The Magazine

Rick Perry, Annotated

The Texas governor enters the race

Aug 29, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 46 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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Take a silence? Special operators? Sacrificial men and women? In the Perry campaign there will be malapropisms, which is just one among many similarities often drawn between Perry and George W. Bush. But like Bush he usually winds up saying what he means. 

After the silence had been taken there came an abrupt shift in tone, finger stabbing the air to drive home the applause line: “And we will never, ever forget them.”

He pushed the words out in a defiant manner, sounding almost accusatory: It’s about time somebody stood up to all those nancy boys running around our country saying we should just go ahead and forget these sacrificial men and women. He leaned back and let the applause roll on.

Next he gave a taste of what life was like in Paint Creek. “When I wasn’t farming or attending Paint Creek Rural School, I was generally over at Troop 48 working on my Eagle Scout award.”

The Scouts are a recurring theme in Perry’s career. He even wrote a book about the Boy Scouts, published three years ago, called On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For. The book was a rebuttal to efforts by the ACLU and gay rights activists to force the Scouts to admit members they had traditionally disallowed​—​girls, for instance, or openly homosexual men, or boys who refuse to agree to the Scout Oath’s vow “to do my duty to God.”

On My Honor contains a few surprises. Its premise is that “the so-called War on the Scouts is a microcosm of a larger phenomenon, a ‘culture war’ that has been tearing at the seams of our society for forty years.” But the tone is surprisingly mild, far more broad-minded than most other books from either side of the culture war. The armistice he proposes simply asks the activists to let the Boy Scouts be the Boy Scouts, pursuing the values they choose. What the activists choose to do with other activists after that is their business.

“Though I am no expert on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, I can sympathize with those who believe sexual preference is genetic,” he wrote. “I respect their right to engage in the individual behavior of their choosing, but they must respect the right of millions in society to refuse to normalize their behavior.” The book’s peroration is a hymn to tolerance and an implicit rebuke to traditionalists who refuse to live and let live.

“We must draw a line in the sand: People have the right to decide for themselves what they will believe in the core of their being, and how they will live,” he wrote. “For those who want to throw stones at homosexuals in the name of calling out sin, may they be just as loud about adultery among heterosexuals and pornography among their own churchgoing friends.”

This is a patented Perry statement, logically similar, as we’ll see, to his use of federalism as a means of avoiding sharp-edged and often unpleasant arguments. 

Another surprise in On My Honor are the unexpected cameo appearances by Mitt Romney. His name arises in one of a long train of abuses in the culture war. As president of the 2002 Olympics, Romney had put out a desperate call for volunteers. Perry quotes Romney’s plea at length, yet questions its sincerity. For when Utah’s Boy Scouts responded to volunteer en masse, they were told they weren’t welcome to participate in the Olympics. Shocked, Scout leaders phoned and wrote Romney, also an Eagle Scout.

“We can’t get him to return our calls,” a Scout leader complained, according to Perry’s account. 

“Several years have gone by,” Perry writes, “and neither Mitt Romney nor anyone else who served as an official of the 2002 Winter Olympics has given a clear and logical explanation” why the Scouts were excluded. In summary, Perry writes that we do “know that Romney .  .  . has parted ways with the Scouts on its policies over the involvement of gay individuals in Scout activities. He once said during a debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, ‘I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.’ ”

Perry helpfully adds the precise newspaper citation for anyone who might want to track down Romney’s quote and keep it close, just in case it comes in handy some day. 

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