Rick Perry Comes Clean: NOT a Harvard Ph.d.

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Gov. Perry damn near got misty-eyed as he wound up his big “I’m running for president and saying I’m not” speech at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Friday. No, it wasn’t his great rhetorical punching bag—a rapacious, baby-killing beast called Washington—that brought him to the verge of stage tears. It was a poignant tribute to the moment, one year ago on Thursday, when an unpopular governor running a longshot re-election campaign against a popular senator punched his ticket to a political rebound and national infamy.

“In January of ‘09, I had my head under my wing,” Perry told the elderly white denizens of Southern Republicanism, ackwardly mimicking a wing flapping and resting under his armpit. [Digressive note: This man would be hell-on-wheels at charades.] “I was feeling under the weather. Politically, I thought we were in deep, deep trouble. And something really interesting happened … (insert dramatic pause) … on April the 15th: Tea parties all across this country! Men and women standing up and saying, ‘Read the Constitution!’ And I want to say thank you to every one of you that went to a tea party, that engaged in a tea party, because you are bringing back America to its rightful place of understanding what that Constitution is all about!”

It’s all about the Constitution for Perry, you know. Last April 15, as he rocked two Austin tea partiers and turned himself into the newest Fox News studmuffin, he declared: “Since the U.S. Constitution was first ratified, the federal government has slowly, steadily and successfully eroded the notion of states’ rights.”

The way to fix all that, our resident Constitutional scholar soon discovered, was to “reassert” the 10th Amendment. And where “crime” was once the GOP’s favored code word to appeal to white supremacists, the 10th Amendment soon became the nifty new buzz-term—encompassing states’ rights and all the assorted baggage that comes along with it—courtesy largely of Perry’s surpassing affection for it.

On Friday, Perry appeared to have discovered a mystical new meaning to draw out of that humble amendment from 1791. Talking about the need for states to try to one-up each other economically—using “true conservative principles” like those responsible for the Texas Miracle he likes to boast about—Perry declared: “The Tenth Amendment says we ought to compete against each other.”

Interesting! The Tenth Amendment says this, in full: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Perry’s wielding of the Tenth Amendment as a cure-all for America’s ills—and it’s just been sitting there for 119 years, unused!—had already involved a good bit of creative interpretation. But the idea that the amendment was intended to spur economic competition between the Oklahoma and Mississippi—that’s a new one, as far as I can tell.

Perhaps Perry has simply been staring at his pocket Constitution too long, taking a bit too seriously his role as our foremost interpreter of its hidden messages. Or maybe the rest of us are simply too literal-minded to see what he sees.

Whatever explains it, Perry’s constitutional reading does lend credence to another of his assertions on Friday: “You do not have to be a Ph.D. from Harvard to understand the principles of government.” Or does it? Wait—hell, now he’s got me all confused.