July 10, 2004
"Dumb and mean"

What can you say about an editorial from a Republican-stronghold newspaper that calls Governor Perry dumb and mean? Not mincing words, I guess.

The political behavior exhibited by Governor Rick Perry has been perplexing to many people. He often seems to revel in disaster, as when his staff reportedly cheered at the Legislature’s unanimous — unanimous, Democrat and Republican — rejection of his jerry-built school finance proposal.

Today he suffers the lowest popularity of any governor in modern Texas history. Republicans seem to be lining up to oppose him: Karen Hughes and Commerce Secretary Don Evans are rumored to be testing the waters already heavily navigated by Carol Keeton Strayhorn. Biding her time at the wheel of her own battleship is the most popular Republican in the state, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

So what gives with the governor? Why has he gone to such lengths to alienate his own base? Come to think of it, why does he so often do the opposite of what makes sense?

We think we may have found the answer.

In our experience, there are four types of people.


Then there are people who are dumb and mean. By far the worst of the human lot, these people are too dimwitted to grasp where their self-interest lies. They’re always suspicious because they believe that everyone else is trying to take advantage of them, and since they’re too dumb to figure out what’s good for them, they mistrust anyone who tries to explain it to them. Not trusting anybody else’s motives, and not quite sure of their own, they are likely to react by firing in all directions, often shooting themselves in the foot.

We would never say publicly what so many of Mr. Perry’s colleagues say privately, so we will address the first part of the dumb-and-mean equation by simply averring — as he would probably acknowledge himself — that Mr. Perry is no intellectual giant. Measuring the man by his actions, we have little need to know his IQ.

On the second part of the equation, Mr. Perry has also revealed enough of himself to make his character plain. There are people who confuse nastiness with toughness in the hope that other people will confuse them too. Mr. Perry has cultivated a reputation in political circles, and this is one case in which reputation reflects the real man.

When one considers how Mr. Perry so often does the opposite of what is in his own best interest to do, no other explanation fits. He thinks he knows what he’s doing. Unfortunately for Texas, he doesn’t. And he’s mean about it.

Say what you want, these guys don't pussyfoot around.

Kinky Friedman has compared Rick Perry to Gray Davis, and I think it's an apt analogy. Think back to when Davis when office. Here are some characteristics they share or shared:

1. Unloved by their own party, despised by the other party.

2. More interested in ruling, by force of will if need be, than governing. Not known for compromise, and not afraid to stomp on a legislative colleague who isn't singing from his hymnal.

3. Won reelection after a strongly negative campaign.

4. Presided over bad budgetary times, and increasingly seen as largely to blame for it.

Now, no one's going to start a recall campaign for Rick Perry, and they wouldn't get anywhere even if they did. But I do know that given a choice, he's the opponent the Democrats want in the 2006 Governor's race. I could certainly see a John Sharp or a Jim Turner, a moderate Dem with a fiscal conservative background and an ability to reach across the aisle, giving him a tough race. I also see it as being even nastier than 2002, as he likely won't have much of a record to run on. Who do you think the Park Cities People Newspapers editors will endorse? They're probably looking forward to writing that piece. Via Yellow Dog Blog.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 10, 2004 to Show Business for Ugly People | TrackBack

The problem for the Dems in Texas is much the same as the problem they have at the national level -- they almost need to wait until the day before the election to nominate someone, so that it's simply a referendum on the guy in office versus the undefined opponent.

Otherwise, folks tend to figure out things like, well, we may not love this conservative who holds office, except for the fact that we like this liberal who would replace him even less.

It's a conundrum, of course. Texas Dems don't have a good set of ideas to run on right now, so they're forced into being the anti-GOP party. That's not quite the same as running a specifc race as the anti-Perry candidate (which might work), but winning one race won't exactly rebuild the party in Texas. Until the Dems can get beyond being the Not-GOP party and be about ideas, I don't see them making a big comeback here. Maybe with Dick Murray's help, they will. I hope not, of course. :)

Posted by: kevin whited on July 10, 2004 3:05 PM

Kevin's comment is a measure of how meaningless the terms "conservative" and "liberal" have become in Repug circles. It's impossible for someone to be so right-wing that a Repug won't describe them as "conservative," even if "reactionary" or even "fascist" would be more appropriate. And "liberal" is nothing more than a pejorative antonym for "Republican," covering everyone from Sam Nunn and Zell Miller to Barney Frank and Ralph Nader. And by and large, the mainstream media has adopted the Repug definition.

The last part of his comment, though, is nearly correct. Too many Democrats have been too stupid to figure out how the Repugs have turned "liberal" into a meaningless slander. Thus, the biennial exercise in futility called "moving to the right, er, 'center'," in which Democrats fall for the belief that if they just become even more conservative than the batch which lost last time, then maybe - just maybe - they'll pull out a win this time. And every time, their base becomes more and more disillusioned, the "swing" voters become more and more confused, and the GOP puts more Repugs in office.

Democrats do have a good set of ideas, but they aren't running on them now. Instead of being an anti-GOP party (i.e., an actual opposition party), they're trying to be the "not-quite-as-bad-as-the-GOP" party. That's why I agree with Kevin that running "a moderate Dem with a fiscal conservative background and an ability to reach across the aisle," as Charles phrased it, may retake the Governor's mansion but it isn't going to lead to a Democratic renaissance, in Texas or anywhere else.

Democrats need to get over their fear of being labelled "liberal" and start running on what they really believe in: a fair deal for working people; protecting the environment, a decent education for all children, and yes, all that's going to cost money, but Democrats also believe that those who can most easily afford it should pay their fair share. People like Kevin aren't going to vote for a Democrat no matter how conservative (s)he becomes, and they're going to continue calling Democrats "liberals" no matter what.

I do think California is an instructive analogy. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won the Governor's race their by adopting the same strategy Charles recommends for our Democrats: running away from most of his party's core beliefs. But no one expects a Republican renaissance in California as a result.

The California GOP could certainly stand to start nominating less extreme candidates, but the ultimate solution to their problems isn't to become Democrats under another name. And the solution to Texas Democrats' problems isn't to become Republicans under another name, either.

Posted by: Mathwiz on July 15, 2004 12:05 PM