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Rick Perry: Gaffe-Prone Hick or Crafty Pol?

He's an unabashedly right-wing, cowboy-boot-wearing, twang-talkin' and farm-bred kind of a fella. But that doesn't mean he's stupid. Call it smarts -- cowboy smarts.
 
 
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There are two kinds of smart, the saying goes: book-smart and street-smart. In political journalism, where the book-smart people rule, the street-smartness of a political candidate can fail to register -- or even be misread as stupidity. Take, for example, the case of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the frontrunner in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. Okay, so maybe what passed for a street where Perry grew up in Haskell County, Texas, was made of dirt. Call it cowboy smarts, then.

The headline in Politico pulled no punches: " Is Rick Perry Dumb?" The story it accompanied, published earlier this week, was, in fairness to reporter Jonathan Martin, a much more fair assessment of Perry's intelligence than that headline would imply. But the very fact of a story devoted to debating the topic of Perry's intelligence betrayed the cultural gulf between flyover country and the coastal press, not to mention the class gulf between the national media and people who come from a world where not everybody goes to college.

Yeah, some ask, but didn't Perry say he doesn't believe in evolution? Sure, but you can't get a majority of Americans to say they do. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, only 39 percent said they accepted evolution as the explanation for human existence, while 25 percent said they outright reject evolution, and another 36 expressed no opinion.

Meanwhile, nobody's questioning the brainpower of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for doubting the scientific consensus on the role of human activity as the  primary driver in climate change. When the rich guy from Massachusetts -- who graduated from Harvard Law School, don't you know -- flips the bird at empirical evidence, that's just smart politics. Smart because Rick Perry, with his bachelor's degree from Texas A&M, completely rejects the notion of a human role in climate change, and Perry is beating Romney among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the latest polling on the GOP presidential field.

Real Estate Flipping and Pay to Play

It's not easy for a dumb guy to become a millionaire, but that's just what Rick Perry has done during the time he's been in office. Though his windfall derives from a variety of investments, his special skill appears to be in the flipping of real estate, a sector in which Perry has been known to double, and even triple, his initial investments in land when it came time to sell, according to Aman Batheja, reporting for McClatchy Newspapers.

Even if you believe, as do the folks at Texans for Public Justice [PDF], that some of these deals were a little shady, you can't say they were dumb. I mean, how dumb is it to buy a tract of land for $314,770 from your buddy, a state senator, and then sell it six years later for $1.1 million? Never mind that the guy who initially sold the tract to your senatorial pal happened to be the business partner of the guy to whom you turned around and sold it for more than a cool mil. Stinky? Sure. Stupid? No.

Then there were all those appointments of people to state jobs who were inclined to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to Perry's campaigns. Texans for Public Justice reports [PDF] that Perry has gleaned $17 million in campaign contributions from his political appointees and their spouses. Would a dumb guy appoint so many people so inclined to share their wealth with him?

(For more on Perry's campaign donors and allegations of pay to play in Texas, go to the TPJ site.)

 
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