Rick Perry: Libertarian AND/OR Theocrat?

Perry has received a lot of negative press lately. Yesterday, a piece in Politico asked a simple question: Is Rick Perry Dumb?  There was no definitive answer in the article, although there was a Perry quote that I found a bit endearing: “My brain is like a chicken pot pie.”

Today the Washington Post has two pieces that seem to arrive at rather different reasons to oppose Perry.  Ruth Marcus provides a quick review of some of the “terrifying” statements in Perry’s most recent book, Fed Up.

Some of the revelations are startling(…even shocking). For example:

  • Perry would like to repeal the 16th amendment, thereby ending the income tax
  • Perry opposes the 17th amendment because the direct election of senators was a “blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government”
  • Perry views the New Deal and the Great Society as (you may want to sit down when you read this) episodes of dramatic expansion in the role of the state. “From housing to public television, from the environment to art, from education to medical care, from public transportation to food, and beyond, Washington took greater control of powers that were conspicuously missing from Article 1 of the Constitution,”

Much of this is standard fare for those who embrace some form of libertarianism (for more on this topic, see Perry Bacon’s piece from this weekend).

Is Perry a libertarian? There are a few ways to address this. Previous postings on Pileus and press coverage of crony capitalism in Texas would suggest that there have been some rather expedient departures from libertarian principles. However, we need not embrace the empirical record in Texas. All we have to do is consider Perry’s faith.

Thus, in another piece in today’s WaPo, Dana Milbank dismisses the characterization of Perry as a libertarian. In his words:

Yes, Perry is passionately anti-government, or at least anti-this-government. But the man who suddenly tops the Republican presidential polls is no libertarian. Rick Perry is a theocrat.

Evidence: Perry opposes “the radical homosexual movement,” rejects evolution and embraces a literalist position regarding scripture and salvation. In Perry’s words: “The truth of Christ’s death, resurrection, and power over sin is absolute. . . . What we believe about it does not determine its truthfulness.”

But the term “theocrat” suggests that Perry hopes to establish a theocracy and use the power of the state to impose God’s law. I don’t see much evidence of this in Perry. If anything—and here Marcus has it right—he seeks to embrace the core provisions of the original (and “terrifying”) constitution, thereby dramatically reducing the role of the federal government to that envisioned under Article 1.

Let us assume that Perry’s religious statements reflect his personal piety rather than an opportunistic appeal to evangelical voters. Is it possible for one like Perry to simultaneously promote a conservative biblical faith and argue that the constitution should place hard limits on state authority?

Not according to some of his critics. For them, it seems faith = theocracy, unless it is the gooey faith of the largely secularized mainstream church that either ignores or severely discounts the hard words of the gospels.

13 thoughts on “Rick Perry: Libertarian AND/OR Theocrat?

  1. So very hard to think outside the binary isn’t it?! Marc, are you suggesting that one could actually hold a belief, value, or preference that you don’t want to force others to have to live by?

  2. I have lived in Texas all my life. If I had to characterize Rick Perry in two words it would be “shameless opportunist”. They say he is not afraid to speak his mind; I say he is not afraid to say what is on everyone else’s mind. If he is elected, I imagine a Perry presidency would be much like a Clinton presidency, without the Bimbo eruptions. He also would not be as poll driven as Clinton because he has a built in weather vane that tells him what the public wants.

  3. Something else you have to understand about Perry requires and understanding the circus which is Texas Politics. Texas has always been a corrupt, one Party state. For the century after the Civil War, the Democrats ran the state. There was a brief, bizarre two party interlude in the eighties and early nineties and then the state became a one party state, again, with the Republicans controlling everything.

    In one party states, the primaries are vastly more important than the general election and all politicking becomes very local. Candidates tend to say more extreme things since they are forced to make their appeals at a very local level. One party states are also rife with graft and corruption. With only one party being in control, ideology has very little impact on influencing peoples’ voting preferences. Votes tend to follow favors and patronage.

    This is Rick Perry’s world. It was also the world where Bill Clinton cut his teeth, in Arkansas. That’s why I think a Perry Presidency will be like a Clinton Presidency.

    1. Great to get your insider’s view of Tejas. I think there are many who are skeptical of a Perry presidency. Yet, regardless of your support or lack of support for Mr. Perry, one has to admit that the argument presented by Milbank is a bit tortured. The argument, in short, is something like this: (1) Perry is a conservative Christian; (2) all conservative Christians want to impose their views via theocracy; therefore (3) Perry is a theocrat (even if he makes libertarian claims). The first premise can would depend on data that none of us could access. The second premise is false. Indeed, many–not all–conservative Christians have little desire to engage in politics and would rather invest in private institutions. But there is no question that this argument will be repeated endlessly until it gains the appearance of truth.

      1. By the way, I don’t support Perry, but find him immensely entertaining.

        I see your point about Milbank’s tortured logic and agree. The problem with writers like Milbank, is that he writes from a perspective where beliefs matter and assumes that politicians speak their beliefs. Perry just says what he needs to say to get the job done, which is to get through the primaries. All politicians do that, but Perry more so than the others. Perry used to be a Democrat and was involved in Al Gore’s 1988 bid for the President. That should tell you plenty about Perry’s beliefs or lack thereof.

    1. Interesting. What is my persuasion? Read over my past posts. Consistent threads: I argue against consuming today and forcing the costs on to future generations (fiscal responsibility is a means of promoting intergenerational equity), I am opposed to our multiple wars (indeed, I recognize a fairly limited set of circumstances under which the use of deadly force is justified), I am opposed to all forms of corporate welfare and tax expenditures, most of which simply go to the top income earners. I do not think the state has a legitimate role to play interfering in most private decisions and voluntary transactions, whether I approve of these decisions or not (e.g., I don’t use narcotics for recreational purposes but I support legalization). Indeed, most of these positions would be embraced by other writers here (although I might be in the minority on legalization).

      1. I think you misunderstand. What I meant is that many people of your political persuasion believe that their political views are concretely supported by the Gospels. When you ended your original post by associating liberals/progressives with a Christianity that “ignores or discounts the hard words of the Gospel,” I got suspicious that you were one of these people who draws an equal sign between Christ’s words and their politics. And you clarified that this is not the case. As for your political persuasion, it is indeed very coherent and consistent and is one of the reasons I like reading this blog even though I disagree with most posters most of the time. 😉

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