By Grace Wyler
The book is a fiery, anti-Washington treatise that lays bare Perry’s ideas on the dangers of federal overreach and the primacy of the 10th Amendment. Incredulous pundits and reporters are heralding it as a virtual gold mine of opposition ammo for any 2012 candidate — Republican or Democrat — looking to torpedo Perry’s White House bid.
In some ways, they are probably right. In the book, Perry affirms the death panel myth, lambastes, and calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” — and that’s just a few of his incendiary claims.
But Perry does not appear to be shying away from the controversial positions he lays out in his book. During last night’s GOP debate, he stood by his Ponzi scheme comparison, adding “maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country.”
Perry’s fidelity to his book is an indication that he believes that the book’s claims will resonate with the people who matter — American voters, who polls show are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the government’s ability to get anything done.
Whether Fed Up! ends up being Perry’s gift or his curse remains to be seen, but one thing about the book is certain: This is no ordinary — re: mind-numbingly boring — campaign memoir. It is an ideological manifesto that gives rare, unadulterated insight into how the presidential candidate, Perry, views the size and role of the federal government he now wants to lead.
1. Wresting power back from the federal government is the battle of our time.
The Argument: Fed Up! centers around the idea that the federal government’s consolidation of power is threatening American values and way of life. Perry argues that the balance of power has tipped dangerously away from the states, citing everything from Obamacare and earmarks to the Department of Homeland Security and TARP as evidence of his claim.
Why It Helps: Perry’s unwavering commitment to limited federal government is increasingly appealing to conservative voters, even those who do not identify with the Tea Party.
Why It Hurts: Perry’s disdain for federal cash has been selective. Through the second quarter of 2011, Texas used $17.4 billion in federal stimulus money, including $8 billion to cover state budget deficits for the past two years. Between 2003 and 2005, Perry lobbied Congress for $1.2 billion in federal deficit spending for “temporary fiscal relief” through the state’s Medicaid program. And just last week, he said he expects the federal government to fight wildfires.
2. The federal debt is the “biggest national security threat our country faces.”
The Argument: The country’s debt problems stem from Congress’s abuse of its spending power, enumerated in a Constitutional clause that allows Congress to collect taxes and pay down the national debt. Politicians and federal judges have used the clause to get around the 10th Amendment, Perry writes, forcing states to go along with entitlement programs and “Progressive” economic policies.
Why It Helps: Perry’s claims echo growing voter concerns about the federal debt — polls show that record numbers of Americans see the deficit as the No. 1 problem facing the U.S. today.
Why It Hurts: Within days of launching his campaign, Perry came under fire for making vitriolic remarks about the Federal Reserve — and vague threats against Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. But Perry doubled down on his criticism this week, standing by his claim that printing more money before the election would be “almost treasonous.”
3. The 10th Amendment is “under attack” from an “unprecedented federal intrusion” into everyday American lives.
The Argument: Fed Up! is basically a manifesto on the primacy of the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which lays out the principle of federalism, or states’ rights. States are important, Perry argues, because “Americans want to live free,” without “nameless, faceless, and unelected federal bureaucrats” telling them what to do. But states’ 10th Amendment rights are “under direct assault” by unconstitutional federal programs, like Social Security and Medicare.
Why It Helps: The 10th Amendment has become an organizing principle for the burgeoning Tea Party movement and other advocates for limited government. Fed Up! bolsters Perry’s states’ rights street cred and gives him a leg up over the other 2012 GOP candidates, many of whom have made fidelity to the 10th Amendment a campaign mantra.
Why It Hurts: Perry’s 10th Amendment cheerleading has a tendency to run amok — most notably when he suggested in 2009 that Texas might secede from the union if the federal government didn’t change its fiscal policies. His opponents are already using those remarks to portray Perry as a fringe-y and unelectable right-wing candidate.
4. The 16th Amendment is a “milestone on the road to serfdom.”
The Argument: The 16th Amendment, which authorizes the federal income tax, was the “birth of wealth redistribution in the United States,” Perry writes, stripping states of huge chunks of their wealth and sovereignty and handing over power to the federal government.
Why It Helps: Perry’s opposition to the 16th Amendment is the launching pad for his plan to overhaul the federal tax code, a key campaign issue for conservative voters. In his book, Perry proposes two alternatives for replacing the federal income tax. The first, which would “totally scrap the current tax code in favor of a flat tax,” is popular among Republicans and independents looking to simplify the tax code.
Why It Hurts: Perry’s second proposal would replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax, or “Fair Tax” — a pretty extreme idea, even among the most far-right conservatives. Various Tea Party candidates and libertarians have flirted with the Fair Tax movement before realizing it is political Kryptonite, and Perry appears to be following suit — his campaign team is already starting to dodge the subject.
5. The Constitution’s Commerce Clause is the root of U.S. economic woes
The Argument: Congress and the federal court system have overstepped the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate trade between states and nations. This overreach, Perry argues, is “the basis for federal laws regulating the environment, regulating guns, protecting civil rights, establishing the massive programs of Medicare and Medicaid, creating national minimum wage laws, [and] establishing national labor laws.”
Why It Helps: In one fell swoop, Perry carves out a staunch conservative position on a litany of Republican pet issues. He need only point to his book to demonstrate his ideological consistency on everything from gun rights to the National Labor Relations Board.
Why It Hurts: This is a lot of federal government for one guy to hate. Given that the EPA, Medicare, Medicaid, and the NLRB are unlikely to disappear any time soon, Perry will likely have to temper his vitriol in the event he makes it to a general election. The question is whether he can tone it down without coming off as spineless.
6. Social Security is a “violent,” unconstitutional attack on American values
The Argument: In what is now the most infamous passage of Fed Up!, Perry compares Social Security to a “Ponzi scheme,” calling it a “crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal” that has “hoodwinked the American public” through deceptive accounting. He does not, however, propose scrapping the system entirely, as some of his opponents claim.
Why It Helps: Conventional wisdom holds that Social Security is the third rail of American politics. But growing concerns over entitlement spending and the federal deficit appear to be changing the political headwinds. Perry stood by his “Ponzi scheme” comments during this week’s debate, and got huge cheers from the Tea Party crowd.
Why It Hurts: Social Security remains an all-important issue for the elderly, a major Republican voting bloc, and candidates have to walk a fine line between promising spending reforms and scaring senior citizens. Perry has started to tone down his rhetoric, but his opponents are bound to bring up the “Ponzi scheme” comment every chance they get.
7. Agricultural subsidies are just another form of wealth redistribution
The Argument: Federal agriculture policies interferes with markets and undermines small farmers, while subsidizing huge commercial farms to the tune of billions in taxpayer dollars. Perry writes that the farm subsidies are a glaring example of Washington’s “reckless spending” that puts “Washington bureaucrats smack in the middle of the business of farming.”
Why It Helps: Perry’s critique will play well with federal deficit hawks, who have long bemoaned the ballooning costs of agricultural subsidies. And as a former farmer and Texas Agricultural Commissioner, Perry has credentials to back up his criticism.
Why It Hurts: Perry has not always opposed agricultural subsidies — the Austin American Statesman reports that, as a farmer, Perry personally benefited from $80,000 in federal farm assistance. Moreover, his staunch opposition to ethanol subsidies could hurt him with voters in Iowa, an all-important early voting state.
8. Sarah Palin wasn’t wrong about death panels
The Argument: Obamacare authorizes the federal government to “ration care and make important decisions about our health — even in matters of life and death,” Perry writes. He then defends Sarah Palin’s claim that the healthcare reform law empowers “death panels.”
“But is she wrong?” Perry asks. “Sure, there isn’t a section titled ‘death panels’ in the law, but that’s not how the statist works.”
Why It Helps: Obama’s healthcare reform law remains highly unpopular among Republican primary voters. All of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates have vowed to repeal the bill, and Perry’s fiery rhetoric could set him apart from the rest of the pack.
Why It Hurts: The “death panel” claim has long been discredited as a scare tactic, and makes Perry look like a fringe Tea Partier. Conventional political thinking holds that this type of rabid partisanship will turn off moderate and independent voters.
9. Al Gore is a “false prophet of a secular carbon cult”
The Argument: Global warming is a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight,” Perry writes. The theory, he says, is the product of “doctored data” cooked up by liberal scientists who know “that we have been experiencing a cooling trend.” He adds that climate science has been co-opted and politicized by the extreme left, personified by former Vice President Al Gore.
Why It Helps: While moderates and liberals see Perry’s climate change skepticism as far-right extremism, his claims actually represent the new face of mainstream Republican environmental policy. Climate change denial has become Republican orthodoxy and Al Gore is a favorite punching bag, so Perry’s fiery remarks play right to his base.
Why It Hurts: If Perry wins the GOP nomination, Democrats will likely use his climate change denial to play up perceptions that the Texas Governor is an anti-intellectual, backwater rube. The entire climate change debate has shifted to the right, however, making it unlikely that the issue will have any real effect on Perry’s campaign.
10. The Supreme Court is “offensive to the concept of liberty.”
The Argument: The Supreme Court “long ago wrested away from the people the power to decide what is right and what is wrong, and at the most fundamental level, how we should live our lives,” Perry writes. The court and its “activist judges” are an assault on federalism and a state’s right to make decisions on issues like the death penalty and marriage rights.
Why It Helps: Perry’s chapter-long tirade gives him a lot of street cred among social conservatives, for whom the promise to appoint conservative judges is a key criterion for candidates. Through his attacks on the court, Perry effectively lays out his positions on major social issues, including support for capital punishment, the right to school prayer and courthouse 10 Commandments, gun rights, support for repealing Roe v. Wade, and opposition to abortion.
Why It Hurts: Perry’s deep disdain for the Supreme Court fully illuminates his extreme vision for the government that he now wants to run. Ideas like this are likely to freak out even some conservative voters — as unhappy as they are with the government, most don’t want to see the country’s judicial system gutted any time soon.
11. Establishment Republicans are spineless
The Argument: Republicans have been too accommodating of the left’s ambition to expand the federal government. “Tomorrow will come and the Democrat will be on the battlefield again, expecting the Republican to once again capitulate — and, unfortunately, he would be correct,” Perry writes. “The branding of the ‘Compassionate Conservative’ meant that the GOP was sending the wrong signal that conservatism alone wasn’t enough.”
Why It Helps: Anti-Establishment is en vogue among GOP voters right now, so Perry’s jabs will serve him well with his base. By criticizing his fellow Republicans, Perry can project an image of himself as a party outsider in spite of having spent the better part of the last three decades in elected office.
Why It Hurts: Perry’s entry into the presidential race has gotten a tepid response from Republicans inside the Beltway, and his attacks on the party establishment aren’t likely to help him make friends. Although the bulk of Perry’s campaign network and fundraising will come from outside of Washington and New York, he will need to learn how to play nice with the rest of his party.
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