Political Hay

A Big Black Cloud

Fears over Rick Perry's entrance into the race.

By 8.18.11

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Texas Governor Rick Perry spoke earlier this week of a "big black cloud that hangs over America." He was clearly referring to the nation's mammoth debt. But the ever-vigilant MSNBC host Ed Schultz scented racism in the remark, saying that that "big black cloud Perry is talking about is President Barack Obama." Schultz later apologized for his bungled interpretation, admitting that he did not present the "full context" of Perry's comment.

The blunder illustrates the extent to which Rick Perry's entrance into the presidential race has addled the liberal media. To Schultz, Perry is a racist who "comes from the radical country club that loves to remind white America that President Obama is other: not like you." To other members of the liberal chattering class, he is a "Manchurian candidate," "secessionist," and dangerous theocrat for having prayed in public recently.

Resuming its favorite role as unsolicited adviser to the GOP, the liberal media counsels the party to reject Perry and support a more moderate candidate who could fare well in a "general election." Note that this comes from the same media that said John McCain would successfully poach moderates and independents from the Democrats in a general election, and a few weeks ago was saying that Jon Huntsman struck fear in the hearts of White House staffers.

The media's definition of an "electable Republican" is a moderate who will lose. The storyline of "Is Perry built for a general election?" masks the media's fear of a resurgent GOP under the influence of the Tea Party. That Perry could generate significant conservative turnout in 2012, building upon the party's Tea Party success in 2010, worries the media, which always seeks to divide the leadership of the party from its rank-and-file.

This division is sown under ginned-up coverage of "civil war in the GOP" or through approving quotes from failed establishment Republican figures who "warn" that the party has moved too far to the right. The "purge of moderates" will be "politically disastrous," claimed some in the media, right before the Tea Party swept into the House of Representatives.

Perry's candidacy renews these faux-concerns about the party. His off-the-cuff remark about Ben Bernanke offended reporters, so much so they turned to the usually reviled Karl Rove for respectful quotation and to another Bush-era official who condemned the remark as "unpresidential."

It was an "ugly" statement, pontificated journalists, who just days ago were justifying presidential rhetoric that cast the Tea Party as hostage-takers. Why get so worked up about metaphorical language? That was their line during the debt-ceiling debate; now they find such metaphors chilling.

Republicans who are labeled extremists by the media never end up appearing very scary, and Rick Perry is no exception to the rule. Would that he were as conservative as they claim. Complicating the media's narrative of Perry as an unelectable extremist is that he is a former Democrat whose record in Texas has been generally conservative but not uniformly conservative. As a Democrat, he endorsed Al Gore for president; as a Republican, he endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president. These facts require more nuance than the media is in the mood to offer. It is easier to describe him as a secessionist and call it a day.

Yet journalists sound like they wouldn't mind if Texas seceded. They toss plenty of anti-Texas gibes into their coverage of Perry. While they accuse the Tea Party of treating Barack Obama as an exotic, they present Perry as someone from another planet whom they have recently come upon to their horror. MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski has said that she "felt like an alien" when she heard Perry speak and receive applause. To paraphrase Ed Schultz, Perry is, for the liberal elite, "other."

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.