Why Perry Really is Like Bush

The Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section has a “Five Myths” feature that, while sometimes interesting, I frequently find irritating. The reason, I think, is that the format puts so much pressure on writers to formulate their observations as counter-conventional “takes” that the results often defy common sense. Yesterday’s version, by the Texas Tribune’s otherwise-estimable editor in chief Evan Smith, attempts to debunk the “myth” that Rick Perry is a “Bush clone”:

Biographical similarities aside, Perry is not the second coming of George W. Bush, either stylistically or substantively. Bush governed Texas with a light touch and had a good relationship with the Democratic majorities in both chambers of the Texas legislature. Perry is more hard-knuckled in his dealings not only with Democrats (now a minority in the House and the Senate) but with insufficiently conservative Republicans — what we in Texas pejoratively call “moderates.”

Bush preached compassionate conservatism. Perry’s brand of conservatism is austere bordering on severe, and he has publicly criticized Bush as no fiscal conservative. Bush had a warm relationship with the media. Perry doesn’t court reporters or, especially, newspaper editorial boards; in fact, he refused to meet with any editorial boards during the 2010 governor’s race. Bush debated all of his general-election opponents. In 2010, Perry refused to debate Democratic nominee Bill White — the first time in 20 years that the major-party gubernatorial candidates did not square off during the campaign.

Technically this may be true, but it’s misleading. Sure, as governor Bush behaved differently than Perry. But when he became president, and enjoyed, as Perry has, a legislature controlled by his own party, he was no less partisan, conservative, and imperial. After passing No Child Left Behind Bush largely stopped working with Democrats, threw most of his compassionate conservative agenda under the bus, stiff-armed the press, only let supporters into his public appearances, tried to privatize Social Security etc.

The truth is, Bush and Perry are extraordinarily similar—not just in their accents, demeanor, and body language but in their ready-fire-aim, my-way-or-the-highway approach to politics and policy. Bush loyalists (who loath Perry) and Perry loyalists (who fear the Bush comparison will sink their candidate) have reason to deny it, and too-clever-by-half media “takes” may obscure it. But I’m guessing the similarities are way too obviously for voters to miss.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.