PEGGY NOONAN IS WORRIED ABOUT NOTHING
Peggy Noonan is worried about what she calls Rick Perry's "popping-off problem":
His primary flaw appears to be a chesty, quick-draw machismo that might be right for an angry base but wrong for an antsy country. Americans want a president who feels their anger without himself walking around enraged....
Why does this kind of thing matter? Because presidential temperament has never been more important. We can't escape presidents now, they're all over every screen, and they set a tone.
And the nation is roiling and restive. After Mr. Obama was elected, the right became angry, feisty, and created a new and needed party, the tea party. The right was on fire. The next time a Republican wins, and that could be next year, it will be the left that shows real anger, with unemployment high and no jobs available and government spending and services likely to be cut. The left will be on fire. The only thing leashing them now is the fact of Mr. Obama.
So there will be plenty of new angers out there. It probably won't be helpful if the next president is someone likely to add to the drama with a hot temperament or carelessness.
Well, to start with, is Noonan nuts? We're the left -- we're not going to be "on fire." Among ourselves, we're going to be fuming, but no one outside our circle will even notice. Oh, maybe we'll launch an actual campaign to turn back 1% of the new Republican agenda, like the current campaigns in Wisconsin and Ohio, but we'll meet mixed success at best and that will be that. Otherwise, no one will notice us. We'll be all but invisible.
And as for Perry, it doesn't matter what his actual style is, because his perceived style -- his style, that is, according the gone-native journalists covering him -- will be portrayed for us as just charming and delightful. Check out this, from The New York Times today:
When Rick Perry popped in for popovers at a Portsmouth, N.H., cafe recently, he cheerfully dismissed the bevy of protesters awaiting him and the two women haranguing him about Social Security. He handled the skeptics with aplomb, grinning at the hecklers and displaying a self-assured ease with everyone from the littlest of children to the angriest of voters.
... at a Portsmouth meet-and-greet last week, Mr. Perry seemed to relish his contact with locals. Kristin Bunce, 43, helped ease her 9-year-old son, Sam Beane, into Mr. Perry's path to ask a question. The governor crouched down so he was just inches from Sam's face, and in a soft, calm voice began to answer.
"How old do I think the earth is?" Mr. Perry said. "You know what? I don't have any idea. I know it's pretty old, so it goes back a long, long way."
Ms. Bunce urged Sam to ask the governor about his views on evolution, and Mr. Perry began to answer her question, still talking to Sam. (Mr. Perry's patient encounter with the boy would draw attention to his claim to the child that creationism is taught in Texas public schools, but in reality requiring its teaching would be unconstitutional.)
See? You thought that moment was a gaffe. Nonsense! It was a "patient encounter"!
Even lefty journos are seeing starbursts:
Travis Waldron, a reporter who was tracking the candidates for ThinkProgress.org, a liberal Web site, spent a week bouncing between the candidates. He found that Mr. Perry favored perfectly tailored pinstriped pants, with a crisp white shirt and a tie, while Mr. Romney often wore jeans or khakis with an open-collared button-down shirt. But despite Mr. Perry's more formal sartorial choices, Mr. Waldron marveled that he seemed more confident and at ease than Mr. Romney. The Texas governor just rolls in to events, he explained, exuding an air of "Yeah, I'm wearing pinstripes and Lone Star cuff links. This is who I am."
Comfortable in his own skin! Oooh!
So no matter how angry he is, Perry -- from now until the moment as president when he sinks below 35% in the polls -- will be depicted as a nice guy who (shucks!) sometimes neglects to watch his tongue, just the way the short-tempered, snappish George W. Bush was always depicted as a nice guy until, oh, around 2006, after he'd done most of his damage.
(It's actually Romney who gets dinged for his temper in the Times article -- recently he's said to have "found himself sparring with voters like a priggish crossing guard," which is the sort of sneering campaign-dispatch insult that's the press's way of declaring that you're doomed as a candidate. Needless to say, the rhetoric would be going the other way if Romney were still beating Perry in the polls. But really, what does temper matter anyway? Noonan worries about a hothead setting off the rabble, but who set off the teabaggers? Obama. Hell, Michael Dukakis would have set them off.)