POLITICS

Rick Perry's Lesser-Known First Book Could Be A Distraction From Economy-Centered Message

09/19/2011 08:25 pm ET | Updated Nov 19, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has taken plenty of heat for making dubious assertions about modern medicine and health, but she's not the only Republican presidential candidate to have done so.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote in 2008 that men might have shorter life spans because they are not able to fully express their feelings.

"We wonder why men, on average, die a few years earlier than women. My non-scientific, non-clinical explanation is that stress and anxiety, concealed over a lifetime, may eat away at a man mentally, then physically, until his body can take no more," Perry wrote in his first book, "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For."

Perry's larger point was that boys, especially in an age with so many single mothers, need an outlet for their energy and a place to socialize and be taught proper morals. He was arguing that the Boy Scouts can provide that role. But in making the argument, Perry went far afield into the realm of Dr. Phil and pop psychology.

Perry discussed the growing number of children from broken families, and said the message from "the street, in school, on television … is that to be a man they must be tough."

"Over time, however, subtle messages that tell young boys always to mask their feelings can become an entrenched outlook that infects their relationships for the rest of their lives. Instead of being vulnerable with someone they can trust, they may become accustomed to acting out their feelings with negative results. The hyperactivity found in some boys as young as a few months old may, over time, become channeled into an emotional imbalance because they have hidden their feelings for so long, and the pressures and stresses they feel have no emotional outlet."

The passage is reflective of the book in that it illustrates its undisciplined and unfinished feel, almost as if Perry -- wanting to "do a good turn" for the Boy Scouts (proceeds from sales are donated to the group) and to opine on his view of the culture at the same time -- dashed off a rough draft, had a speechwriter go through it and add a few flourishes here and there, and then just printed the thing.

The opening paragraph is a wonderment of nearly incoherent, gauzy prose that idealizes his hometown of Paint Creek, Texas, but hedges on romanticizing a small town that has shrunk economically and demographically over the decades by stating that it is "more an idea than a place."

The idea that Paint Creek affirms, Perry wrote, is that "there is more to life than the rush of people going to and from work, living their stress-filled lives on their small slices of developed land, hoping that their 1.9 children will one day be prosperous enough to enjoy what they themselves never will."

"Even a casual listener of the Dave Matthews Band or The Police must nod his/her head in ascent [sic] at the notion that we are all like 'ants marching' or 'packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes, contestants in a suicidal race.' Life should be simpler, slower. We should have more meals with our family, with the television turned off and conversation turned on. We should be freed from work when we leave the office, not tethered to it with a Blackberry, a cell phone, and the voice of the boss ringing through our heads. We should be what we were meant to be, and we long for a place to bring us back to such a simpler time."

Where to start? It's certainly ironic that Perry and his wife have two children, given his somewhat derogatory reference to the idea of a carefully planned two-child family. And Perry's life as the jet-setting governor of the nation's second-largest state is certainly in contrast to the pastoral ideal expressed here. The attempt at pop culture awareness comes off as awkward as well. Rock songs are not dissertations to be scrutinized for propositional truth or falsehood. And what is a non-casual listener of the Dave Matthews Band?

Nonetheless, it's the rare person who can't identify with the desire for a little more sanity and a little less stress. And the character qualities that Perry says the Boy Scouts inculcate into young boys -- loyalty, helpfulness, courtesy, cheerfulness, courage -- are of course desirable.

But the Scouts are also controversial because of their stance that gay men cannot serve as scoutmasters. They've also come under assault from the American Civil Liberties Union for maintaining in their oath that Scouts will do their best to honor their "duty to God."

These fights mark the real purpose of Perry's book, which has so far in the campaign escaped the same level of scrutiny that his 2010 screed against the federal government -- "Fed Up!" -- has faced.

But Perry's arguments reveal a true believer in the strict moral beliefs that define much of middle America. And for a candidate who has built his campaign on the economy and his record as a job creator in the Lone Star State, "On My Honor" could raise questions that take him off topic.

The book is an assault on the bad guys in the "culture war for America's soul," which he describes as atheists, secular humanists, homosexual activists and the ACLU. The inside jacket of the book says America is engaged in a "multi-faceted war, which pits the proponents of traditional American values against the radical leftist movement that seeks to tear down our social foundations." It advertises itself as "a must read for any American concerned that our society is slipping from the high moral ground of liberty to the valley of license."

"The war on Scouting is just a microcosm of the left's multi-front attack on traditional American values," he wrote.

This sounds more like Bachmann than Perry. And while fellow candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, might not bring up Perry's words in this book as a point of disagreement, it may be another piece of evidence to support his argument that Perry could alienate independents and moderates in a general election against President Obama.

Like his ruminations on male life expectancy and the philosophical meaning of Dave Matthews lyrics, Perry's passages on homosexuality meander and digress. And while they might find some support in many deeply conservative states, they might unnerve voters in less conservative or even more liberal states that are nonetheless crucial swing states in the presidential election: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia and others.

"Though I am no expert on the 'nature versus nurture' debate, I can sympathize with those who believe sexual preference is genetic. It may be so, but it remains unproved," Perry wrote.

He then implied that homosexuality is a bad choice.

"Even if [homosexuality] were [a genetic predisposition], this does not mean we are ultimately not responsible for the active choices we make. Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink. And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender," Perry wrote.

He wrote later in the book that it is "not my personal belief that society should condemn either the homosexual or the atheist." He tried to mix his conservative Protestant view of homosexuality with a libertarian belief in personal freedoms.

"People have the right to decide for themselves what they will believe in the core of their being, and how they will live. We can debate the wider social ramifications of how such belief and behavior impacts society, but ultimately freedom must prevail and people must be able to pursue the life they desire as long as it does not harm others. For those who want to throw stones at homosexuals in the name of calling out sin, may they be just as loud about adultery among heterosexuals and pornography among their own churchgoing friends."

Perry put his foot down on the issue of which perspective should have the larger megaphone.

"The radical homosexual movement seeks societal normalization of their sexual activity. I respect their right to engage in the individual behavior of their choosing, but they must respect the right of millions in society to refuse to normalize their behavior," Perry wrote.

He defended the Scouts for banning gay scoutmasters.

"The issue as it applies to Scouting is not so much the gay scoutmaster who keeps his consentual [sic] sexual activity confined to the bedroom, but the agenda of radical gay rights groups that want to throw their sexual activity into the face of society, despite the decision by millions of families not to teach the gay lifestyle as an acceptable alternative," he wrote.

Perry argued that he was not trying to legislate morality, per se, but did want to preserve groups like the Boy Scouts and their long-held view of and policy regarding gay scoutmasters.

"I do not advocate state-sponsored morality in the most general sense, but I do argue for the protection of organizations and entities whose influence on American values have been profoundly positive."

He also said that most parents would not mind it if their son's scoutmaster was gay, as long as the scoutmaster was closeted.

"You will find few parents of Scouts concerned about the homosexual Scoutmaster whose sexuality is not disclosed as long as sexuality in no way enters into the scout-scoutmaster relationship," Perry wrote.

Perry mentioned few other politicians in the book. Ironically, however, Perry did go after Romney, who oversaw the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and, according to Perry, banned the Scouts from volunteering at the games. Perry conjectured that Romney did so to avoid pressure from gay rights groups.

"We know that Romney, as a political candidate in the politically liberals [sic] state of Massachusetts, has parted ways with the Scouts on its policies over the involvement of gay individuals in Scout politics," he wrote. "He once said during a debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, 'I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.'"

This story has been updated.

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