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The problem with Perry

The GOP candidate's positions are not a vision of the future for the U.S. but of a discredited past.

August 28, 2011
  • Republican presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a "Welcome Home Rally" at Abel's on the Lake in Austin, Texas.
Republican presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a… (Michael Thomas / Associated…)

Given the depth of his loathing for the federal government, it's a little surprising that Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to preside over it. Indeed, in the preface to his book "Fed Up!", Perry writes: "Now, cynics will say that I decided to write this book because I seek higher office. They are wrong: I already have the greatest job in America."

Apparently not. The nation's longest-serving governor has changed his mind since the book came out last fall, perhaps concluding that winning the presidency is the best way to change the system he hates. And his entry into the GOP race has significantly altered the contest. Just weeks after his announcement, a Gallup Poll shows that he has easily taken the lead position among Republicans, with 29% support compared with 17% for former front-runner Mitt Romney. But who is Rick Perry, and what will Americans get if he's elected?

One thing they won't get is another George W. Bush, the other Texas governor to whom Perry is often compared. Perry is more rigidly conservative than Bush, more resistant to compromise and more anti-establishment. In his book, he positions himself as a model "tea party" Republican, and he rails against the scourges that most irk movement conservatives: federal incursion into states' rights, a government that seems only to expand and never to shrink, and an activist Supreme Court that sets policy rather than interprets the Constitution.

Here are some of Perry's positions on key issues — and our criticisms of them:

Social Security: Perry sees it as a misguided product of the New Deal. In "Fed Up!", Perry envisions a future in which "there will be a retirement safety net that is no longer set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme, but rather will allow individuals to own and control their own retirement." In other words, he favors private accounts, a top priority of Bush's that died in 2005 because it was unpopular with the public and went nowhere in Congress. There is a reason for this. Social Security is an insurance program, not a savings plan. It's intended as a reliable, risk-free backup to private plans, which often generate higher returns but at higher risk. Replacing it with private accounts imposes more risk on everybody and presumes a level of financial expertise that many Americans don't possess.

Healthcare: Like many movement conservatives, Perry is on an almost messianic quest to repeal the healthcare reform law, which he says is "the closest this country has ever come to outright socialism." Perry believes that the mandate for all Americans to buy health insurance is unconstitutional, that federal bureaucrats will ration care even in cases of life and death and that the law will raise taxes, fund abortion and worsen the deficit. Most of this is misleading or untrue. The law will raise some taxes, but it won't fund abortion, nor, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will it worsen the deficit. The "rationing" Perry fears is already inherent in Medicare and Medicaid, and is considered more patient-friendly than the practices of most private insurers. Moreover, Perry's proposed fixes for the healthcare system -- tort reform, individual (rather than employer-sponsored) health insurance, portability of plans for people who move or change jobs -- would do nothing to slow the growth of healthcare costs or reduce the number of uninsured Americans.

National defense: Although the United States spends nearly as much on defense as every other country on Earth combined, Perry thinks that's not enough. He believes President Obama's attempts to limit nuclear weapons are misguided because they ignore "the realities of a world full of power-hungry despots who respect us not because of our ideals but because of our strength." He wants to reinstate funding for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, a pet project of Bush's involving an expensive and unproved technology that generated enormous tension with Russia.

Politics: If you thought the Republicans in control of the House were an uncompromising bunch, they've got nothing on Perry. In Texas, the governor has never been known for reaching across the aisle and pressures moderate Republicans to toe the conservative line. He believes the GOP lost its congressional majority in 2006 not because of an unpopular war but because the party compromised its small-government principles. Under a Perry administration, it would be Rick's way or the highway.

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