|The rare Texan Loon (R-TX) in his natural habitat.|
Perry's religious views and religious grandstanding, though, are less of a big deal than other things. What is a big deal is his idea of how government works, and how America should be run. To put it simply: Gov. Perry might believe in a thing called "The United States of America". But it seems evident that he doesn't believe in a United States of America. It is a key distinction, and one with major consequences.
Let's go back in time a couple years first (no flux capacitor required here). In 2009, Perry famously attacked federal government overreach, and disturbingly claimed:
"There's a lot of different scenarios. We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."Plenty of bloggers and reporters took this as declaring the legitimacy of secession. And maybe that's exactly what it was. But it's more important to explore the ideology that produces this sort of statement.
The sum total of that ideology seems to be that very few things that the Federal government does are legitimate. Social Security, most regulations, the minimum wage, labor laws, and so forth are unconstitutional and not in keeping with our founding principles. What the Federal government actually can do according to Perry isn't exactly clear.
Ordinarily one would invoke the general welfare and necessary and proper clauses of Article 1, but he rejects the general welfare clause as having anything to do with...well, anything really. This reading of the Constitution is rather interesting, since it ignores basic things like "what words mean". Perry has a vision, though, and it's one that doesn't involve the Federal government needing to do anything.
His solution to everything is to leave it to the states instead. And that applies to pretty much everything. It's not hard to see how this could fail like the Hindenburg. Independent Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and so forth would be a disaster, given the ease of moving between states. The burdens would be placed on states with the most friendly policies to beneficiaries, while people would live most of their lives elsewhere.
Indeed, we've already seen what happens in Perry's vision, as Klein points out: credit card companies are regulated differently in different states. Therefore they set up shop where regulations are lax, and screw the rest of us from a distance. We would see the same with everything else: banking regulations, for example.
If Perry had his way, the nation would look radically different. Of course, we've seen it before, because we've done this song and dance once already. What Perry describes isn't too different from how things functioned under the Articles of Confederation. Then, we did not have a Union; we had a loose network of trade agreements and mutual defense. If you remember your history, then you remember how spectacularly it failed. Its failure led, in turn, to the Constitution that Perry so reveres yet understands so badly.
Under Perry's system, things like Social Security and Medicare would be almost impossible. Environmental regulations would be pointless. Labor laws would be shattered. Civil rights gains, won hard with blood, sweat and tears, would be broken. The advances of the 20th Century, in other words, would be gone. Undone. Destroyed by a man who thinks secession is a reasonable idea to throw around, and that a central government doesn't serve any purpose.
Perhaps that is the point. And so we are left with no choice but to see Perry's ideology as hopelessly reactionary, feckless and terrible for everyone. Perry thinks that we can have a 21st Century America - the standard of living, the economic engine, the superpower-ness - without the things that allowed that America to build itself. It's an un-United States, with nothing to hold the states together. This vision is wrong and insane, of course, but being wrong and insane doesn't seem to stop any Republicans these days.
This is why Perry is perhaps the most dangerous and offensive of the Republican field. He knows exactly what he wants to do, and how it needs to be achieved. He has a real vision for what America should be, and it is a vision where the parts make no whole. The problem, though, is that it's of an America that does not exist, never existed, and should not ever exist. Perhaps he will never make it out of the primaries. That would be good. But if he does, then anyone who enjoys living in a first world, 21st century nation needs to ensure Perry loses.