Rick Perry and ‘The 5,000 Year Leap’

There’s been a fair amount of interest lately in the book Rick Perry wrote less than a year ago. There’s good reason for this — the Texas governor’s book helps make clear just how radical Perry’s political worldview really is.

But it’s also worth paying attention to what Perry reads, as well as what he writes.

Two years ago, the Republican candidate traveled to a major religious right gathering in D.C. and told attendees what was on his reading list.

“Lately,” said Perry, “I’ve found myself going back to a book that’s titled ‘The 5,000 Year Leap.'”

There were head nods and noises of approval from many members of the audience. That book, written by the late ultra-conservative scholar-cum-conspiracy theorists Cleon Skousen, had been rescued from 28 years of obscurity by Glenn Beck. Perry gave an accurate summary of its content, telling the audiences that Skousen “shares his views of the foundational elements of our nation, placing a special emphasis in faith in God — I think undeniably a source of America’s remarkable success. He asserts that natural law, God’s law, is the basis of our nation’s laws.”

I suspect that Skousen’s name isn’t familiar to most Americans, but his work has captured the imaginations of some prominent right-wing voices in recent years. That Perry reads, espouses, and apparently agrees with Skousen’s work should matter to voters and the larger political world.

Alexander Zaitchick explained that Skousen “was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era.”

“Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined. The book reads exactly like what it was until Glenn Beck dragged it out of Mormon obscurity: a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools.

Skousen, a fringe activist considered dangerous by the FBI, was a leading defender of the John Birch Society, and believed America was “being plunged into socialist tyranny by the Eisenhower administration.” Even the National Review referred to him as an “all-around nutjob.”

If Skousen and his book sound rather nutty, that’s certainly a fair assessment. But remember, Rick Perry not only reads Skousen, he boasts publicly about it, and apparently agrees with the conspiracy theorist’s “views.”

Maybe some enterprising campaign reporter can ask Perry if he’s still impressed with Skousen’s work.