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Jason Stanford

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Rick Perry

Posted: 12/19/11 11:12 AM ET

Rick Perry's latest TV commercial in Iowa is unadulterated Perry: strategically sound, mean-spirited, and ambitiously hypocritical. Self-righteously titled "Politically Correct," the ad floats untethered above his record in Texas like a dark cloud. And it's about to dump all over those poor Iowans.

To win in Iowa -- and make no mistake, Perry's playing for the win -- he has to climb over Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul among evangelical voters. But there's only so high Perry can fly in Iowa if he stays tethered to Texas. And while a recent poll has him up 8 points and moving into striking distance of relevance among Iowa Republicans, Perry needs some more wind beneath those wings. This is why Perry is running this astoundingly hypocritical ad.

Gone is the Brokeback Mountain jacket. In "Politically Incorrect," Perry is wearing the business casual uniform of a blue blazer and a light blue oxford with a buttoned-down collar. Ironically, he couldn't look more like an insider when he doth protest too much:

"You can't say that Congressmen becoming lobbyists is a form of legal corruption... "

Perry has a point about the revolving door being a form of legal corruption. But if that's true, then state lawmakers becoming lobbyists is also wrong, and as Wayne Slater pointed out in the Dallas Morning News today, Perry's never said a thing about it. 

"This seems to be a newfound belief on the part of the Governor," said Chris Bell, the former congressman whose campaign I managed when he ran against Perry in 2006. "He has never seemed to have a problem with lobbyists in the past and I'm a little surprised he would seek to vilify them now."

But the real story with Perry's revolving door hypocrisy is the fact that 40 Perry staffers "have either left the governor's administration to become registered state lobbyists or gone from the lobby into Perry's inner circle," as reported by Jason Cherkis and Paul Blumenthal inThe Huffington Post earlier this year. Texas Ethics Commission reports show that they have made "tens of millions of dollars in lobbying contracts" over the last decade, according to Cherkis and Blumenthal.

Foremost on Perry's alumni list is his old buddy Mike Toomey. Toomey roomed with Perry when both served in the Texas House of Representatives in the 1980s and then went off to lobby for Big Tobacco and other great public citizens. Toomey joined Perry's staff as his chief of staff in 2002 where he shepherded through cuts to children's health care and fended off proposals to increase cigarette taxes. Then Toomey left Perry's staff to go back to lobby for Big Tobacco and other companies such as Merck, the pharmaceutical company that made the HPV vaccine he got Perry to mandate be administered to every schoolgirl in Texas. Perhaps the $5.53 million that Perry has raised from Toomey's lobbying clients makes Perry think better of this version of legal corruption. Or maybe Perry prefers to console himself with Toomey's plans to spend $55 million in a Super PAC to elect him president.

But if you're saying that Rick Perry can be bought by his best friend in the business lobby for $60 million, then he's offended.

Perry's ad criticizes how those darned DC insiders give "aid money to countries who oppose America..." and "are bankrupting social security... ", but those are just plot points lifted from his latest poll. The last line is Rick Perry's money shot:

"I'm Rick Perry, an outsider who will overhaul Washington and tell you the truth, and I approve this message."

Let's cede the obvious that this is, in fact, Rick Perry who does, one hopes for legal reasons, approve this message. But an outsider? He's not even the biggest outsider among the Texans running for office. Ron Paul may be a longtime Member of Congress, but makes a virtue of his irrelevance in Washington. He's such an outsider that the overwhelmingly Republican Texas legislature drew him a swing district, effectively handing him a gold pen and holding the door open.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry chaired the Republican Governors Association. He hasn't taken a breath since Ronald Reagan's second term in the White House without also taking a check from the taxpayers of Texas. And as governor, Perry has consolidated power over Texas state government to an extent not seen since Lyndon Johnson pulled the strings from Washington. If Rick Perry's an outsider, I'm Jason Statham.

If we allow ourselves the waking nightmare of imagining Perry winning the Republican nomination and beating Barack Obama, the most frightening thing about "Politically Incorrect" isn't the hypocrisy but the one thing in this ad besides his name and the disclaimer that is absolutely true: Perry would overhaul Washington. He would turn the business lobby into an extension of the executive branch, defund family planning, deregulate pollution, and plead poverty when it came to keeping our promises on Social Security and Medicare.

Everything we know about polling and logic suggests that Perry's attempted resurrection in Iowa amounts to nothing more than the death rattle of his presidential ambitions. But the real danger in a politician willing to do and say anything to win is that he just might.

 
 
 

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