A few days ago I stumbled across this post, from a blogger at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, positing that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is 2016’s version of Rick Perry in 2012: “He checks a lot of boxes, on paper, but at the end of the day he just may not be ready for prime time.” The post, which was published in June, was triggered by Walker’s apparent inability to coherently communicate his beliefs about abortion—and had I read it at the time, I suspect it would have struck me as an intriguing hypothesis, given that Walker has been stumbling haphazardly around national politics all year, losing traction in the early polls, and getting crossways with most of the other Republicans running, including Perry 2.0.
This weekend, however, the hypothesis was badly undermined by the seemingly inadvertent ingenuity of Walker’s border security plan:
This is prima facie ridiculous. But on contemplation, the inanity of the idea is somehow strangely brilliant. The idea of building a wall along America’s northern border is ludicrous. If the United States is going to invest vast amounts of labor and capital in a sprawling infrastructure project, we might as well go for one of the many available options that would improve transportation mobility, or protect vulnerable regions—or, more modestly, have any salutary impact at all. We should hold off on one that would have ruinous effects on economic exchange with one of our major trading partners, and that would send a somewhat unwelcoming message to a neighboring country, one that millions of Americans are directly connected to via family, culture, heritage, commerce, or civic life, to boot.
At the same time Walker’s vision of a northern border wall is not actually a worse idea than Donald Trump’s dream of a southern border wall, which at least half of his rivals have ardently embraced.
Some readers may actually consider both ideas good. I hope not, but just in case the Trump-Walker ticket succeeds next year, let me offer some friendly advice: If we must build both walls, let’s make sure to tackle la frontière first.
One of the things that have made Burkablog such a success over the years is the intelligence of its commenters, the quality of their comments, and the variety of their points of view. Paul Burka, the founder of this blog, always encouraged a wide-ranging, open discussion that allowed for diverse opinions. Some amplified what he had written; some criticized his analysis. But they all helped make Burkablog a destination for smart discourse regarding important issues related to state politics and policy.
The editors of this blog have always been committed to maintaining genial discussion for the blog’s community of readers because it adds a depth and perspective to our analysis that is invaluable, and I am grateful to the loyal followers who have helped improve Burkablog with their insights. For years, it has been our policy to not pre-moderate comments as not to inhibit, delay, or hinder the liveliness of the ongoing conversation. However, for that policy to remain in place going forward, I must restate basic guidelines that, at this point, should be obvious. If Burkablog is to remain a valuable place for discussion, it is critical that the level of discourse remains civil and thoughtful—a goal that has deteriorated as of late and hurt the community.
To be clear, we will not allow comments that detract from the quality of the discussion or marginalize the other contributors. Any posts that contain personal attacks, gratuitous language, or inflammatory speech or images will be deleted. If the problem persists, the commenter will be banned from the site. It’s that simple.
Our editors will continue to monitor the comments and to exercise their discretion as to which ones detract from a cordial forum. One of our primary goals is to foster a community where readers are comfortable sharing their points of view and engaging in reasoned dialogue with our writers and each other. If that objective comes under attack, we will take action. Also, we sincerely encourage readers to alert us if you notice negative behavior in the comments. As always, if have any questions, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the last week of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall three times along the Gulf Coast, causing catastrophic destruction, large-scale dislocation, and profound human suffering. Ten years later, the full toll of the storm remains unknown, and necessarily somewhat indeterminate. As of 2008, for example, public health researchers had determined that Katrina was the direct cause of 986 deaths in Louisiana; earlier this year, public health researchers with the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals revised the figure upward, to as high as 1170. Also uncertain is how much progress towards recovery has been made since then.
There’s not much debate, however, over the moral imperative for the latter effort, although the leaders who visited New Orleans this week offered different assessments of the progress made thus far. George W. Bush, who was president at the time and was widely excoriated for the federal government’s desultory crisis management, focused on the progress that has been made in New Orleans’ public schools over the past decade. Barack Obama, who is president now, praised the resilience of the local people, but decried the cities’ persistent inequities.
Both perspectives are valid. The need for progress was actually evident enough before the storm made it unignorable. Almost 90% of the people killed in Louisiana, according to the aforementioned public health researchers, lived in two of the state’s 64 parishes–Orleans and St. Bernard. More than half of the dead were African American, although only a third of the state’s residents are black. And although many of Katrina’s victims were made vulnerable by pre-existing conditions, such age, illness, and poverty, a quarter of the people killed by the storm drowned. This the United States and the 21st century; major cities should have better infrastructure. And New Orleans isn’t America’s only vulnerable coastal city; if you haven’t already read my colleague Robert Draper’s cover story about Galveston Island, from the August issue, I would encourage you to do so.
Progress takes time, though–and a decade isn’t much time, compared to the lifetime of a nation, God willing. And so I’d like to add one more article to the many commemorations and updates in circulation this week. In the aftermath of the storm, my colleague John Spong spent several weeks reporting from Houston, where thousands of evacuees had taken shelter in the Astrodome. His dispatch, “Dome Away From Home”, appeared in the November 2005 issue:
This is a heart-rending story, but not an unhopeful one. Texas received several hundred thousand evacuees after Katrina, many of whom are still here today. As many Texans will remember, it wasn’t an entirely seamless transition; there were the usual flaring tempers and frayed nerves you can expect when a state receives an unexpected influx of newcomers, many of them traumatized and dispossessed, as is typically the case when you’re looking at an unexpected influx. Still, Texas’s response to Katrina has to count as one of our state’s finest moments. We saw real leadership from people like Rick Perry, then the governor, and Bill White, then the Mayor of Houston, among many others, and real graciousness on the part of millions of Texans, who welcomed so many neighbors at their time of need. I’d like to think that’s who we are. And I’d like to think it’s a good reminder for us today, since ten years later we have the flaring tempers and frayed nerves without the proximate cause of a historic natural disaster: when people work together, progress is possible.
Forty percent of the people who have served as president during my lifetime are men named Bush. I have no personal animus against the latest iteration, whose name is Jeb, but I doubt I’ll summon much enthusiasm for another Bush until it’s Jenna’s turn to make a play for high office.
With that said, Bush—the Jeb one—is, in addition to being the former governor of Florida and a current candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, a Texan. He was born in Midland and raised in Houston. He is also the father of Texas’s new land commissioner (another George), and enjoys some support in the state. So we would be remiss if we failed to observe that Bush (again, the Jeb one) made a pilgrimage to McAllen this week.
While on the border, Bush spoke on immigration, presumably with a view to striking a more moderate tone than the current Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, and apparently part of an effort to add nuance to his own reference to “anchor babies” the previous week. Reviews were decidedly mixed, not in the sense that Bush received some criticism and come praise, but in that he was criticized by some observers, and excoriated by others. The editorial board of the New York Times was among the latter, arguing that Bush’s efforts at diplomacy—and his attempt to explain away his “anchor babies” remark—actually made matters worse:
Michael Lewis, writing for Vanity Fair, took the contrary view, such as it is, arguing that whatever Bush’s shortcomings, he’s obviously not the most noxious person in the field:
I find it hard to argue with Lewis’s reasoning. To me, Trump makes Mike Huckabee look like a gentleman and a scholar. At the same time, it’s a safe bet that Jeb, as the son of one president and brother of another, can count on being held to the normal professional standards of a presidential candidate, Trump notwithstanding. To that end, if he needs any help with message discipline practice—and recent events suggest he might—I’d suggest he consult his son George P. Bush, who has, after nearly eight months in statewide office, done nothing to discredit the state, unlike several of his peers.
“Disruption” is a term that has become cliché and one I really hate. But it does apply to Perry’s political fortunes. In more recent years, the word became popular in the tech industry as new products and the Internet started creating fundamental changes in the economy: “better, cheaper, faster.” Disruption was a word the techies and tech investors could use to make themselves feel smarter than everyone else instead of just luckier. Perhaps they are unaware of how petroleum discovered in Pennsylvania disrupted the whale oil business, or how Edison’s light bulb affected the gas light trade.
Disruption is little more than dramatic change, and while the term is mostly applied to how technology affects markets, it can apply to broader concepts. Walmart disrupted mom-and-pop stores across America with its economy of scale, triggering the era of big box stores — which now are suffering in competition with Internet retailers. Cheap online advertising killed the profits at newspapers. E-books have undercut legacy publishing. Cable television diminished the networks. Now the trend of cable-cutting is threatening the financial scheme of those giants of media control.
So what, you ask, does any of this have to do with Rick Perry? A lot.
After almost 150 years of total control of Texas politics, the Democratic Party lost management of the state in the 1990s because of an influx of Republicans from other states. There had been almost as much political emphasis on illegal immigration from Mexico in the 1980s as there is today, but when the party realignment started occurring, former Democratic Governor Mark White joked that perhaps the Democrats had been watching the wrong border. Perry angered many Democrats by switching parties, but he caught the wave and rode it right into the governor’s mansion.
Then Perry decided to run for president in 2011 and slammed into the wall of political disruption.
Technology and change have affected American politics throughout history. The wonderful political novel The Last Hurrah is the story of a ward boss mayor of Boston fighting his final re-election campaign against a young politician with TV appeal. Art became reality as young Boston politician John F. Kennedy defeated the more seasoned Richard Nixon in the 1960s television debates in no small part by looking young and vigorous. Nixon came back in 1968 with a television advertising effort that changed the nature of campaigning. But then Jimmy Carter re-established the value of shoe-leather campaigning in 1976 with an Iowa showing that shot him from the back of the pack to perceived frontrunner. President Obama’s 2008 fundraising machine made him the first presidential candidate of the Internet.
When Perry announced for president, he was grossly unprepared for how cable news and the Internet had changed the national political landscape.
Whether you like Perry or not, he is an exceptionally good retail campaigner, connecting with audiences when he speaks. In the traditional presidential campaigns that existed between Carter and George W. Bush’s re-election, Perry would have excelled. The formula was: Connect with voters in early primary and caucus states while raising money for the long haul of television advertising to drive home the message. But it wasn’t just fundraising that changed in 2008. In what was the first step toward turning presidential nominations into national campaigns rather than state-by-state affairs, televised debates – partisan gladiatorial brawls – became a part of the woodwork. Before that year, neither party had more than 15 primary debates in a cycle. The spectacle exploded that cycle though, with 25 in the Democrat primaries and 21 in the Republican, carrying over to 20 in the 2011/12 Republican primaries.
Perry was ill prepared for debating, having had just a few in his gubernatorial campaigns. His mistakes were of a kind that a politician might have weathered in previous elections, but with the echo chamber of the Internet, they were fatal. (And the dominance of those debates on establishing the system were so dramatic that both parties this year are trying to reduce the number to six for the Democrats and nine for the Republicans.)
Internet and cable television disruption continues to plague Perry this year in the form of Donald Trump. As Trump has demagogued his way to the front of the pack of Republican candidates, no one has suffered as much as Perry. As much as numbers guru Nate Silver may argue that Trump is winning the polls but losing the nomination the national polls, media coverage, and Internet chatter are driving the campaign. Watching whatever individual state polls have been done since this summer, I’ve found they have started tracking the national numbers. Before Trump took off in late July, Scott Walker led in Iowa and Bush in New Hampshire. Trump now not only leads in those states, but he also is ahead of Bush in his home state of Florida. The Trump surge is displayed on cable television in the 20,000 people who turned out to hear Trump in Mobile, Alabama, on a Friday night.
Once again, the presidential nominating process has become national and preys on Perry’s weaknesses rather than plays to his strengths.
Trump for the time being has frozen the field. That works well for Texas Senator Ted Cruz’ plan to pick up a few delegates here and a few delegates there to take into the national party convention as bargaining chips. It is a disaster for Perry, however. Perry needs fluidity in the pack. He needs a Jimmy Carter moment in an early state or caucus. Instead, he gets an Internet lashing over a misspeak in the second tier debate when he referred to Ronald Reagan as Ronald Raven. His operating cash is drying up. His Iowa chairman jumped ship to Trump. Perry still has plenty of Super Pac money for a strong television advertising campaign in the early states, but so long as the field is frozen, spending that money may be like spitting into the wind. Perry’s best hope at this point is that Jeb Bush will expend some of his mega-millions on advertisements telling voters about “the real” Donald Trump. Only if the Trump bubble burst will Perry have a chance to move up from one percent support.
At the moment, though, disruption is killing Perry’s White House dreams. Perhaps he should start thinking of a new career as a whaler, a wheelwright, or a newspaper publisher.