The Sciences

Rick Perry: Not a Libertarian

The IntersectionBy The IntersectionSep 1, 2011 8:00 PM

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By Jon Winsor One recent discussion on this blog has been whether the tea party is libertarian or authoritarian. Rick Perry, the tea party's candidate of choice, has been billing himself as a states rights-inflected libertarian, as his recent book Fed Up! attests. (See the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus for some highlights here.) But columnists have been pointing out that the ostensibly libertarian Fed Up is of fairly recent vintage. The older Perry had quite a different political brand: that of a crusading culture warrior. Dana Milbank writes,

Yes, Perry is passionately anti-government, or at least anti-this-government. But the man who suddenly tops the Republican presidential polls is no libertarian. For an eyeful of the full Perry, crack his 2008 book, On My Honor... [One quote:] “The radical homosexual movement seeks societal normalization of their sexual activity. . . . They must respect the right of millions in society to refuse to normalize their behavior...” In a series of hoary bromides, the supposedly libertarian Perry condemns the “litigious advocates of licentious behavior” (that’s the ACLU) and informs us that “Sometimes the rules must protect society at large at the expense of individual expression when that expression is deemed harmful to others and society at large...” Among the things Perry “deems” harmful: universities (students “have been taught that corporations are evil, religion is the opiate of the masses, and morality is relative”); human rights commissions (“often nothing more than a front for attacking institutions that teach traditional values”); and evolution (he says “the weight of evidence” supports intelligent design)... Though he speaks now as a small-government conservative, Perry argues in his book: “We are close to a tipping point in American society. If you believe there is right and wrong, that there are acceptable standards of behavior . . . then you have a stake in this war. If the attackers win many more victories... the culture war may be lost before we know it. If that happens, we will find ourselves living in a world where moral relativism reigns and individualism runs amok. Now is the time to enlist in this effort, to stand up and be counted.” [My emphasis]

This is the rhetoric of a values-imposing crusader, not a libertarian. According to New Republic reporter Eliza Gray, this crusading style is not only rhetorical, but part of his governing style as well. This past May, Perry signed a law requiring women to get sonograms prior to having an abortion. Gray writes:

[The] fervor of the governor’s pro-life stance was expressed most succinctly not in his public remarks after the law’s passage, but in the extraordinary legislative maneuvering he used to enact it: By declaring passage of the law an “emergency”, Perry pushed it ahead of other pieces of legislation scheduled to be discussed by the Texas House of Representatives, and forced debates over real emergencies—like the jobs crisis, the state budget deficit, and out of control wild fires—to wait.

Personally invasive culture war issues are an "emergency," while the economy, wild fires, and a budget deficit take a back seat? That's probably not a moral vision shared by most people nationally, and it doesn't sound like it comes from much of a concern for individual liberty.

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