08/10/2011 11:55 am ET | Updated Oct 10, 2011

Rick Perry: Home on the Range

As a fellow resident of Austin, I had no doubt that Governor Rick Perry would shortly throw his hat into the presidential ring. The temptation is irresistible. Since American primary elections are now akin to roulette, he sees himself as having as good a shot at the nomination as the seven other declared candidates have left most Republican voters uninspired.

Perry first gave evidence of having his eye on higher office in 2008 when he maneuvered behind the scenes to get himself selected as the party's vice presidential choice. The victory of fellow southwesterner John McCain, who preferred a more shapely Republican governor as his running mate, dashed those hopes. Now Perry is aiming for the big prize. Timing is everything in today's politics. He was George W. Bush's lieutenant governor when lightning struck Bush the Younger. He won reelections, once by a plurality, against feeble Democratic candidates. Now the only things standing in the way of a shot at the White House are a couple of Mormons and the Queen of Rage.

Who is Rick Perry? Little known outside of his region, the three-time governor has dominated Texas politics since he inherited the governor's mansion. Perry grew up in a prairie town as the son of a county commissioner who was a lifetime Democrat -- as was Perry until he found his conservative faith in 1980 when Ronald Reagan's rising star was exercising a magnetic attraction on many an aspiring politician in the Sun Belt. He studied agriculture at Texas A&M where he was a poor student remembered -- if at all -- for his garrulous good cheer.

He has moved steadily to the right in line with trends in Texas politics, especially among the Republican activists who dictate the party line. Now, he is a vocal all-out advocate of the Tea Party agenda. When challenged for the gubernatorial nomination by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, he embraced every radical fundamentalist position of the Christian Right and the passionate anti-government crowd. He made national headlines by going so far as to broach the idea of Texas seceding from the United States in protest against the alleged incursions of Washington into the sacred private lives of loyal Texans as presented by Obama's health care legislation. Never more than a pre-primary ploy, the idea was quickly dropped when people realized that the states' ethnic demographic trends pointed to 2040 as the year when Tejas would join the Mexican Republic.

Perry shies from almost nothing to ingratiate himself with the ultras. A few months back, he vetoed a bill that would have outlawed text messaging while driving on the grounds that it infringed individual liberties. The liberties of victims of involuntary manslaughter who got plowed by a distracted freedom-loving driver were given short shrift. His sponsorship of the recent evangelical rally to unite religion with an envisaged project to restore America was another effort to tap the sentiments that spawned the Tea Party, whose backing Perry clearly sees as the sine qua non for seizing the Republican nomination.

In truth, there is little evidence that Rick Perry has any strong convictions about serious policy matters -- other than being a devotee of the current dogma prevailing among Republican leaders that has America circa 1920s as its lodestar. Texas, under Perry's stewardship, has taken strides in that direction -- when it comes to social services and the state of its citizens' health, Texas is in the same league as Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. On foreign policy issues, he is noticeably silent. For good reason. His knowledge of international affairs is thin to the vanishing point. It is limited to border issues with Mexico. On the neuralgic question of immigrants, he is less rabid than some others. That conforms to the general attitude of Texans (especially the flood of newcomers from other regions) who see the economic utility of having a large pool of cheap labor, harbor no visceral animus toward Latinos, and in their hearts realize that America stole Texas from Mexico 'fair & square' back in the 1840s. Were Perry to be nominated, he will go through an intense period of tutelage in foreign policy -- as did Barack Obama. There will be many volunteers for the job -- and George W. Bush is just down the road in Crawford.

By the way, I do know the answer to the biggest question of all: Perry's hair. I can say without equivocation that it is all his and in its original color. We have the same talkative barber.