How should we remember Rick Perry?
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that he’s not going to be the GOP nominee, much less president. So, his political legacy ought to be defined, in part, on how he conducted himself in the presidential race. In this, the 11th hour before the Iowa caucuses, Perry and his team decided to gamble for the evangelical vote by rolling out a rank piece of homophobia.
“You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school,” Perry says in the spot.
Strip away everything else and we’re left with a core conviction: Gays are icky. At heart, Perry is telling a shrinking group of dead-enders, “I’m with y’all. I hate gays too.”
But whether or not Perry wins over some evangelicals in Iowa he’s placed himself, militantly, on the wrong side of history. He’s now Strom Thurmond with better hair, another southern white male screaming about states-rights who couldn’t or wouldn’t get with the times.
Public opinion has shifted dramatically in favor of gay rights as more and more people come to find out that they have gay friends, gay neighbors, gay family members. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to which Perry refers was overwhelmingly unpopular with the public, including Republicans and conservatives. In a November 2010 Washington Post/ABC poll, nearly 80 percent of Americans said they favored letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military, including 70 percent of white evangelicals and 74 percent of Republicans.
Why have most mainstream Republicans backed off the gay-bashing? Because it’s bad politics. Smart politicians don’t need a weatherman to tell them which way the wind is blowing. Tellingly, Perry’s top pollster, Tony Fabrizio, told the campaign that the ad was “nuts,” according to the Huffington Post.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Perry has singled out gay folks, veterans in particular, for scorn. One of the governor’s lower moments came in 2005 at a conservative Christian school in Ft Worth where he praised Texas’ gay marriage ban. Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy wrote:
Later in the school library, Perry was asked in a news conference how he would tell Texas gay and lesbian war veterans that they can’t come home from war in Iraq and get married.
Perry said if they don’t like Texas law, they can just leave.
“I’m going to say Texas has made a decision on marriage,” he said, “and if there’s a state with more lenient views than Texas, then maybe that’s where they should live.”
Perry may win over some evangelicals in Iowa, but at what cost? The only race he’s still in is with Justin Bieber for most hated YouTube video of all time.