In a true dictatorship, the dictator can say any damn thing he wants, and who’s going to criticize him? But those good old days are increasingly behind us. Nowadays democracy is so obviously winning that even dictators go to a lot of trouble and waste a lot of money pretending to have elections. How much money did the Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein throw away on “elections”? You wouldn’t have caught King Henry VIII of England fooling with that nonsense. But in our time even most dictators are looking over their shoulder just a bit, saying things that sound good, even if they still do whatever they want.
How much more must politicians watch what they say in a real democracy, where you actually do have to be elected? They seem to say what they think people want to hear, like Mitt Romney. On the one hand, we despair of ever finding a politician who will speak honestly and really say what he or she thinks. But then when someone does speak honestly and we hate what we’re hearing, we say “Oh my God! I can’t believe you said that!” Which is what I’m about to do here.
Well, that’s how it is in a democracy. If you don’t like it, don’t run for office.
Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is running for President. Anyone who wants to be the most powerful person on the planet Earth needs to be questioned rather seriously, and that goes for all of them. I probably won’t do this with every person running, but I’ve found a few interesting statements from Perry that I’ll look at closely.
In 2010 Perry published the book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington. Here is one of his statements regarding two amendments to the Constitution: “The American people mistakenly empowered the federal government during a fit of populist rage in the early twentieth century by giving it an unlimited source of income (the Sixteenth Amendment) and by changing the way senators are elected (the Seventeenth Amendment).”
“The American people mistakenly empowered the federal government”: Look at Perry’s words. The American people empowered Congress, but did so “mistakenly”. Until 1913, when the 17th Amendment passed, Senators were chosen by state legislatures. In changing the law to allow more direct democracy, letting people directly vote for Senators, the American people made a mistake giving themselves the vote, according to Rick Perry.
“during a fit of populist rage”: Both the words “fit” and “rage” indicate an extreme and uncontrolled burst of emotion. Perry uses the words here to describe the state of mind of the American people in declaring that they wanted to have a more direct participation in their democracy. Perry tried to emphasize his point that this change occurred through thoughtless emotional action by including the word “populist”. The word has the same root as the word “population” and although it refers to people and their rights, it has connotations of cheap emotional appeal, drawing on the worst instincts of the thoughtless masses. Think “howling mob”. Like wanting to vote.
In direct contrast to his rhetoric in the previous quote, when it suits his purpose, Perry will talk about the Constitution in a completely different way. (In fairness, most politicians would do the same thing.) In a different passage, discussing a balanced budget amendment, he writes, “Let’s use the people’s document—the Constitution—to put an actual spending limit in place to control the beast in Washington.”
“the people’s document—the Constitution”: So now the Constitution belongs to “the people” and they can pass amendments to change it if they want. As long as they don’t pass amendments that Rick Perry doesn’t like. Or perhaps he was having a fit of populist rage when he wrote that.
“the beast in Washington”: There is a wild beast in Washington; it can hurt us and needs to be controlled. It is not our government that we sometimes disagree with—it’s a monster, and if it takes extreme measures to control the monster, then let’s get extreme.
I’ll look at one more quote, also focused on the Constitution. In an interview he gave to the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry said that he supports a federal amendment outlawing abortion because such an amendment is “so important…to the soul of this country and to the traditional values [of] our founding fathers”.
“traditional values”: The Constitution does not mention abortion, and if even one of the founding fathers ever wrote against it, we surely would have seen that quote a thousand times in Republican literature by now. Because Perry is referring to a historical document, he uses the adjective “traditional” with the noun “values” to evoke the contemporary phrase Republicans frequently use: “traditional family values”, or with just one adjective, “family values”. Perry’s use of the phrase “traditional values” is an attempt to connect the “traditional” Constitution to current Republican politics.
When Republicans speak so fervently about wanting to follow the original Constitution exactly, I take them at their word. So I wonder—did they not notice that slavery is legal under the Constitution, or do they support slavery? Holding slaves was definitely a traditional value in the 1700s.
Or perhaps people like Perry mean that it’s OK to make changes in the original Constitution as long as you’re not a liberal. You want amendments to ban abortion and ban gay marriage and ban deficit spending? OK. Rick Perry supports those. You want an amendment to expand democracy and the right to vote? Rick Perry is so much smarter than you.