Gov. Rick Perry, Hypocrite

New presidential-nomination candidate Rick Perry wears his religion on his sleeve, and as a churchgoing Christian, that’s fine with me. But if you’re going to boast of your faith, brace for being seen through that lens. Jesus often denounced “scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites,” a group he called “blind fools.” That is not good news for Perry — who seems a capital-H Hypocrite.

Consider the large prayer rally Perry led this month at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The Texas governor took considerable bashing from the media elite over this event, pundits wringing their hands about separation of church and state. There was no Constitutional problem. The First Amendment bars government from mandating religion, but does not require that government officials shun faith. A recent federal court decision, sanctioning presidential statements that encourage voluntary prayer, makes that clear. As a Christian, I hope the Houston rally brought sinners to grace.

Though fine in Constitutional terms, Perry’s ostentatious public prayer was hypocritical in terms of scripture. Jesus taught, at Matthew 6:5: “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in synagogues and at the street corners, so they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Standing in front of his own image on a gigantic Big Brother video screen in a football stadium, Perry surely was praying for the purpose of being seen by others, a behavior Jesus condemned. “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” Christ also taught. Jesus was disgusted by self-flattering public displays of being holier-than-thou – exactly what Perry, hypocritically, did to help launch his campaign.

To top it off, Perry told the Houston rally, “God is wise enough not to be affiliated with any political party.” Boasting of his obedience to God, Perry said this just before declaring for leadership of a political party.

Perry is further hypocritical by spending taxpayers’ money lavishly on himself, while cutting school budgets, health care appropriations and other spending essential to the average people whom Jesus loved.

For several years, Perry has been traveling around Texas, and sometimes overseas, surrounded by a phalanx of Texas state troopers. The bodyguards are not present for security — a local police officer could handle that role. They’re present to make Perry seem more important, as if a visiting head of state. When Perry attended the Indianapolis 500 in 2010, for example, he brought eight state troopers with him at Texas taxpayer expense — to make him seem important, plus allow him to double-park and cut to the front of lines. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a humble man, had no bodyguards at the Indianapolis 500. Perry, a man who thinks “government waste” is spending on other people, strutted around surrounded by guards.

Texas newspapers have been filing the state’s equivalent of Freedom of Information requests, asking how much Perry spends on self-glorification. Two months ago, Perry snuck through the state legislature a rider that prohibits the Texas Department of Public Safety from revealing how much it spends on bodyguards for Perry and his wife on their personal trips. The prohibition lasts until 2013 — that is, till after the 2012 presidential election — and is transparently intended to prevent voters from knowing how much money Perry is hypocritically spending on himself. Not long after enacting a government-secrecy rule to protect his own appropriations, Perry called for “substantial cuts in government spending.”

More Perry hypocrisy involves him taking pay for no work. He’s gallivanting around the nation campaigning for the Republican nomination. Yet he has not taken an unpaid leave of absence from the governorship. Perry continues to draw his $150,000 taxpayer-funded salary, even as he spends his time outside Texas, promoting himself.

If you told your employer, “I won’t do my job for months as I travel to promote myself, but expect full pay the entire time,” you’d be laughed at. As chief executive of the state, Perry can take advantage of his position by paying himself to be absent. Government employees taking advantage of the taxpayer is exactly the sort of thing Perry fulminates against — unless he’s the one doing it

A public official spending his or her time campaigning for a higher office can’t possibly be giving taxpayers their money’s worth regarding present duties. The Texas public-school and public-university systems both are seriously messed up, for example. Yet Perry is shirking his duty to try to fix them, as he gallivants across the country engaged in personal self-promotion.

Some have advocated “resign-to-run” laws, which would require a public official who declares for a higher office to resign his or her present office. One former supporter of resign-to-run laws is Rick Perry. In 1989, he introduced an amendment to the Texas constitution that would have imposed “automatic resignation” on a Texas governor who declares for any national office.

Now Perry is doing what he said others should not do. The word for this sort of thing begins with the letter H. So far, hypocrisy is the defining element of the Perry campaign.

[Cross-posted at Reuters.com]

Gregg Easterbrook

Gregg Easterbrook is a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly and the Atlantic. He's also a columnist for ESPN.com.