I continue to be fascinated by Rick Perry’s TV ads, largely because they are so startlingly lacking in anything that might ordinarily fascinate an active mind.
They are so formulaic, so trite, so astoundingly lacking in originality, that it is truly remarkable.
And on top of that, they are badly executed — which is also surprising, since you would think that anyone would at least be able to present such simplistic messages without tripping over his laces. Take this bit of the script of the ad above:
The fox guarding the henhouse is like asking a Congressman to fix Washington: bad idea.
Obviously, what is meant here is, “asking a Congressman to fix Washington is like the fox guarding the henhouse.” The idea being criticized, being held up as a bad idea, is asking a congressman to fix Washington, and the universally understood cliche to which it is being compared is the fox guarding the henhouse. But the announcer gets it completely backward. Even if you told me that the script writer’s first language wasn’t English, it wouldn’t excuse this, because logic knows no language.
But, as bad as these ads are, they do reveal things about Perry, and with great economy of language.
Once again, what we learn about him (as we did back here) is that he assumes — or should I say, presumes — that the president of the United States is an absolute monarch who rules by fiat, with the other branches being completely subject to his will.
In this case, he plays on populist resentment of people who make more money than the voter (and he’s a Republican, right?) to endear the voter to his plan to emasculate and hobble the legislative branch. Elect me, he is saying, and I will wave my scepter and this thing you resent, this Congress, will become a poor, feeble thing, unable to wield any power any more (and unable to be a check on my power), too busy trying to scratch out a living back home to be an obstacle to the new King.
I say all this as someone who — as my readers well know — is a longtime champion of executive power here in South Carolina (a governor in control of the whole executive branch, a strong mayor in Columbia). But that’s because on the state and local levels here, the executive is so weak as to be unable to perform its proper function in a healthy government. That is not the case in Washington, and in any case, Perry overreaches to an extent that is shocking, and would be under any circumstance. Yes, he does so out of deep ignorance of the rule of law under our constitution, but that doesn’t make the (fortunately remote) prospect of him being president less chilling.
There’s a deeper irony here. In reality, the only way to bring about this poor shadow of the present Congress is, of course, to ask Congress to do it. No president could bring that about unilaterally. And as he says, asking Congress to “fix” Washington (according to his notion of “fixing”) is indeed like asking the fox to guard the henhouse. Or the other way around. Whatever.