WASHINGTON — Republican White House hopeful and Texas Governor Rick Perry faced disbelieving and angry reactions Tuesday to remarks seen as threats of implied violence against Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke.
At a campaign stop in the heartland state of Iowa on Monday, Perry said he would consider any attempt to boost the US economy before the November 2012 elections as “almost treasonous” and invoked the specter of mob justice.
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa — but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,” Perry told supporters.
“I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous, in my opinion,” Perry told supporters at a backyard get-together, with US President Barack Obama not far away on a campaign-style swing through Iowa.
The eyebrow-raising comments, visible in a video that was widely available on the Internet Tuesday, drew fire even from Republicans, though most of his rivals for the party’s presidential nomination initially kept quiet.
Tony Fratto — a former spokesman for Republican President George W. Bush, who named Bernanke to the Fed chief post — took to Twitter to call them “inappropriate and unpresidential.”
Bush political guru Karl Rove warned on Fox News Business television that Perry’s Bernanke comments sounded like he was going to “take him out behind the barn and whup him” and warned the candidate “did not help his cause.”
“To accuse Bernanke of being a traitor to his country — treason is a crime punishable by death — to say you are going to treat him pretty ugly if he was down in Texas, this was unpresidential and unnecessary,” said Rove.
Perry may have stoked worries among some voters who could be wondering “is he going to be too much of a cowboy?”
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Melanie Rousell dismissed Perry’s unusual broadside at Bernanke as “inflammatory schoolboy taunts” that left other Republican candidates “looking positively thoughtful.”
She also invoked Perry’s past controversial remarks suggesting Texas might secede, saying he “would have needed a passport to visit Iowa if he had his way.”
But the assault on Bernanke came amid deep skepticism among core Republican voters about the role the US Federal Reserve plays in steadying the US economy and broader worries about stubbornly high US unemployment.
Republican Representative Ron Paul, one of Perry’s rival for the party’s nomination, has been a vocal, longtime critic of the Fed — but his campaign quickly distanced itself from the Texas governor’s remarks.
While “it’s good to see the establishment candidates finally catching up and at least paying some lip service” to criticizing the Fed, spokesman Gary Howard told AFP, “of course we’re not advocating violence.”
Asked for further comment, Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner told AFP “the governor was expressing his frustration with the current economic situation and the out-of-control spending that persists in Washington.”
“Most Americans would agree that spending more money is not the answer to the economic issues facing the country,” he said in an email that betrayed no misgivings.
Liberal columnist and economist Paul Krugman, an Nobel Prize winner, called the charge that Bernanke would try to help Obama “a hell of an accusation to make — especially when you bear in mind that Bernanke was a Bush appointee.”
“After this, I suspect that Perry is a shoo-in for the nomination,” he added wryly.