Think Rick Perry’s Collapsing Campaign is Funny? The Joke’s On You, Texas

Rick Perry is collapsing faster than a $10 tent in a hurricane. He’s a house of cards built of nothing but one-eyed jackasses. He’s the punchline to every Aggie joke ever told.

By the time this column is printed, he’ll probably be trailing in the polls to Newt Gingrich’s jowls. Or maybe he’ll have given himself a swirly on national television.

Yup, Rick Perry is a national laughingstock. His poll numbers—just 4 percent support among GOP voters, according to one mid-November survey—are approaching Dick Cheney territory.

For Texans who never bought into Perry’s, um, uh … thing … the last two months have been pure schadenfreude. You just can’t help yourself, right? Watching Gov. Goodhair’s 27-year electoral win streak melt away under the klieg lights during debates with such luminaries as Rick Santorum and Herman Cain is simply great fun.

Molly Ivins would be pleased. Even Republicans are heeding her Bush-era advice: “The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be in the White House, would you please pay attention?”

But schadenfreude has its limitations. It’s like a sugar high—it wears off fast. And when it does, what are we left with? We’re left with the fact that Texans elected, re-elected and re-re-elected Perry with little more than token opposition. We put up with his imposition of rule by lobbyists and corporate interests. We sat by idly as he used the state treasury as a slush fund to reward friends and campaign contributors. We rarely called him to account.

After his “oops” moment, some folks are feeling sorry for Perry. I don’t. I feel distress for the state of Texas, for having such a dysfunctional political culture. Perry was a paper tiger, but we treated him like he was the indisputable king of the jungle.

Texas Monthly writer Paul Burka wrote of Perry in late August, when the guv was soaring high, that “We might as well skip the primary and go straight to the general election.” Burka is no fan of Perry but having observed the governor’s success for nearly three decades, he was blind to Perry’s weaknesses.

But it’s not fair to pick on Burka when yours truly wrote a post at the end of September—right before the “Niggerhead” ranch story hit the press—titled “Rick Perry is no Fred Thompson,” in which I compared Perry to the bumbling, mumbling, GOP presidential flavor-of-the-month back in the summer of 2008. Oops.

Perry’s unexpectedly rapid demise should prompt, if nothing else, some self-reflection. What’s the matter with Texas? I’ll take a stab at it.

First, there’s no real opposition. Texas is now a one-party state, which is admittedly not news. (Some wags call it a two-party state: the Republican Party and the tea party). The Democrats are disorganized, dispirited, and seemingly incapable or unwilling to capitalize on the untapped potential of Latino voters in parts of the state like Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. They don’t put much effort into encouraging many young Latinos to vote.

Also, there are few authentically independent institutions in Texas—partisan or not—to push back against the free-market and religious fundamentalism of the state GOP. Vibrant grassroots coalitions could energize a moribund system and keep politicians on their toes. Plus, they’re just good for morale. In the absence of opposition, Perry and his allies in right-wing groups like Empower Texans can toe a hard line without consequence. Witness how they rammed through a brutal state budget that gouged $4 billion $5.4 billion out of public schools. Where was the mass mobilization against those cuts? In California, Ohio and Wisconsin right-wing governors have faced the wrath of people in the streets and in the voting booth. There was too little of that in Texas.

But then it’s easy to suffer from hangdog-ness here. Hard to get jazzed about participating in the democratic process when you sense that the game is rigged. Perry is the product of a political system controlled by a small group of special interests and billionaires. He’s their man. Entrenched business interests appreciate the Texas Enterprise Fund grants, the rubber-stamped permits to pollute, the cheerleading for dream schemes like the Trans-Texas Corridor and mandatory HPV vaccinations. If Perry’s a joke, then the joke’s on us.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.

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Published at 4:32 pm CST
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