Rick Perry campaign: When it comes to policy, he is both confident and tentative.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Aug. 17 2011 7:25 PM

The Two Rick Perrys

When it comes to policy, the Texas governor is both confident and tentative.

Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry greets visitors at the Iowa State Fair August 15, 2011. Click image to expand.

DES MOINES—Watching Rick Perry discuss policy is like watching two different candidates. One can speak easily about the levels of pollutants in the Texas air or the details of oil and gas exploration. The other talks about national issues as tentatively as a young man asking his girlfriend's parents for her hand in marriage.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

It's not reasonable to expect a national candidate—even one with a book—to arrive on the campaign trail with a detailed set of policy positions on national issues. Candidates that have been running for months don't usually have very detailed positions on the issues, and most hope they can get through the campaign without ever needing them. To get too specific is to get yourself in danger.


So it's not a surprise that on questions about taxes, ethanol subsidies, and entitlements, Perry answers by saying that those issues will be illuminated during the "conversation" of the campaign. At a luncheon with businessmen in Dubuque, he takes a full beat between "Medi" and "caid," as if to protect against the common mistake of saying "Medicare."

Yet the governor can be clear, even vivid, when he wants to be. After following him for a few days in Iowa, my question is which Rick Perry will answer any given question.

Perry's much-discussed remarks on monetary policy Monday showed how both candidates can answer at once. His instinct was not to weigh in on the issue, but he just couldn't help himself and went on to threaten Bernanke if he ever came to Texas. He concluded his answer by saying that if the Fed printed more money it would be purely for political reasons. Asked about this later, he doubled down on the idea that Bernanke, a Republican appointee, was politically motivated.

After a breakfast in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Perry was asked whether misgivings about climate science fueled distrust of federal research, he said, "I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects." When asked about entitlement growth at a lunch with businessmen Tuesday, Perry suggested that part of the growth in entitlements was from greed. "Entitlements are a safety net, not a Cadillac or another vehicle to drive around in." His argument against President Obama's foreign policy isn't just that it's wrong but that the president might not love his country.

Perry's claims are based on the idea that most problems can be pretty easily solved. When talking about economic policies, Perry regularly marvels that Washington doesn't understand the simple economic truths that have served him well as governor: Low taxes and low regulation mean growth. Securing the border, he says, "is not one of those insolvable problems at all." It's also helpful that brevity is part of Perry's message. "I don't think the federal government has a role in your children's education." Therefore, no need for an education plan.

So far at least, the common thread of Perry's message is this: The solutions are simple—and those who disagree are not on the level. It's one thing to disagree with policy positions or decisions. It's another to claim such clarity on an issue that you see base motives in anyone who holds a different view. That requires either pride or a sophisticated level of understanding. And as a political matter, it ups the ante: Your opponents aren't just clueless, they're venal.

Become a fan of  John Dickerson on Facebook.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Dear Prudence
Oct. 2 2014 6:00 AM Can’t Stomach It I was shamed for getting gastric bypass surgery. Should I keep the procedure a secret?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?