Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is wrapping up his 14-year tenure as his state’s chief executive – the longest such tenure in Lone Star State history – and as he gets ready to launch a second national campaign, the governor is talking more to the national media. The goal, in all likelihood, is to help reintroduce Perry in the wake of his failed 2012 presidential bid.
It’s off to a curious start.
The recently indicted Texas Republican talked with the Washington Post earlier this week, for example, “for a wide-ranging 90-minute interview.” It was a reminder that Perry hasn’t quite shaken off some of his bad habits.
Last week, Perry studied income inequality and economic mobility with experts Scott Winship, Erin Currier and Aparna Mathur. In the Post interview, he was asked about the growing gap between rich and poor in Texas, which has had strong job growth over the past decade but also has lagged in services for the underprivileged.“Biblically, the poor are always going to be with us in some form or fashion,” he said.
I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I can find no Scriptural references to the notion that that the poor “are always going to be with us.” [Update: see below]
Perry acknowledged that the richest Texans have experienced the greatest amount of earnings growth, but dismissed the notion that income inequality is a problem in the state, saying, “We don’t grapple with that here.”
I suppose that’s true – in order to “grapple with” a problem, policymakers have to at least try to address it – though the fact remains that income inequality has gotten much worse in Texas in recent years, and a 2012 analysis of income trends published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Texas was the nation’s seventh-worst state when it comes to the gap between rich and poor.
The governor’s new interview with msnbc’s Kasie Hunt was arguably even more informative about Perry’s progress as a national candidate.
For example, Hunt asked the governor, quite candidly, “Are you smart enough to be president of the United States?” He replied:
“Running for the presidency’s not an IQ test,” he said. “It is a test of an individual’s resolve. It’s a test of an individual’s philosophy. It’s a test of an individual’s life experiences. And I think Americans are really ready for a leader that will give them a great hope about the future.”
I’m a little surprised the governor didn’t reply with a more direct, “of course I’m smart enough” answer.
As part of the same interview, which was conducted Tuesday, Hunt asked Perry about the torture report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The governor’s answers didn’t quite bring his position into focus. For example, Perry sounded like he opposes torture:
“I agree that what happened to John McCain was abhorrent. It is inhumane. And the United States Government should never ever condone that type of activity. America has a record, going all the way back to George Washington when George Washington said that those British soldiers need to be treated with respect.”
And Perry also sounded like he understands Bush-era torture.
“But in the fog a war, you think back to 2001, and George W. Bush standing on that pile a rubble after he had talked to mothers and fathers and wives, loved ones of Americans who’d been killed by these soulless terrorist – you think back to Abraham Lincoln, suspending habeas corpus – you know, in retrospect, you know, sometimes decisions made in the fog a war, we can criticize ‘em, some years later.
And then Perry switched back, sounding like he opposes torture.
“But I think more importantly here is that the message that America is not going to be– like ISIS and cut the throat of innocent children– that we’re not going to– commit heinous acts, is clearly a message that Americans want to hear…. I respect [John McCain] for standing up and saying America will not be involved in torture. ‘No one in this country will ever do to any combatant what they did to me.’ And I totally agree with that.”
And then asked whether waterboarding is torture, Perry changed the subject.
“One of the most important things, though, that we need to do as a country, is that when the leader of the United States says, ‘Here’s a red line,’ that that’s what it means. Words matter. And hollow words hurt us as a country. They hurt us as an ally. And the words that come out of the president of the United States need to mean something.”
By all accounts, the Texas governor is meeting regularly with advisers who are helping him shape his agenda and vision. The coaching sessions apparently have a long way to go.
* Update: Several alert readers have brought Matthew 26:11 to my attention, which, depending on the translation, actually says, “The poor you will always have with you.” I stand corrected.