If you didn’t know any better, you might conclude that Rick Perry either is George W. Bush, or that he’s doing a pretty good imitation of him (or vice versa.)
Perry’s voice and intonation are a lot like Bush’s.
The gestures, the squinting and the laughter at seemingly inappropriate points in a sentence — are almost uncannily Bush-like.
Even the Texas swagger is reminiscent of Dubya, except that in Perry’s case,there’s a greater air of authenticity. George W. Bush and his family are Brahmin Yalies from New England. Rick Perry is a fifth-generation Lone Star state native who attended Texas A&M.
Perry is the present governor of Texas, having succeeded Bush, for whom he served as lieutenant governor, in 2000. (The two apparently are not on friendly terms)
Both governors have been known for their love of sports, and the prodigious application of the death penalty under their watch, sometimes with disturbing results.
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Perry’s penchant for taking extreme political positions is well known to those who have observed him since his 2010 run for an unprecedented third term (he is Texas’ longest-serving governor) and in some ways, Perry makes Bush look moderate by comparison
He has flirted with secession, to the delight of tea party groups, courted so-called “Tenthers” – who believe the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from doing much besides fighting wars, even declaring Clean Air Act, Medicaid and financial aid to be unconstitutional “nonsense.”
Perry did think the federal government should be in the business of sending financial aid to Texas back in April, when an outbreak of deadly wildfires scorched 1.8 million acres of his state, but he also responded to the emergency by issuing a proclamation calling on Texans to pray for rain.
When it comes to religion, Perry pals around with controversial right wing Christian leaders – including at last weekend’s 30,000-attendee prayer meeting dubbed “The Response,” who claim African-Americans have been cursed by God for supporting Democrats, and that Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the Antichrist.
On the economic front, Perry’s Texas has enjoyed an employment boom powered by low wage, non-union jobs and aggressive corporate tax cutting and deregulation — the moonlight and magnolias economic philosophy popularized in many southern states.
The Texas school system is ranked 43rd out of 50 in the nation in 2010.
Texas is number one in some areas, including the number of incarcerated persons, the number of juveniles in prison, the number of inmates in private prisons and the number of executions, including, prior to a 2004 Supreme Court decision, the number of prisoners executed who were juveniles when they committed their crimes, or who were mentally retarded.
Meanwhile, the state ranks 50th in spending on criminal defense for those who cannot afford an attorney, and blacks are incarcerated in the Lone Star state at a rate of 7 to one versus whites, according to the book Texas Tough: the Rise of America’s Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson.
Ironically, Perry’s biggest drawback among Republicans could be the same one that hurt Bush with the “close the borders” crowd: immigration.
Whereas Bush attracted upwards of 40 percent the growing Hispanic vote in Texas — a vote that’s destined to become a majority in that state (Hispanic students are already a majority in Texas schools,) Perry’s courting of the tea party has caused some Latinos in his state to give him the cold shoulder. But Perry’s opposition to an Arizona-style immigration law for Texas helped him win a nearly-Bushian 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2010, amid very low turnout for that voting bloc compared to 2008. That relatively moderate stance could come back to haunt Perry in a GOP primary.
Also, conservatives winced his (failed) grand plan for a trans-Texas corridor — a massive superhighway project that sounds more like Democratic infrastructure spending than Republican budget-cutting.
Perry has worked hard to shore up his conservative bona fides, even advocating sending the U.S. military into Mexico to fight drug traffickers.
He also pleased fellow Republicans — and alarmed voting rights advocates, by signing a voter ID law in May.
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Potential pitfalls aside, if Perry makes his intention to run for president known on Saturday, as he is widely expected to do, he will enter the race in second or third place. In fact, between putative front-runner Mitt Romney’s largely off-stage candidacy (Politico’s Ben Smith coined the phrase of the campaign season so far, calling it the “Mittness protection program”:http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/60444.html); and tea party front-woman Michele Bachmann attracting attention for all the wrong reasons, Perry might have a shot at grabbing the lead.
As a “plain spoken” and non-intellectually elite-seeming former governor, he fits the Republican archetype popularized by the younger President Bush and Ronald Reagan.
And the very qualities that make Perry seem like a fringe character to moderates and independents, track with increasingly far right Republican base, including an uncompromising, demonstrable Christianity and staunch opposition to cultural evolutions like gay marriage (not to mention the actual theory of evolution.)
Even his flirtation with secession is not out of bounds in a party whose front-liners have been known to romanticizes the Confederacy and gloss over slavery as the principal cause of the civil war.
At the least, Perry’s entry could finally cancel out poor Rick Santorum, who takes no backseat to anyone on Christian fundamentalism, but who can’t seem to get attention for anything other than the Google-mutilation of his last name.
Even Bachmann, who heads the tea party caucus in the House, may find it tough to compete for donors and top campaign staffers with a former governor, who can lay claim to executive experience that she lacks as a member of Congress.
With the Great Recession of 2007 still fresh in the minds of most Americans, and polls showing most Americans continue to blame the 43rd president — rather than Barack Obama — for the nation’s economic woes, it’s hard to believe Republicans would consider making a Bush Doppelganger their presidential nominee.
But as we’ve learned since the Tea Party movement came along, stranger things have happened in the GOP.