Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rick Perry: Republican Mike Dukakis

Conventional wisdom says Rick Perry is the second coming of George W. Bush--only worse.
I say he's the Republican version of Mike Dukakis--only worse.
Now, most Americans who think of Michael Dukakis--if they do--only remember the Presidential campaign. The goofy shot with the tank and the helmet, the awkward answer in the Presidential debate about what he'd do if his wife were raped, the Willie Horton ad. They remember a man who looked about two sizes too small for the job.
I wrote speeches for Michael Dukakis when he was Governor of Massachusetts.
That was a job he excelled at.
He had a terrific team working for him; he was smart, shrewd, in command. He was the longest tenured Governor in the history of Massachusetts. He had techniques and programs that he put to work in Massachusetts that got results.
Remember the Massachusetts Miracle?
Probably not. But that was one of Dukakis' campaign themes: that he had brought jobs and economic growth to Massachusetts in the middle of an economic downturn, and he could do the same thing for the country, if he were President.
Remember the response the Greek community gave his candidacy?
Probably not. But that was another of Dukakis' secret weapons--he was the first American of Greek descent to run for President and gain the nomination.
Which brings me to Rick Perry.
He's running on the basis of his record in Texas--his version of a Texas Miracle. In an economy that's flat on its back, his state has generated a stunning percent of the nation's total new jobs.
And he's running as a Texan--his version of the Greek identity. Texans love their own, take care of their own, support their own, and, most important, finance their own. Already the call has gone out through the Longhorn State (and through the President of the University of Texas, who, apparently, has already put out the word for alums to whip out their checkbooks and write some big numbers for Perry) that it's time to bring the White House back home where it belongs.
But just a few days into his campaign, and already you get the feeling that he's too small for the job.
He's never run a national campaign before, and it shows.
What worked for Dukakis in Massachusetts, where he could be a technocrat, a liberal, a guy who rode the T to the office every morning, didn't work for America; he came off as a man without big ideas, out of touch with ordinary people, and, frankly, a little odd.
What worked in Texas may not play in the U.S.--especially not when people hear his voice and catch his style.
The swagger and boots and big talk, threats and cavalier dismissals of complicated issues could very well get him the nomination.
The field, other than Romney, looks kind of weak, splintered, undistinguished. Kind of like the field Dukakis beat.
And like Dukakis, Perry will have his core supporters and their money.
But I'm also betting that, like Dukakis, Perry will find, if he does get the nomination, that the job is several sizes too big for him.
He could well be another Texan who's all hat, no cattle.

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