“It Doesn’t Get Any More Real Than Perry”?: The Right’s Stake in Real Americaness
“It Doesn’t Get Any More Real Than Perry”?:
The Right’s Stake in Real Americaness
by Theresa Runstedtler | special to NewBlackMan
“People of all persuasions are sick, sick, SICK of mollycoddling, pandering and Edwardian (as in John Edwards) phoniness . . . . It doesn’t get any more real than Perry. The elite may call it ‘swagger’; I call it a real man with real convictions and the courage to stand up for them, which happen to comport with the majority of Americans. Or as they say in Texas, he is had and cattle. And the coupe de gras, he is a spiritually anchored and philosophically happy warrior.”
– Republican strategist Mary Matalin on presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas)
Since when did the Right (and more specifically white Republican men from Texas) become the arbiters of what it means to be a “real American man”?
As a Canadian transplant, I’ve always found the theatrics of the U.S. political scene fascinating, where big money campaigns seem interminable and public spectacle usually trumps any in-depth discussion of policy. American politics is a virtual blood-sport with all its sound bite and bombastic fury. Texas Governor Rick Perry is just the latest Republican to enter the pissing contest that is the 2012 presidential campaign, ready to show the “real America” that he has the balls to lead the nation.
Of course, Perry is simply following in the well-worn footsteps of his predecessor George W. Bush, with his self-righteous swagger, Texas drawl, and rugged, frontier persona. He prefers cowboy boots to dress shoes and proudly recounts shooting a coyote with his .380 Ruger (it had a laser sight). He wears his Christianity on his sleeve, most recently playing the patriarchal prophet at his Houston prayer rally. Even though Bush’s people reportedly disdain Perry, he seems to have taken many of his moves right out of their campaign playbook.
While Bush had to manufacture a frontier persona to cover up his elite, northeastern roots (much like President Theodore Roosevelt back in the early 1900s), Perry actually has a real connection to rural Texas. As his campaign website triumphantly claims, “A fifth generation Texan, Governor Rick Perry has taken an extraordinary Texas journey, from a tenant farm in the rolling West Texas plains to the governor’s office of our nation’s second largest state.” Perry and his people would clearly like us to think that he made it to his current political station by pure, hard-scrabble individualism (with a little help from the Man upstairs), but even a cursory look at his record suggests otherwise.
As his website extols, “Rick Perry has led a life of public service, starting in the United States Air Force and continuing over two decades in elected office.” Thanks to a clever, rhetorical twist, his work for one of the largest wings of the federal government – the military – can be touted as admirable public service, in contrast to the other government services he so desperately wants to cut. As the wife of a former Marine, I also know that serving in the military makes one eligible for government-backed housing loans and educational funding, but Perry would argue that unlike other handouts these are appropriate entitlements for deserving people. Perhaps most ironic of all, he boasts two decades as an elected official, even as he calls for the shrinking of government. (I’m pretty sure that he won’t be handing back his tax-payer-provided pension or healthcare.)
Perry claims credit for “creating a Texas of unlimited opportunity and prosperity by improving education, securing the border and increasing economic development through classic conservative values.” However, his real record and the real-life conditions in his state tell a different story. Despite his vociferous condemnation of the federal stimulus bill, Perry has a long history of fighting for federal money to help fund state projects. Even members of his own party have decried his blatant “corporate cronyism.” He has used handouts from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) to pad the pockets of his friends in big business, who in turn have helped to fill his campaign coffers. The free market’s hand is not so invisible in the Lone Star state.