By Bill Boyarsky
There were many illogical moments during Gov. Rick Perry’s appearance at the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night. His rejection of climate science was noteworthy. So were his continued insistence that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and his characterization of President Barack Obama as an “abject liar.”
But the most illogical Perry point did not come up during the 1-hour, 45-minute debate, which took place at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. While Rick Perry was denouncing federal government spending in the form of Social Security and health care reform, the state he governs was accepting all available federal assistance for one of the worst Texas brush fire episodes on record. In fact, before the debate started, Perry was on the phone with the “abject liar.” The president said Washington will provide all the federal help that is needed and Perry presumably believed him and accepted the money.
For a front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry wasn’t anything special during the debate. He has a salesperson’s affable nature, but no particular charisma. He speaks clearly, but can’t explain himself well. He has a few deeply held beliefs, and doesn’t look particularly threatening. That’s probably enough for the right-wingers who dominate the Republican Party, especially since his beliefs coincide with theirs.
It was certainly enough to hurt Rep. Michele Bachmann, who had been hailed as a star by the pundits after her first debate. Here, Perry, her far-right rival, overshadowed her, and the pundits ripped the star from her dressing room door. Politics is a cruel business.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney inflicted the most damage on Perry when the debate turned to his Ponzi scheme comment, made in his book “Fed Up.”
When Perry was pressed by the journalistic panel on that point, he backed down a bit, saying people his age (61) wouldn’t have to worry about their benefits being taken away if he were president. But he didn’t seem to know enough about either Social Security or Ponzi schemes to be able to explain why.
Romney, who emerged from the debate as still the Republicans’ best bet against Obama, put the issue in words clear enough to be understood by any senior voter, especially those in the early Republican primary in New Hampshire.
“Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security but to saving Social Security,” Romney said. “We keep the program and we make it financially secure. ... Under no circumstances would I ever say by any measure it’s a failure. We’ve got to keep it working.”
The others were overshadowed, although former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman showed clarity and intelligence in his exchange with Perry over climate science. He is a handsome, well-spoken man, too sensible and moderate for this Republican race.
Perry disdained climate science, although he didn’t seem to know much about it except to insist we should “find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.”
Huntsman said, “Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I’m saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science.”
For the clearest view of some of the worst aspects of a possible Perry presidency, it’s best to look at what is happening in Texas rather than pay too much attention to the debate. With so many candidates, even an hour and a half didn’t allow time for detailed answers—lucky for Perry—or many follow-up questions.
While the debaters clashed, firefighters in Texas fought scores of fires, hampered by a lack of resources due to Perry administration budget cuts.
Jim Linardos, Lake Travis fire rescue chief, told Los Angeles Times reporters that Texas fire district funding is limited by the state at 10 cents per $100 valuation in property taxes. In Lake Tahoe, Nev., where he had been fire chief, he had five times the money to fight fires.
Times reporters Ashley Powers and Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported that volunteer fire departments, which serve much of Texas, face a 75 percent state budget cut under Perry and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
That makes no sense to most people, although it probably does to a lot of Republican primary voters and certainly to the conservatives who run the House of Representatives.
AP / Erich Schlegel
Firefighters in Texas make do with significantly less funding than those in other states, thanks to the stingy administration of Gov. Rick Perry and a Republican-controlled Legislature.