When organizers were planning the third annual RedState Gathering, held earlier this month in Charleston, South Carolina, the event looked to be like the second annual RedState Gathering, which was much like the first. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, would be a featured speaker, as he had been at the others, including last year in Austin, Texas. Perry was the reason the second annual gathering had been held in Austin. Perry wooed the redstaters. He brought the organizers out to Texas, took them to dinner, gave them a tour, took them clay shooting outside of town. RedState is probably the most important and influential collection of conservative bloggers on the Internet. It is closely tied with the amorphous political movement called the Tea Party. And so Rick Perry wanted to be closely tied to RedState.
About a month ago, a phone call came from Perry’s office, warning the redstaters that this year’s event would be a little different. Perry’s staff would need to begin handling security for his speech; the media arrangements too. The gathering last year had attracted maybe a dozen reporters, who arrived from Washington and New York and subjected the bloggers to the customary zoological analysis. Security had never been a concern.
More than 120 reporters attended this year’s gathering, roughly one for every four redstaters, and unfriendly Texas Rangers, both plainclothes and uniformed, prowled the Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston. Rick Perry had bestowed on RedState a great honor: They would be the audience and the backdrop for the speech in which he announced his candidacy for president of the United States. Judging by their reaction, the redstaters were flattered and pleased. And who wouldn’t be?
Perry gave a good speech—a little long, but all speeches are too long. With modifications for time and place, the text now serves as the basis of the stump speech he gives as he travels to Iowa and New Hampshire. It is his advertisement for himself—a kind of portrait of who Rick Perry wants you to think he is—and it repays close attention, one paragraph to the next.
When the cheers had died down that sweltering afternoon in the Gold Ballroom of the Francis Marion, the first thing Rick Perry said was: Howdy.
He’s from Texas. He used to wear cowboy boots stitched with the bad-ass Texas slogan “Come and Take It” until back surgery this summer forced him into orthopedic shoes. He took out a coyote with one shot from a .380 pistol last year while jogging. He grew up out in a bleak part of the state called the Big Country, in a place named “Paint Creek”—a place not a town; the only town within 20 miles with a post office was called Haskell, which itself is a couple of hundred miles west of Dallas. His parents worked a tenant farm growing cotton, utterly dependent on the weather like all farmers only more so. “Every day they got up,” he told the Texas Monthly last year, “it was dry.” Often at midday the sky would grow dark. “Huge clouds of dust would roll in from the west.” He only saw his mother cry once, he told the Monthly, when his parents, who seldom bought anything, dug deep to buy a new couch. “There were places in our house that you could see outside through the cracks by the windows, and this dust storm came in and there was a layer of dust all over that new couch. And it just, you know, kind of—it was a hard life for them.”
His mother, a seamstress, made his clothes for him, including his underwear, until he went off to Texas A&M University. He bathed in a tub on the back porch. The family outhouse was decommissioned when Perry was seven or eight, after his father put in indoor plumbing.
“It’s sure good to be back in the Palmetto State, in South Carolina,” he told the redstaters, “where they love the greatest fighting force on the face of the earth, the United States military.”
At Texas A&M he earned a grade point average a bit over 2.0 (Ds and Cs in chem and trig and Shakespeare, an A in world military systems, and a B in phys. ed.) and majored in animal science. Then he joined the Air Force and served four years flying C-130s out of bases around the world—Europe, the Middle East, South America. He likes to talk about the military and often gets choked up when he does. His next line in the speech set up an inexpensive applause line.
“I want to take a moment and ask you to just take a silence, think about those young Navy SEALs and the other special operators who gave it all in the service of their country,” referring to the downing a few days before of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan. We should be grateful, he went on, for “those kind of selfless, sacrificial men and women.”