Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I'm less interested in the literalness of Rick Perry's threat than in the question of whether non-Texan Americans are really going to want to sign on for a four-year ride with a guy who seems as if he drives too fast and issues fight threats to strangers in bars:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered the presidential campaign on Saturday, appeared to suggest a violent response would be warranted should Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke "print more money" between now and the election. Speaking just now in Iowa, Perry said, "If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y'all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion." Treason is a capital offense.

I guess this kind of thing works in Texas. It works regionally elsewhere -- not just in the South (Jesse Helms threatening Bill Clinton) but here in New York City (Mayors Giuliani and Koch both talked more or less like this on a regular basis).

But none of those guys ever became president, and if some people in the heartland still wish Giuliani would run, it's because they first saw him in tragic mode, not in the borderline-personality-disorder mode that we endured every day here in New York. Americans want a steady hand at the tiller -- they don't always get that (Richard Nixon, Bush/Cheney), but we've never had a president who campaigned on shoot-from-the-hip impulsiveness.

Maybe George W. Bush came closest, but under Karl Rove's tutelage he became reasonably skilled at seeming to care, in a thoughtful way, about big ideas like freedom. If you fell for it, you bought the notion that it wasn't all about him. For Perry, it is all about him, and he thinks it's your problem if you don't like the fact that he seems to have a screw loose. We still haven't restricted the franchise to swooning reporters, so I think Perry's going to have a problem taking this approach all the way to the Oval Office. And we'll see about the nomination. (I think it could be just the right approach to winning the nomination, given the hunger of the crazy base for a punch-throwing champion, and if that's the case, the combination of teabagger delight and a thrilled, quote-hungry mainstream press will leave Perry having to tack his style more than his message to the right in the general election -- something that, by then, may be impossible to do credibly.)

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