08/18/2011 06:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Of "A Theory That's Out There," GOP Straw Polls, Martha's Vineyard Vacations, and Other Follies

Who says that August is the silly season?

** "A THEORY THAT'S OUT THERE." I love Rick Perry. I really do. With Michele Bachmann, even though she's listening to her smart advisors and doing things Sarah Palin can't, like speak in sentences and even paragraphs, you know you've got a fringe character no matter how many supporters she's attracting. That's supporters in a party in which half the members believed that the president of the United States is really an illegal alien, and maybe even the Manchurian Candidate.

Appearing Thursday in New Hampshire, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who according to a Rasmussen poll is the new Republican presidential frontrunner, described evolution as "a theory that's out there."

But Perry is a different kind of deal. He's the governor of a big state, the second biggest, in fact. He has to be a serious figure. Right? I mean, he's got that whole Texas Mirage, er, Miracle thing going and all.

Barack Obama thinks he's the man of balance between extremes. He's got nothing on the governor of Texas who wants to be president in the worst way. And I do mean the worst.

A schoolboy asked Perry today at one of his appearances in New Hampshire about evolution. Perry told the lad that evolution is "a theory that's out there" about the world, and went on to explain that in Texas, the schools teach creationism, too.

Cool. Because it's good for kids to be able to pick and choose between science. And anti-science.

** DISASTER MOVIE! While Perry, who"s taken the lead over Mitt Romney in a national Rasmussen poll, vehemently counts himself as a greenhouse denier, the National Weather Service reports that 2011 has already tied the record for most extreme weather events in a year causing billion dollar disasters. And hurricane season is still to come. But, hey, why worry, I'm sure Perry knows what he's talking about.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, touting the "Texas Miracle" and pledging to make the federal government "as inconsequential in your life as I can," announced his candidacy for president Saturday at the RedState Gathering of right-wing bloggers in Charleston, South Carolina, the place where the Civil War began.

** OF COURSE THAT'S WHERE HE DECLARED HIS CANDIDACY. Before Bachmann won her expected Iowa Straw Poll victory, Rick Perry formally declared his candidacy before a crowd of enthusiastic far right bloggers at the annual RedState Gathering in Charleston, South Carolina. The Texas governor then moved on to New Hampshire, where he repeated his anti-federal government message, which had resonated especially well in the erstwhile Cradle of the Confederacy, where Confederate forces began the Civil War 150 years ago by shelling the Union's Fort Sumter.

Perry, who early in Obama's term suggested that Texas secede from the Union, is running on a program of big tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks -- on the environment and labor -- as well as military supremacy.

** STRAW POLL MANIA. Not to put too fine a point on it, but straw polls are a joke. Candidates bus in supporters, feeding them and entertaining them and frequently paying their registration fees that they pay to the state party organization sponsoring the event. They're big money-makers for parties, who are thus highly motivated to tell credulous reporters that the events mean something.

Yeah, they mean something. Money, spectacle, nonsense. Mitt Romney spent millions winning the Iowa Republican Straw Poll four years ago. He lost to Mike Huckabee when it counted the next year in the Iowa caucuses. Eventual nominee John McCain finished 10th.

I was in the middle of these things with Gary Hart, when we got suckered into participating in straw polls in 1983. The unlikely figure of Alan Cranston won several of them, in the manner I described above, convincing the press for a time that he was the coming candidate. The senior California senator -- a very interesting character who had appointed me to the Air Force Academy, which I did not attend -- had managed to con much of the peace movement of the time into backing him. Even though in reality he was one of the biggest boosters of unnecessary weapons systems. Which just happened to be made in California. But his rhetoric sure sounded good.

Cranston won what was supposedly a big victory in the Wisconsin straw poll, a farce at a state Democratic convention in Milwaukee which I saw up close and personal, having been brought in to run Hart's advance and take over a congressional district whose coordinator had quit (to go to work for Cranston!). It wasn't even clear that his voters were from Wisconsin, as there was no requirement they be actual state voters. But it got him a huge boost in the press, that turned out to mean nothing when the real voting started the following February in Iowa where Hart made his break-out from the pack.

The Republican presidential candidates took part in Saturday's Iowa Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa, one of the most totally bogus events in American politics.

** A HELPING HAND. Republicans may have thought they were doing a fine job blasting away at Obama in last Thursday night's debate in Iowa. But what they did is lend him a helping hand.

Obama had to like what he saw in that debate. While Romney, oddly, was not jumped on by his alleged competitors for the revealed hypocrisy of his blasting Obama the previous week for the Standard & Poor's rating downgrade when he actually used tax hikes as part of his pitch for a rating upgrade when he was Massachusetts governor, he didn't do much to advance his cause, either.

Best of all for Obama was the question about who would go for a deal that contained a whopping $10 in cuts for every $1 in revenue.

The answer? Nobody on that stage. And you can bet that Perry, who is even more conservative than most of that crew, would give the same answer.

So if you are wondering how serious the Tea Party-inflected Republican Party is about deficit reduction, as distinguished from bringing government down, at least rhetorically, there is your answer.

It's an answer all too familiar to Californians.

** "CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE, MY FRIEND." Well, he does have that new man of the people look going for him this time around. Question is, which people?

Mitt Romney has ditched the tailored suits and is going for a more regular guy, open collar, not so well-fitting look these days. I guess because his advisors told him he looked like a leveraged buyout artist.

Gee, I wonder why that would be.

Anyway, it's a new year, a new campaign, a new shtick for the not-so-new candidate. But maybe not such a new attitude for the man who, after all, talked his protege, billionaire Meg Whitman, into running for governor of California.

He may have noticed the more casually attired Jerry Brown trouncing his pal Whitman's biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history. But I guess he never noticed that Whitman had a bad habit of talking up the wonders of corporate Americana.

Or maybe real guy Mitt is the guy who looks like he's ready for an LBO, which accounts for his gem about the anthropomorphic qualities of big corporations during his appearance at last week's Iowa State Fair.

But it turns out that Romney isn't the only one with a tin ear for the moment.

Yes, I know it's very nice, even though it's where Bruce the Shark had his famous feasts in Jaws. Besides, it's where Fox Mulder from The X-Files is from.

But is this haunt of the elites where a president presiding over the worst economy since the Great Depression really wants to spend his summer vacation?

Why, yes, it is.

Sigh. Well, at least Obama isn't into hanging with celebrities and the super-rich on the Vineyard like Bill Clinton was. Knock on wood.

It's too bad for Obama, who wrapped up his three-day bus tour of the Midwest Wednesday saying that America needs a politics that puts "country ahead of party" and focuses on "the next generation instead of the next election." He said this, naturally, while running hard in the run-up to the next election. Obama is finding a voice, still putting out a post-partisan frame which many independents and moderates like, while sharpening his criticism of an increasingly right-wing Republican opposition.

But there's one thing on which he has definitely not found his voice.

** THE BIG ENERGY DISCONNECT. Crude oil is down 29% since the death of Osama bin Laden.

But gasoline is only down 9%.

That's an awfully big float for the oil industry to pocket. And an awfully big thing for Obama to keep quiet about, especially since he is anything but quiet about blaming energy prices for quashing the economic recovery and killing consumer confidence.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

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