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Rick Perry Stirs Ire for Fed Threat, “Economic Miracle” Claim & Calling Entitlements “Ponzi Scheme”

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Since announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination over the weekend, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has already raised eyebrows over a number of heated comments. On Monday Perry accused Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke of treason and suggested he would face physical harm in Texas. His comments were widely criticized, from the White House to Republican key strategist Karl Rove. Perry has also drawn criticism for calling Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare “a Ponzi scheme.” Perry’s record in Texas is also beginning to face increased scrutiny. He claims responsibility for the an “economic miracle” in Texas, but many have questioned the success of his economic policies. We look at Perry’s recent comments and his past with Bob Moser, executive editor of The American Prospect. Moser is the former editor of The Texas Observer, where he spent the last three years covering Perry. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at Rick Perry, the conservative governor of Texas who, in the last few days since he’s announced his bid for president, has already shaken up the playing field among his fellow Republican campaigners. Perry made national headlines Monday with his comments about Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke.

GOV. RICK PERRY: I’ll take a pass on the Federal Reserve right at the moment, to be real honest with you. I know there’s a lot of talk and what have you about him. If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we’d—we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous—or treasonous, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Perry’s comment, not naming, but essentially accusing Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke of treason, has been widely criticized from the White House to Karl Rove. Former George W. Bush aide Tony Fratto called them “inappropriate and unpresidential.”

Meanwhile, in an interview published in The Daily Beast last week, Perry was asked to explain his past criticisms of the progressive era and the changes it produced. He replied, quote, “I think every program needs to stand the sunshine of righteous scrutiny. Whether it’s Social Security, whether it’s Medicaid, whether it’s Medicare. You’ve got $115 trillion worth of unfunded liability in those three. They’re bankrupt. They’re a Ponzi scheme,” Perry said.

Perry’s record in Texas is also beginning to face increased scrutiny. He claims responsibility for the so-called “economic miracle” in Texas, but many have questioned the success of his economic policies. The Pulitzer Prize-winning economist—rather, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman pointed out recent economic data suggests the Texas budget gap is worth than New York’s, about as bad as California’s.

To discuss Rick Perry’s Texas past and already visible penchant for hard-edged campaigning, we’re joined by a reporter who’s covered Perry closely. Bob Moser is executive editor of The American Prospect. He’s the former editor at The Texas Observer, where he spent the last three years covering Rick Perry. He’s the author of Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority.

Bob Moser, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us. Tell us who Rick Perry is.

BOB MOSER: Well, Rick Perry is, above all, a politician, a career politician, as Republicans like to say. He has never lost an election in that career. And I think one of the things that people don’t understand about him, because he’s been in the national spotlight primarily for his extreme Tea Party rhetoric, and more recently for his Christian right associations and his “Response” event in Houston, but I think what people don’t understand is that Rick Perry primarily is a corporatist. He has basically instituted Grover Norquist’s model of governance and government shrinking more completely than any governor in America, and thus has become a model for people like Scott Walker and John Kasich and Rick Scott. I think that, you know, above all, Rick Perry will say what he has to say to win a campaign, but when he’s governing, he governs for the rich. And that is the entire sum of his real ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to how he came to be in political office. What—his first elected office, he won against Jim Hightower?

BOB MOSER: That was his first statewide elected office, yes. He had been in the state legislature before that and actually started out as a Democrat, as a conservative Democrat, was Al Gore’s state chairman in 1988, and made the switch before the 1990 election and unseated Jim Hightower as agriculture commissioner.

AMY GOODMAN: And then succeeding—

BOB MOSER: And then, eight years—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

BOB MOSER: Eight years later, he became lieutenant governor. Eight years later, he became lieutenant governor and then, when George W. Bush went to Washington, became governor in early 2001, and is now the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Molly Ivins, the nationally syndicated columnist, former editor at The Texas Observer, where you were recently also an editor, who followed Rick Perry very closely. She dubbed him “Governor Goodhair.” During the 2002 Texas gubernatorial race between Perry and the Democratic challenger, Tony Sanchez, Ivins commented on Perry’s smear campaign against his opponent and his use of the word “coincidental.” She wrote, quote, “This, in turn, brings up the interesting role of coincidence in the life of Gov. Goodhair. Last summer, the Guv appointed an Enron executive to the state’s Public Utilities Commission and, the next day, Perry got a check for $25,000 from Ken Lay. He explained this, to everyone’s satisfaction, as being 'totally coincidental.'” Bob Moser?

BOB MOSER: Well, this is—this is of a pattern with Rick Perry’s governance. You know, he has been—he has become a major campaign cash machine, and partly as the head of the Republican Governors Association. And, you know, I think that that is—that is the way that he has governed. He has appointed every—he has made every appointment in Texas. And just about every appointee has given him money. That is the way that he runs things. And that’s the way that—that’s what we can expect to see—

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the Republican Governors Association.

BOB MOSER: —if Rick Perry becomes president.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the famous contributors to the Republican Governors Association is—are the Koch brothers, who gave, what, something like a million dollars most recently.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about who the big financial backers of Perry are.

BOB MOSER: Well, two of the—two of the biggest, one is Bob Perry, who is the single-largest individual donor to right-wing causes around the country and has given Rick Perry about $20 million. Bob Perry is a huge home builder in Texas, and his primary interest has been in getting—in gutting regulations on businesses and environmental regulations, two things that Perry has been very happy to oblige with. And one of the others is Harold Simmons, a super-rich guy who is known as the “King of Superfund Sites” in America. He’s out of Dallas and recently—recently managed to open a huge radioactive waste disposal site in West Texas, and not only skirted what little state regulation there was in doing so, but also managed to get the county in which the site will be cited to pay for most of it. And Harold Simmons is known as one of the real evil geniuses of American capitalism. These are the kinds of people who have supported Rick Perry and the kinds of people who he has worked for in office, almost exclusively.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play the response from Karl Rove, former chief strategist for President George W. Bush, to Perry’s comments about the Federal Reserve being treasonous. Rove was interviewed on Fox News.

KARL ROVE: It’s his first time on the national stage, and it was a very unfortunate comment. You don’t accuse the chairman of the Federal Reserve of being a traitor to his country, of being guilty of treason. And suggesting that we’d “treat him pretty ugly” in Texas, you know, that’s not, again, a presidential statement.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Karl Rove on Fox. Bob Moser, this is interesting for this comment, but also talk about Rove’s relationship with Governor Perry, as he talks about, well, encouraging other people right now to get into the race.

BOB MOSER: Well, they have a long history, and Karl Rove was a supporter of Rick Perry’s when he ran for lieutenant governor and when people knew that there was a good chance that he would become governor after that. But they had a split when Karl Rove supported Kay Bailey Hutchison, installed her in the U.S. Senate rather than Rick Perry, which Perry wanted.

And there’s also a stylistic difference. I think that it’s not only Karl Rove, but the Bushes who have not been happy with Perry. And, you know, Perry’s politics have been rather similar, in many ways, in substance, but in style, very, very different. Where George W. Bush, as governor of Texas, was fairly moderate and actually fairly bipartisan, as hard as it is to believe, Rick Perry has been a hardcore partisan and an ideologue. And, you know, these comments about Bernanke and the comments that he’s made about President Obama, as well, are characteristic of Perry. He has a very overblown rhetorical style, and it’s something that’s going to harm him in this race, I think. He has not faced critical press. He has not faced critical audiences. He’s steered clear of those very, very assiduously as governor and in his three races for governor.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Perry joined Glenn Beck on his Fox News show, when he had one, in June. During the interview, Perry claimed that, quote, “Since June 2009, about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas.” Let’s turn to a clip of that interview.

GLENN BECK: How many jobs did you create, percentage, during the recession?

GOV. RICK PERRY: Since June 2009, about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas.

GLENN BECK: Thank you, sir.

GOV. RICK PERRY: Come add to it.

GLENN BECK: Thank you. Would love to.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Glenn Beck with Perry. Well, Governor Perry’s staff attributed the number to the Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve. The fact-checking group PolitiFact questioned its legitimacy, saying different time frames revealed Texas created a more modest percentage of national jobs. Bob Moser, talk about the Texas—the so-called “Texas Miracle.”

BOB MOSER: Well, the “Texas Miracle” is something that Rick Perry has been campaigning on for quite a while. He has spent most of the last few years talking to Chamber of Commerce groups and Republican groups around the country and preaching about Texas job creation. He did inflate the numbers, but there’s no question that Texas has created more jobs in the last couple of years than any other state.

What is—what lies beneath those numbers, however, is the fact that Texas has also created many, many more minimum-wage jobs and low-wage jobs than any other state. The kinds of industry that Texas has attracted are companies that are coming to Texas because of low and almost nonexistent regulation and because of a huge population of people looking for work and willing to work for low wages. And, you know, that’s the truth that lies beneath this “miracle.”

The other thing about it is that, you know, Rick Perry has stripped away successfully just about every strand of the social safety net in his 10 years as governor. And Texas education has been stripped to the bone. High school graduation rates are the lowest in the country. The rate of insurance is the lowest in the country. And, you know, it’s a miracle for companies who want to exploit their workers; it’s not a miracle for anybody else.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how popular is Governor Perry in Texas?

BOB MOSER: He has never been wildly popular, certainly not as popular as George W. Bush was. And I think part of that has to do with his style, that he has always been very confrontational. And part of it is the fact that people in Texas know that, as governor, Rick Perry has a very—has almost no record of legislative achievements and policy achievements. He’s done nothing really of substance as governor, except strip state government, reduce the size of state government, and make life much more difficult for everyone who is not wealthy or corporate in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back, Bob Moser, to Tax Day 2009, when Governor Perry talked about the possibility of Texas seceding from the United States. He made the comment to reporters after a Tea Party rally in Austin.

GOV. RICK PERRY: There’s a lot of different scenarios. Texas is a unique place. When we came in the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that. You know, my hope is that America, and Washington, in particular, pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what may came up—might come out of that? So—but Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.

AMY GOODMAN: Your take on that, Bob Moser? Seceding from the United States?

BOB MOSER: Well, I actually was at the first Tea Party rally that day, prior to him making those comments, and he actually led a chant of “States’ rights! States’ rights! States’ rights!” What Rick Perry was doing at that point was setting himself up for a very difficult reelection campaign against Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was the most popular politician in Texas and a mainline conservative. And his rhetoric went to the extreme. Now, you know, this is one tendency that Perry has. He is—he does tend to shoot off at the mouth. And that’s what he was doing there.

But make no mistake, he is serious about states’ rights. If you read his book, Fed Up!, which was published last year, he is actually a states’ rights purist, to the point that even some conservatives will not like it. He says, for instance, that marijuana legalization in California is just fine on the principle of states’ rights, that gay marriage in other states is just fine on the principle of states’ rights. But, of course, what states’ rights amounts to for Rick Perry and for many conservatives is reducing the size and the scope of the federal government down to the size of something you can drown in a bathtub, as Grover Norquist has said.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Governor Perry speaking at a campaign stop in Iowa on Monday, when he added another service to the long list of things he believes are beyond the federal government’s power.

GOV. RICK PERRY: I don’t think the federal government has a role in your children’s education. It truly is an interesting—those of you who—I know there’s just probably a few of you in here who have not read my book, Fed Up!, but I talk about the intrusion into our lives by the federal government in a host of different areas. Education is one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Governor Perry, just after he announced for president, speaking in Iowa. Bob Moser, talk more about what he’s saying about education and the government’s role, and also the home school movement and his position with—overall, with the Tea Party movement, as compared to Michele Bachmann, who we’re going to be talking about next.

BOB MOSER: Well, I think one thing that strikes me when I hear that quote is that Rick Perry actually doesn’t believe that state government has any role in education, either. Just this year, under his—under his leadership, Texas stripped $4 billion from education, resulting in the firings of thousands of teachers across the state. Rick Perry does not believe in public education, by and large. He has also not done much for higher education in the state.

I think that—you know, I think that his role in the Tea Party—you know, he was the first nationally prominent politician to really jump on the Tea Party bandwagon and to embrace it wholeheartedly. At that first rally on Tax Day 2009, one of the things he said was, you know, “If you’re extremists, so am I.” And, you know, I think that he is going to be competing with Bachmann on much of the same turf, but I also think that even a lot of ardent Tea Partiers and a lot of people who might be inclined to like Michele Bachmann quite a bit, they want to win. You know, one of the motivations from the Tea Party—for the Tea Party, from the start, has been their fear and loathing of Barack Obama. More than anything, they want to defeat him. And I think that because Rick Perry has this patina of respectability, at least so far, because of his long tenure as governor of Texas, that they will see him as more electable than Michele Bachmann.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Bob Moser—

BOB MOSER: That remains to be seen, but I think that—mm-hmm? Go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: His comments about a black cloud over America?

BOB MOSER: Well, that is characteristic of, again, Rick Perry’s shooting off of the mouth. And it’s also characteristic of the fact that, very much like George W. Bush, he does know how to emit some dog whistles to people, some signals that he understands that people are uncomfortable with Barack Obama at a deeper level, because Barack Obama is black. And I think there’s no question that some of this has to do with Perry’s slips of the tongue, but some of it is entirely intentional. And I would not be surprised if this was intentional.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Again, Rick Perry, on Monday, saying he sees a “big black cloud that hangs over America.” Rick Perry announced for president on Saturday and is now on the campaign trail. Bob Moser has been following him for years as an editor at The Texas Observer. Now he’s executive editor of The American Prospect. Thanks so much for being there. We’ll link to your articles. Bob Moser’s book is Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority.

When we come back, we’re going to talk about Michele Bachmann with a former Christian evangelical who said his own father, the well-known Christian evangelical Francis Schaeffer, was the inspiration for Michele Bachmann’s first run for office. Stay with us.

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