Like most Republicans, Rick Perry knows that government is the problem. But like a shining, lantern-jawed metaphor for his fellow candidates, he is not so clear on which aspects of government need to go. Definitely regulation. Probably taxes, especially for rich people. And uh, when you get right down to it, there’s no need for…um…ah…I’m smiling warmly right now. Is it working? At least my agitation has spread to Ron Paul, who is now waving his hand around like it’s trying to fly away. Video:
It’s possible that will not be good for his campaign.
Before last night, Perry was a candidate with the virtues of his faults. He was confident, down-home and charming, like George W. Bush. He also appeared to be a little dumb, like George W. Bush. As much as pundits and analysts agree that Republicans want to distance themselves from maybe the worst President in history, W is also their only guy to make it two terms since Reagan. He was perfect, except for the part where he used his faculties of reasoning to bankrupt the country, launch two objectiveless land wars and sell federal regulatory authority to the highest bidder. But man, people loved him. Maybe Rick Perry could be like that, only without all the bad stuff.
Or maybe he could be more so. Perry’s performance at last night’s debate revealed two aspects of his personality. One, he does not maintain an iron grip on what the hell he is talking about. Two, he does not seem to think that’s a big deal. As in New Hampshire, where he rambled for twenty minutes with that relaxed affability that gradually concentrates itself only in the person speaking, Perry seemed to think last night’s flub was funny. It was, but maybe not funny-we-like-you. “Oops,” he said, and smiled rakishly, like he had come home drunk on our anniversary and was about to kiss us.
So the big question is, do we have to go live with Mitt Romney now? Last week Perry officially denied being drunk at a stump speech, and this week he forgot an important aspect of his own opinion and had to stop talking for 53 seconds on television. Herman Cain has harassed so many women that he doesn’t keep track of them. Rick Santorum could come out of the closet at any moment, Newt Gingrich is history’s greatest monster, and if we put Ron Paul in the Oval Office he’d just tear up all the carpet and have a stroke. Maybe this is John Huntsman’s chance to achieve existence in the eyes of registered Republicans. Or maybe, a year out from the general election, we are watching the beginning of Romney’s long and dignified campaign for 41% of the vote.
Here’s a fun analogy: Rick Perry wants to eliminate a third government agency, but he can’t say which one. The contemporary right rejects the Obama presidency and its failed policies, but they can’t say what they’d do instead.* And the Republican primary electorate doesn’t want to embrace Mitt Romney, but they don’t like any of the other candidates, either. A generalization like this one cannot possibly be accurate, but the GOP is not the party of opposition; it’s the party of dissatisfaction. That’s understandable, given the dangerous proximity of our great nation to the toilet, but it’s not going to do any good.
One of my high school teachers, Vern Hill, instituted a rule in his classroom that whenever we criticized anything, we had to also say what we would do instead. It was a useful stricture for teenagers, whose capacity to identify what sucks develops far in advance of their problem solving abilities. Like a teenager, Republicans currently live in a house that they do not control and that seems to them enormously stupid and unfair. They are going to be pretty pissed off until they get their own place. They can’t say what that place will be like, or how they will make a living once they get there, but you can bet it will be better than this. This place is stupid. It just is. Laugh, say “I don’t know.” Get drunk. Uncomfortable silence.