Despite its manifest limitations, Combat! blog strives to appear fair and reasonable. Our discussions here may be colored by liberal bias, occasional smug atheism and captions about seagulls swooping at Anne Coulter’s vagina, but we try to maintain at least a pose of circumspection. Nobody wants to read blog posts by a person who already knows what he thinks about everything. That being said: today I read about Rick Perry’s declaration that President Obama “grew up in a privileged way” and that “that mentality of ‘I’m the smartest guy in the room and therefore it couldn’t be my fault’ is really hurting America.” And I thought to myself, you craven little ponce. Only for once, I was thinking that about someone else. So today’s Combat! blog post is basically just a rant. Rick Perry is a mediocre man and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd. His campaign for the presidency is important only insofar as it warns us against the legions of men exactly like him who will come after, and who will also be too dishonest and stupid to do us any good.
Let us briefly consider the privileged upbringing of the first black man to become President of the United States. Abandoned by his father around age four, Barack Obama moved from Hawaii to Indonesia and lived with his mother and her new husband until he was about 10, when he was sent back to Hawaii to live with his grandmother. His mother returned to the United States for a few years during Obama’s early adolescence, then went back to Indonesia when he was 16 and stayed there until the year before she died of ovarian cancer. Obama attended Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law, which he paid for via scholarships and loans. He and his wife finally retired their student loan debt in 2006, mostly thanks to income from his bestselling books.
Compare this life to that of Rick Perry, who grew up on his married parents’ ranch in Texas. His father was county commissioner and, when Rick was four, decided not to move to Kenya and only see his son one more time before he died. Instead, he was on the school board. Perry attended Texas A&M, graduated in 1972 with a 2.5 GPA, and joined the Air Force. When he got out, he went to work for his father. Many years later, he became a millionaire while governor of Texas.
So when Perry says that the President was a child of privilege, he doesn’t mean “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people,” or “something regarded as a rare opportunity and bringing particular pleasure.” He means that Obama is smart. The President has never, ever discussed his own intelligence in a public setting or suggested that he was smarter than his political opponents, which is how you know he probably thinks he is. Also, people like Rick Perry keep telling you so.
It is that “privilege”—being smart enough to earn scholarships and develop psychological coping mechanisms when both of your parents bail on you before you’re old enough to drive—that, in Perry’s formulation, disconnects the President from the lives of normal Americans. That’s probably why he’s always trying to give them health insurance and food stamps and student loans, whereas Perry is trying to make their tax returns fit on a postcard and, in the process, give the wealthiest people in the country a tax cut. One of these men used his wits to get from his grandma’s house to Harvard to the Oval Office. The other one is an ordinary person, just like you, who pulled C’s in college and somehow wound up governor of Texas.
Perry’s argument is a slightly more adult variation on “you think you’re so smart.” If you would like to see me get insanely angry, try deploying that one in conversation. No, motherfucker, I have said across various tables, you think I’m so smart. I think I’m not smart enough. It is a terrible thing to do to somebody’s half-black grandson to make him test his way to college and borrow his way to law school and then—when he pays it all back and becomes President—accuse him of thinking he’s clever. That Rick Perry would do so in the name of good old American hard work is dishonest and cynical. It disgusts me.
This country needs more Barack Obamas—more black kids thrown away by their parents who somehow take it upon themselves to get an education and help other people. It does not need more good-looking C students whose willingness to say whatever they’re told gradually eases them into a job lecturing the rest of us about hard work and not putting on airs. We have plenty of Rick Perrys. Lying mediocrities are a dime a dozen in this country just now, as they have probably always been in every place on earth. They are only outnumbered by the people to whom they pander. When this campaign is over the smug average will absorb Rick Perry again, and they will like him and reassure him that at least he never acted too smart. People will forgive you everything else.