Rick Perry’s moneyed shit-kicker routine may seem unique among the current crop of Republican presidential candidates. But puffed up, proudly dumb, small town fat cats like him have been crawling out of the backwater slime forever, and in some places still are a dime a dozen.
They tend to come from necks of the woods where the local good old boys run the town…or literally own the thing… and their political vision and their political sermons hold up the ideal of the re-created small town, homespun Cheez Whiz rhetorically covering a very rigidly top-down, heavily caste stratified, do-as-you’re-told place.
Perry’s flaunted insistence on repeating demonstrated falsehoods either massive or minor, and his obdurate reaction to criticisms of his ignorance or dishonesty fits the familiar mold: local Big Daddies not cottoning to being challenged, always the ultimate authority, and never, ever wrong. The dumb shtick has to do with theatrical rejection of fancy book larnin’, not lack of authority, meaning, “I learned everything I need to know working in the cotton fields and being a local big shot.” Call it a politically handy Rube King mythology, always essential to politicking in red states.
Phoniness is one thing, and in the political class it is other than a rarity to say the least. But the genuinely authoritarian aspect of many small towns, particularly southern small towns, and particularly those from an earlier time (one encompassing Perry’s youth and a fair amount of his adulthood) is more insidious. These are the places where the mill and factory owners (before they moved them overseas), the owners of the car dealerships perhaps, of local farms and enterprises, are both the citizens’ principal employers, as well as governing figures in the civic realm, populating the mayors offices, city councils and business and civic organizations. The power imbalance, and inhabitants’ vulnerability to the whims and bullying of the local Boss Hoggs are most acute.
Pooh bahs in these backwaters or factory or farming towns are very cognizant of a “natural order of things”. This order entails a small number of very well off citizens, and then the rest, with little choice but to live with lousy wages, negligible benefits and minimal public services, what ordinary folks get in such a state of imbalance. Perry’s attitudes and behavior are redolent of this structure.
And Perry’s state, Texas, is modeled upon it, very much the hardcore conservative paradise, what with the highest number of minimum wage jobs in the nation; the most uninsured residents, gutted education and rapidly escalating poverty rates, while the moneyed set from Big Oil and Global Business live large, and pay-to-play to run the state government. Perry certainly has made a career of being one of the Texas’ connected Good Ol’ Boys, and he clearly wants to bring this auspicious way of doing business to the rest of the nation.
Perry’s incessant states’ rights rhetoric reflects the traditional resistance in such places to change, progress and improvements, rabid hostility to the federal government, given its intervening role in voting rights and civil rights, in the operation of mills and factories and farms, ensuring the safety of workers, while establishing minimal standards for wages for work. Imposition of such standards violates both the authority and social code of these harshly authoritarian environs, whose viceroys don’t like anyone telling them what to do or how to treat those in their employment, or those subservient to them in the civic sense.
Perry, both in style and demagoguery is highly reminiscent of an infamous political figure of the recent past, Jesse Helms, son of the racist police chief of the small town of Monroe, North Carolina, young Jesse no doubt assimilating the “natural order of things,” and inculcating a resentment of outsiders and interventions capable of rocking the boat (in other words, diminishing the whimsical and ugly rule of those running things) a resentment he parlayed for political gain for the duration of his political career.
A key to this was making voters complicit through a “he’s one of us” (an actual Helms slogan in his initial run for the Senate, targeting the Greek heritage of his opponent, Nick Galifianakis) meme, stereotyping and stirring fear and resentment of ‘outsiders, making folks amenable to being lorded over by town bosses and local pooh-bahs and demagogues like Helms (or Perry). But it is best described as exactly what it is: authoritarianism, in this case the small, southern town model. And Perry is its current prominent disciple, practitioner and proponent.
Perry’s demagoguery and genuine un-Americanism were on prominent display today when he viciously attempted to undermine our president just before a speech expressing support for Israel at the United Nations, Perry stupidly accusing the president of “appeasement” (get it Jewish voters? Nazis, appeasement?). The sliminess of this gratuitous attack was highlighted when none other than the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu declared Obama’s stance something that “should be worn as a badge of honor,” and described it as “”heroic”. If Perry had not demonstrated himself to be an Ass Hat of the first order before Netanyahu spoke, (he had) it was clear he was one afterward.
Such hostility to America’s elected president is not out of keeping with Perry’s vitriolic disdain for the nation and for its institutions, his expressions of revulsion for one-hundred years of American progress, for the institutions, laws and advancements over this period going back to the Progressive Era, and for the great Americans who completed them and the Americans who over time have endorsed them, part of his regular campaign fare. Perry earns the title of America’s preeminent reactionary, backwoods thug, and cesspool demagogue with every passing day.