Questionable executions and Ponzi scheme conjectures aside, Rick Perry and his proponents have hammered one talking point a little harder than most others: the candidate's executive experience.
Conservative advocacy group "One Term President" -- attempting to draw a dubious parallel between the Texas governor and a party figurehead -- issued a statement last month when Perry kicked off his presidential campaign. "Rick Perry has more executive experience than any candidate since Ronald Reagan" wrote the group, echoing a popular message among the Right. "That sure is appealing compared to a president that had zero executive experience."
They have a point. OTP and its allies argue, perhaps justifiably, that having run an organization, a business, or a government adds tremendously to the resume of a candidate for the country's highest office. The sentiment is one that has been adopted by both sides of the aisle, depending on election year and incumbency. Just two months ago, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty -- then a GOP candidate for president -- had little trouble persuading a campaign crowd that "you can't put somebody in the Oval Office who hasn't had executive experience leading a large enterprise." His attitude doesn't differ much from the one liberal icon Bill Clinton adopted while running for president in 1992.
But the OTP crowd is missing one side of the equation. The assertion that eleven years of experience in office qualifies someone to be president likens to an assertion that if you've cooked eleven batches of brownies, they must have been delicious. "Leadership experience" rings hollow if the emphasis is on the latter word of the phrase. For a group, political or otherwise, to claim that Rick Perry's eleven years as governor should hoist him above the political fray reflects profound vacuity.
As it happens, those brownies weren't as good as they may have seemed. Just in the past few weeks, Perry has neglected the duties of his office for what he has deemed more important ventures. Most recently, he rolled the dice on life and death with cringe-worthy opportunism.
The governor, who has proudly authorized more executions than any state executive in modern history, was nowhere to be found Thursday evening when controversial inmate Duane Buck was scheduled to be put to death in Huntsville, Texas. Buck, a black man whose case involved sensitive racial and psychological issues, is the center one of the most disputed cases since the state's establishment. His attorneys have fought for a stay on his execution in the weeks leading up to September 15, but legal precedent outlines that a ruling of that nature falls into the hands of either the state's governor or the United States Supreme Court.
A strong, stolid leader -- someone who has learned from his executive experience and has proven it efficacious by standing by his controversial record -- should take the lead on a case like this. Perry, however, was absent from the rolling plains of his state Thursday. He had fled to a GOP fundraiser in Iowa, forcing the Supreme Court to stay Buck's execution -- the "big government" he so scorns, in the flesh -- and intervene in a decision that should have been his.
Were the Buck case Perry's only recent lapse in "executive leadership," perhaps his cronies' argument would remain sound. But the evidence mounts even higher.
Perry once served as his state's Commissioner of Agriculture. His former department's official mission is to "... partner with all Texans to make Texas the nation's leader in agriculture, fortify (its) economy, (and) empower rural communities...." As governor, he has made bold statements (albeit without much follow-through) on environmental issues. Last week, however, he let his trademark opportunism impede once again upon the "executive leadership" he and his supporters contend makes him more qualified than anyone else to be president.
Perry, whose state has been ravaged by some of the most detrimental wildfires in years (the ferocity of which compelled President Obama to declare a state of emergency in the region) left Texas on September 7, the same day as Obama's announcement. Did he go to a wedding? To a funeral? To an important budget meeting on Capitol Hill? No, he jetted to Simi Valley, California, so that he could expound upon his unequaled executive experience in the Republican presidential debate.
The political infidelity continues. In the month that he has been campaigning for president, Perry has spent stump speech after stump speech emphasizing his commitment to job creation and economic growth, touting Texas' record under his tenure. But in that same month of campaigning -- the first weeks on the road, laying claim to job creation spurred by tax cuts and slashed spending -- jobs in Texas have finally met reality and dropped sharply. The state has experienced layoffs in its transportation sector, its mining and logging sector, and in its manufacturing sector. During the month of August, thirteen-hundred people in the Lone Star State lost their jobs.
Rick Perry's "executive leadership" boils down to this: when he sees something he likes better, he visibly drops what he's already committed to. What's he going to do when he could be making more money as a Wall Street broker? Or when he realizes that he'd rather be on the golf course than at the State of the Union? Or when Social Security really does just become too much of a hassle for the executive branch? If Americans want a flaky chief executive, they can count on Rick Perry to bail out when the going gets tough. But when you're the President of the United States, it's a bit harder to flee to Iowa.