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Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been taking a lot of heat over some of the more controversial claims made in his 2010 small government treatise Fed Up! Our Fight To Save America From Washington.The book is a fiery, anti-Washington tract that lays bare Perry’s ideas on the dangers of federal overreach and the primacy of the 10th Amendment. Incredulous pundits and reporters are heralding it as a virtual gold mine of opposition ammo for any 2012 candidate — Republican or Democrat — looking to torpedo Perry’s White House bid.
In some ways, they are probably right. The book affirms Perry’s belief in the Obamacare death panels, lambasts the Supreme Court, and calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” — and those are just a few of its incendiary claims.
But Perry does not appear to be shying away from the controversial positions laid out in Fed Up! During last night’s GOP debate, he stood by his Ponzi scheme comparison, adding that “maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country.”
Perry’s fidelity to his book is an indication that he believes his arguments will resonate with the people who matter — American voters, who, according to polls, are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the government’s ability to get anything done.
Whether Fed Up! ends up being Perry’s gift or his curse remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: This is no ordinary campaign memoir. It is an ideological manifesto that gives rare, unadulterated insight into how a presidential candidate views the size and role of the federal government he now wants to lead.
The Argument: Fed Up! centres around the idea that the federal government's consolidation of power is threatening American values and way of life. Perry argues that the balance of power has tipped dangerously away from the states, and cites everything from Obamacare and earmarks to the Department of Homeland Security and TARP as evidence.
Why It Helps: Perry's unwavering commitment to limited federal government is increasingly appealing to conservative voters unhappy with Washington -- even those who do not identify with the Tea Party.
Why It Hurts: Perry's disdain for federal cash has been selective. Through the second quarter of 2011, Texas used $17.4 billion in federal stimulus money, including $8 billion to cover state budget deficits for the past two years. Between 2003 and 2005, Perry lobbied Congress for $1.2 billion in federal deficit spending for 'temporary fiscal relief' through the state's Medicaid program. And just last week, he said he expects the federal government to help Texas fight wildfires.
The Argument: The country's debt problems stem from Congress's abuse of its spending power, enumerated in a Constitutional clause that allows federal lawmakers to collect taxes and pay down the national debt. According to Perry, politicians and federal judges have used the clause to get around the 10th Amendment, forcing states to go along with entitlement programs and 'Progressive' economic policies.
Why It Helps: Perry's claims echo growing voter concerns about the national debt -- polls show that a record number of Americans see the federal deficit as the No. 1 problem facing the U.S. today.
Why It Hurts: Within days of launching his campaign, Perry came under fire for making vitriolic remarks about the Federal Reserve -- and vague frontier justice threats against Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. But Perry doubled down on his criticism this week, standing by his claim that printing more money before the election would be 'almost treasonous.'
The Argument: Fed Up! is basically a manifesto on the primacy of the U.S. Constitution's 10th Amendment, which lays out the principle of states' rights, which are 'under direct assault' by unconstitutional federal programs like Social Security and Medicare. States are important, Perry argues, because 'Americans want to live free,' without 'nameless, faceless, and unelected federal bureaucrats' telling them what to do.
Why It Helps: The 10th Amendment has become an organising principle for the burgeoning Tea Party movement and other advocates for limited government. Fed Up! bolsters Perry's states' rights credentials and gives him a leg up over the other 2012 GOP candidates, many of whom have only recently made fidelity to the 10th Amendment a campaign mantra.
Why It Hurts: Perry's 10th Amendment cheerleading has a tendency to run amok -- most notably when he suggested in 2009 that Texas might secede from the union if the federal government didn't change its fiscal policies. His opponents are already using those remarks to portray Perry as a fringe-y and unelectable right-wing candidate.
The Argument: The 16th Amendment, which authorizes the federal income tax, was the 'birth of wealth redistribution in the United States,' Perry writes, stripping states of huge chunks of their wealth and sovereignty and handing over power to the federal government.
Why It Helps: Perry's opposition to the 16th Amendment is the launching pad for his plan to overhaul the federal tax code, a key campaign issue for conservative voters. In his book, Perry proposes two alternatives for replacing the federal income tax. The first, which would 'totally scrap the current tax code in favour of a flat tax,' is popular among Republicans and independents looking to simplify the tax code.
Why It Hurts: Perry's second proposal would replace the federal income tax with a national sales tax, or 'Fair Tax' -- a pretty extreme idea, even among the most far-right conservatives. Various Tea Party candidates and libertarians have flirted with the Fair Tax movement before realising it is political Kryptonite. Perry appears to be following suit -- his campaign team is already starting to dodge the subject.
The Argument: In what is now the most infamous passage of Fed Up!, Perry compares Social Security to a 'Ponzi scheme,' calling it a 'crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal' that has 'hoodwinked the American public' through deceptive accounting. He does not, however, propose scrapping the system entirely, as some of his opponents claim.
Why It Helps: Conventional wisdom holds that Social Security is the third rail of American politics. But growing concerns over entitlement spending and the federal deficit appear to be changing the political headwinds. Perry stood by his 'Ponzi scheme' comments during this week's debate, and got huge cheers from the Tea Party crowd.
Why It Hurts: Social Security remains an all-important issue for the elderly, a major voting bloc, so candidates have to walk a fine line between promising spending reforms and scaring senior citizens. Perry has started to tone down his rhetoric, but his opponents are bringing up the 'Ponzi scheme' comment every chance they get.
The Argument: Federal agriculture policies interferes with markets and undermines small farmers, while subsidizing huge commercial farms to the tune of billions in taxpayer dollars. Perry writes that the farm subsidies are a glaring example of Washington's 'reckless spending' that puts 'Washington bureaucrats smack in the middle of the business of farming.'
Why It Helps: Perry's critique will play well with federal deficit hawks, who have long bemoaned the ballooning costs of agricultural subsidies. And as a former farmer and Texas Agricultural Commissioner, Perry has credentials to back up his criticism.
Why It Hurts: Perry has not always opposed agricultural subsidies -- the Austin American Statesman reports that, as a farmer, Perry personally benefited from $80,000 in federal farm assistance. Moreover, his staunch opposition to ethanol subsidies could hurt him with voters in Iowa, an all-important early voting state.
The Argument: Obamacare authorizes the federal government to 'ration care and make important decisions about our health -- even in matters of life and death,' Perry writes. He goes on to defend Sarah Palin's claim that the healthcare reform law empowers 'death panels.'
'But is she wrong?' Perry asks. 'Sure, there isn't a section titled 'death panels' in the law, but that's not how the statist works.'
Why It Helps: Obama's healthcare reform law remains highly unpopular among Republican primary voters. All of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates have vowed to repeal the bill, and Perry's fiery-er rhetoric could set him apart from the rest of the pack.
Why It Hurts: The 'death panel' claim has long been discredited as a scare tactic, and makes Perry look like a fringe Tea Partier. Conventional political thinking holds that this type of rabid partisanship will turn off moderate and independent voters.
The Argument: Global warming is a 'contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight,' Perry writes. The theory, he says, is the product of 'doctored data' cooked up by liberal scientists who know 'that we have been experiencing a cooling trend.' He adds that climate science has been co-opted and politicized by the extreme left, personified by former Vice President Al Gore.
Why It Helps: While moderates and liberals see Perry's climate change scepticism as far-right extremism, his claims actually represent the new face of mainstream Republican environmental policy. Climate change denial has become Republican orthodoxy and Al Gore is a favourite punching bag, so Perry's comments play right to the party base.
Why It Hurts: If Perry wins the GOP nomination, Democrats will likely use his climate change denial to play up perceptions that the Texas Governor is an anti-intellectual, backwater rube. The entire climate change debate has shifted to the right, however, so it's unlikely that the issue will have any real effect on Perry's campaign.
The Argument: The Supreme Court 'long ago wrested away from the people the power to decide what is right and what is wrong, and at the most fundamental level, how we should live our lives.' The court and its 'activist judges' are an assault on federalism and a state's right to make decisions on issues like the death penalty and marriage rights.
Why It Helps: Perry's chapter-long tirade on the Supreme Court gives him a lot of street cred among social conservatives, who have made the promise to appoint conservative judges is a key campaign criterion. Through his attacks on the court, Perry effectively lays out his positions on most major social issues, including capital punishment, school prayer, gun rights, gay marriage, and Roe v. Wade.
Why It Hurts: Perry's deep disdain for the Court fully illuminates his extreme vision for the government that he now wants to lead. Ideas like this are likely to freak out even some conservative voters -- as unhappy as they are with the government, most don't want to see the country's judicial system gutted any time soon.
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