deal, Perry is even less happy about the Great Society, suggesting that programs such as Medicare are unconstitutional. “From housing to public television, from the environment to art, from education to medical care, from public transportation to food, and beyond, Washington took greater control of powers that were conspicuously missing from Article 1 of the Constitution,” he writes.

Whoa! These are not mainstream Republican views — at least, not any Republican mainstream post-Goldwater and pre-Tea Party. Even Ronald Reagan, who had once criticized Social Security and Medicare, was backing away from those positions by the 1980 presidential campaign.

Reading “Fed Up!,” I had a flashback to scouring the writings of Robert Bork after his 1987 Supreme Court nomination — except that Bork’s most controversial writings were decades, not months, old.

Indeed, Perry’s views on the role of judges may be the most alarming part of “Fed Up!,” given a president’s ability to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come. Perry writes about the current court with venomous disdain.

The court “adheres to the Constitution in appearance only and as a matter of necessity,” he writes, “finding in it or in previous case law the single nugget around which the court can marginally justify its policy choice to keep up the pretense of actually caring one iota about the Constitution in the first place.”

Disagreeing with liberal justices is one thing. Accusing them of not caring about the Constitution is like denouncing the opposing party as unpatriotic — and is equally out of bounds.

Perry’s ideas range from wrongheaded to terrifying: requiring federal judges to stand for reappointment and reconfirmation; and letting Congress override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote in both houses. This “risks increased politicization of judicial decisions,” Perry allows, “but also has the benefit of letting the people stop the court from unilaterally deciding policy.”

Some benefit. Imagine what would have happened in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education if the Perry rule were in place.

“Not as often discussed, but equally interesting,” Perry muses, “would be a ‘clarifying’ amendment” — for example, to stop the 14th Amendment from being “abused by the court to carry out whatever policy choices it wants to make in the form of judicial activism.” How would Perry clarify such grand phrases as “due process” and “equal protection”? Perry doesn’t say.

The subtitle of Perry’s book is “Our Fight to Save America from Washington.” Reading it summons the image of another, urgent fight: saving America from Rick Perry.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com