Rick Perry, Federalist

August 18, 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry formally entered the Republican presidential primary race on Saturday.

I think the time has come for all conservatives to unite behind him.

Section I: Why unite?
Section II: Why Perry? 

For purposes of this discussion, I won’t distinguish between things that I think make a candidate objectively a better choice (ideology plus competence) and things that I think make a candidate more likely to be elected, because so many of these factors count for both.

I — Why unite?

We have a lot of candidates right now running for the Republican nomination—eight at the moment, and I hear rumors about at least three others who might yet join the race.  Early in the race, it may be good to have a lot of candidates; it allows us, the electorate, to weigh their pros and cons, and it allows them to debate the issues and bring new ideas to the public’s attention.

Beyond a certain point, however, it’s bad to have too many candidates, for the same reason that we have primaries in the first place (to narrow a race down to two candidates for the general election):  The more candidates there are, the more the winner will depend on how many similar candidates there are, rather than on what the people actually want.

Many democratic countries don’t have America’s two-party system.  In France, for example, if I remember correctly, any number of candidates from any number of parties can run for president, and the winner is chosen in a run-off election between the top vote getter and the candidate who gets the second-most votes.  (If I remember incorrectly, take it as an illustration anyway; the abstract principle is the same, whether France works like this or not.)  So imagine the political parties along a spectrum from left to right—I agree that the “spectrum” model is problematic in some ways, but it’s useful as far as it goes—and imagine that there are two or three candidates more and less right of center, but about a dozen candidates at various points left of center: left-leaning moderates, harder leftists, and several subtle variations on Communism (a Leninist, a Trostkyite, whatever).

Imagine that the population of the country is distributed evenly along the political spectrum, and votes accordingly:  Then the run-off will be between two of the right-of-center candidates.  Even though half of the country is left of center, the choice in the final election is only between Mr. Right and Mr. Even Further Right—simply because the votes on the right were split among fewer candidates than the votes on the left.

Potentially, it works more or less the same way in an American primary.  As a conservative, I’m tempted to see it as a good thing that so many of the candidates this cycle are so conservative—more candidates putting forth more (conservative) ideas, having a conservative conversation that will (perhaps) further normalize conservatism in the mind of the public (to the extent that anyone is listening to the conversation).  Yet if we had (hypothetically) three liberal-moderate-squishy candidates, and five more or less solid conservative candidates, that would tend to make one of the moderates eventually win.

So I think it’s time for conservatives to unite behind the best candidate.  Now that Rick Perry is officially in, I hope that we can all unite behind him.

II — Why Perry?

In terms of experience, he’s top-tier.  Arguably any president of the United States should first have been the governor of a state, arguably the job most similar to president.  According to National Review, “by 2010 Perry already had served in office far longer than any other [Texas] governor”.

As of the debate in Iowa a week ago, there were eight candidates:  Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum.  Only three of them—Romney, Huntsman, and Pawlenty—had ever been a governor, and Pawlenty dropped out of the race entirely after getting third place in the Iowa straw poll this past Saturday.  You can read interesting analyses of Pawlenty’s fall elsewhere—e.g., from Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online—if you’re so inclined.

In terms of policy, it appears to me that Perry is strongly conservative on just about every issue but illegal immigration.  Even on that, he could be worse:  About a decade ago, he did support a Texas law that gave in-state tuition at state colleges to children of illegal immigrants—reminiscent of the proposed national “DREAM Act”, which apparently may have been inspired by the Texas law in the first place—but he has since come out against the national DREAM Act, and tried to pass a law similar to Arizona’s to ban “sanctuary cities” and allow police to check people’s immigration status.

You’ll notice that with just those two criteria—experience and policy—he is already set apart as better than any of the other seven candidates.  Romney did Obamacare in Massachusetts before there was an Obamacare.  Huntsman supported “cap and trade”supports “civil unions”, and has said the Obama stimulus “probably wasn’t large enough”.  Bachmann and Paul are mere congressmen.  I don’t think Cain has ever held any elected office.  Gingrich is a former congressman with a more impressive resume than some (e.g., the significant welfare reform of the 1990s), but also an impressive record of bad choices, both on policy and personally.

I’ve been a big supporter of Rick Santorum, but it appears to me that Perry has almost all the benefits of Santorum, plus several important advantages:  Perry is a governor.  (Santorum is a former senator.)  Though fourth in the Iowa straw poll last Saturday, Santorum is polling at about 2% nationwide—while Perry is closer to 20%.  Last but not least, on perhaps the biggest issue of this election, jobs, Perry’s record is something to brag about:  Politico admits, “Texas currently is the No. 1 state for job creation and accounts for more than 40 percent of the jobs generated nationally since mid-2009.”

Perry is also an outspoken advocate of federalism, the unfashionable idea that there should be checks and balances, and specifically that power should be divided between the national government and the states, as the Constitution originally provided (and as it still calls for, if anyone will listen).  It’s such a prominent part of his political identity that it was the centerpiece of a National Review profile of him earlier this year (Kevin Williamson, April 4th, 2011, page 28, title on cover: “Giving Washington the Boot: Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Tenth Amendment Revival”).  I think a revival of federalism would be a very good thing for the country; barring a constitutional amendment, having a pro-federalism president might be the best thing for it.

The National Review piece also notes,

People who haven’t followed Perry’s career will be surprised to learn that he’s particularly proud of Texas’s environmental record — 27 percent reduction in ozone levels, 53 percent in mono-nitrogen oxides — and that he’s suing the Environmental Protection Agency in order to defend the state’s flexible permitting rules, which he credits with improving air quality without placing unbearable burdens on business.

I think Perry should be our nominee.  In the meantime, be prepared for liberals in the media and in Washington to try to smear him, both on his record and personally—though if he’s as good a politician as I hear, he may be able to take it.

15 Responses to “Rick Perry, Federalist”

  1. snoodickle Says:

    Here’s the problem with Perry and every other conservative candidate in my opinion – people are “surprised to learn” when conservatives are anything other than hostile to the environment. Why is this? Even Perry, environmental guru that he is, denies that mankind has caused or contributed to global warming. In my opinion, the environment should always come before business, because you can always rebuild an economy, but once the planet is gone, it is gone forever.

    Perry isn’t the worst candidate in the world, though, that title goes to the other Rick, so I am pleased to see that you have abandoned your original sweetheart and jumped on the Perry bandwagon.

  2. snoodickle Says:

    “Rick Perry, Socialist”

    Chillingworth, I wonder how you feel about Rick Perry’s socialist policy of redistributing tax dollars to private enterprises. More striking is the fact that Rick Perry has fostered a culture of bribery in addition to a culture of socialism, as much of the socialist aid has gone to campaign supporters.

    This is who we should rally behind? Why not just elect Mao himself?

  3. The shortest answer I can give you is that this was already covered in the National Review profile I linked to above:

    Like most governors, he is not particularly interested in ideological purism or abstract intellectual consistency. He’s a free-market guy, to be sure, but he also likes to brag about the state’s Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, which it uses to bribe (my word) businesses to set up shop. Yes, practically every state and city in the country has an “economic development” program like that, and they’re all kind of distasteful to hardcore free-enterprise ideologues, but Texas gets more for its money than do most states, including a rate of job growth that is phenomenal compared with the rest of the big states’.

    I guess you’re making two arguments.

    As to your “socialist” argument, as another blogger remarked the other day, “Perry isn’t perfect, of course, but my understanding is that Jesus isn’t running in 2012. Therefore, we need to pick the least-imperfect person.” As the NR profile notes, Perry could be more purely pro-free-market or pro-small-government. He still looks to me like the best choice available.

    As to your “bribery” argument, the New York Times piece you give as evidence indulges in some of the same far-from-airtight reasoning you’ve been criticized for before. For example, they tell us,

    More than a quarter of the companies that have received grants from the enterprise fund in the most recent fiscal year, or their chief executives, made contributions to either Mr. Perry’s campaign dating back to 2001 or to the Republican Governors Association since 2008, when Mr. Perry became its chairman, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

    OK, a quarter. What’s the fraction for all companies, or for the companies that did not receive grants from that fund? (In other words, how does this compare to the control group?) The Times don’t seem to think that information is relevant.

    So, on my reading of this article, it’s not even necessarily proven yet that there’s any correlation between donations to Perry and payouts from his state-government funds. Even if it were, I certainly don’t think this article has proven causation—that there was quid pro quo, that the donations caused the payouts.

    Even if both of those things were proven, it still wouldn’t change my support of Perry. It may be that to some extent, as someone is quoted in the article as saying, “This is the way business is done,” and it may be that to some extent this is the way politics is done. Again, I don’t expect Perry to be perfect. Do we have any reason to believe Perry is even a little bit worse than any other politician? As even this Times piece admits, “Mr. Perry is not the first governor to have taken contributions from contractors or appointees to state commissions and boards, . . . .”

    By the way, if you think there is such quid-pro-quo going on, the solution isn’t stricter campaign-finance restrictions, as this Times piece implies; the solution is to make the government as small as possible. The smaller it is, the less power it has to grant favors or prefernce to favored persons (e.g., donors). The larger it is, the more incentive people will have to try to get a piece of it, so to speak, however you try to stop them.

    As I said, let the smearing begin.

  4. snoodickle Says:

    Actually, the most relevant test would be to gauge the rate of success for donors v. non-donors in applying for and receiving grants. No “control group” is necessary, professor.

    Without that information, the best we can do at this point is extrapolate from the information we have. And what we have is a rather large 25% of companies receiving state aid having some connection to Rick Perry. Provide competing data if you like, but you almost never do so.

  5. “Actually”, “to gauge the rate of success for donors v. non-donors in applying for and receiving grants” would be to compare donors to a control group, “professor”.

    So you’re agreeing that the New York Times‘ “analysis” doesn’t give us the information we would need to draw any conclusions. I don’t concede that 25% is “rather large”, nor that “rather large” has any probative value for the question at hand. For all I know, 25% of all companies in Texas—whether they received any grants from the Enterprise Fund or not—have a chief executive who has contributed to Perry any time in the last ten years, “or to the Republican Governors Association since 2008”. It could even be much higher than 25%. As you might even agree, businessmen tend to support Republicans more than Democrats, because the former tend to be much more business-friendly than the latter.

    So the Times is either doing a really bad job or deliberately cherry-picking data. (This keeps reminding me of previous conversations between you and Tevyeh…) That’s fine; I think it’s more or less par for the course for when newspapers try to dabble in doing their own empirical “studies”. Given that the Times hasn’t established even correlation, much less causation, I don’t accept that there’s anything for me to rebut. The fact that you have the Times‘ baseless insinuations on your side doesn’t mean I have any obligation to provide “competing data”.

    If you still disagree, I’m afraid I’m going to reprise a favorite paragraph from Tevyeh:

    Are you suggesting that a thoroughly debunked argument is better than no argument? That you’re still “ahead” because I have declined to play according to the rules of your magical worldview by producing data that superficially “supports” my position?

  6. snoodickle Says:

    P.S. I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of a “control group.” Merely comparing two groups does not automatically make one a control group.


    • egotistic“, are you seeing this?

    • Thank you, you’re right. I meant to say, “egotistic”, are you seeing this?

      • snoodickle Says:

        P.S. I notice that you use the British grammar style when placing punctuation without quotation marks, instead of the American style shown in the Chicago Manual of Style, which calls for punctuation to be placed within quotation marks. For someone with your sense of patriotism and hatred for European-style socialism, I find this to be an odd choice.

      • I’ll give a serious answer to your goofy accusation: I care about neither British nor American usage on this question, but instead follow the literal style, wherein punctuation is placed within quotation marks only when the punctuation is part of what is being quoted—i.e., I treat the punctuation the same as anything else, and don’t put it in quotation marks unless I mean it. I’ve never understood why this doesn’t seem intuitively necessary to everyone.

        I make the conventional exception for a period at the end of a quoted sentence, for which I sometimes substitute a comma as needed.

      • snoodickle Says:

        Yes, but the “literal style” is commonly known as the British style. As far whether everyone should be as intuitive as you and the Brits and only place punctuation within quotation marks when it is part of what is being quoted, we do things different here in America.

  7. […] Seventeenth Amendment (popular election of senators) or an equivalent structural reform, or that having a strongly pro-federalism president might be the next-best thing, but it’s possible that the […]

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