Last Updated: Tue Jul 26, 2011 03:42 am (KSA) 00:42 am (GMT)

Michael Brenner: Who is Rick Perry?

Governor Rick Perry. (File photo)
Governor Rick Perry. (File photo)

As a fellow resident of Austin, I can say with some confidence that Governor Rick Perry shortly will throw his hat into the presidential ring. The temptation is irresistible.

Since American primary elections are now akin to roulette, he sees himself as having as good a shot at the nomination as the seven other declared candidates who have left most Republican voters uninspired. Mr. Perry first gave evidence of having his eye on higher office in 2008 when he maneuvered behind the scenes to get himself selected as the party’s Vice Presidential choice. The victory of fellow Southwesterner John McCain who preferred a more shapely Republican governor as his running mate dashed those hopes. Now Governor Perry is aiming for the big prize.

Who is Rick Perry? Little known outside of his region, the three-time governor has dominated Texas politics since he inherited the governor’s mansion from George W. Bush when the latter moved on to the White House. Mr. Perry grew up in a prairie town as the son of a county commissioner who was a lifetime Democrat – as was Rick Perry until he found his conservative faith in 1980 when Ronald Reagan’s rising star was exercising a magnetic attraction on many an aspiring politician in the Sun Belt.

He has moved steadily to the right in line with trends in Texas politics, especially among the Republican activists who dictate the party line. Now, he is a vocal all-out advocate of the Tea Party agenda. When challenged for the gubernatorial nomination by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, he embraced every radical fundamentalist position of the Christian Right and the passionate anti-government crowd.

He made national headlines by going so far as to broach the idea of Texas seceding from the United States in protest against the alleged incursions of Washington into the sacred private lives of loyal Texans as presented by President Obama’s health care legislation. Never more than a pre-primary ploy, the idea was quickly dropped when people realized that the states’ ethnic demographic trends pointed to 2040 as the year when Texas would join the Mexican Republic.

In truth, there is little evidence that Rick Perry has any strong convictions about serious policy matters – other than being a devotee of the current dogma prevailing among Republican leaders that has America circa 1920s as its lodestar. On foreign policy issues, he is noticeably silent. For good reason. His knowledge of international affairs is thin to the vanishing point. It is limited to border issues with Mexico.

On the neuralgic question of immigrants, he is less rabid than some others. That conforms to the general attitude of Texans (especially the flood of newcomers from other regions) who see the economic utility of having a large pool of cheap labor, harbor no visceral animus toward Latinos, and in their hearts realize that America stole Texas from Mexico “fair and square” back in the 1840s.

Were Mr. Perry to be nominated, he will go through an intense period of tutelage in foreign policy – as did Barack Obama. There will be many volunteers for the job – and George W. Bush is just down the road in Crawford.

(Professor Michael Brenner teaches at the University of Texas, Austin, and at the University of Pittsburgh. He can be reached at mbren@pitt.edu)

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