Marshal Rick Perry ready to call out that varmint Ben Bernanke and face him down in the streets of Dodge…or Ames…or Dallas…or Manchester, New Hampshire…wherever he’s ridden next to scare up votes, and I mean scare up votes.
The newest clown in the circus that has become the Republican primary campaign, the gun-totin’, god-botherin’ governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is taking some heat for having said regarding Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke:
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost teacherous…treasonous in my opinion.”
But that’s not what he said.
I know that’s what it looks like he said. And if you watch the clips it sure sounds like what he said. But what he actually said was:
I’m the rootin’est tootin’est shoot’est roughenest toughenest hombre I’m the West. I’m fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, and a little touched with the snapping-turtle. I can whip my weight in wildcats and if any gentleman pleases, for a ten dollar bill, he can throw in a panther too. I’m that same Davy Crockett and I died at the Alamo taking out a thousands Messikins, and now I’ve come back to save y’all from east coast bankers, liberals, feminazis, Islamofascists, brown people, black people, red people, wimmin people, homosexual people, and whatever other people who have stolen your country and taken all else that is rightfully yourn.
I’m being a wise-guy but I’m not being funny. That is what he said, in essence. He was announcing that there’s a new sheriff in town and the crowds that cheered him understood him and they were saddling up to join the posse.
People are making the mistake of thinking that Perry was threatening Bernanke. After all, he called him a traitor, didn’t he, and the penalty for treason is death. Actually, he said that printing more money to stimulate the economy would be almost treasonous, and the first part of what Sheriff Ricky said, about treating Bernanke ugly if he came to Texas does not necessarily connect directly with the almost treasonous part. All Perry was saying there or what he can claim to have been saying was that if Bernanke came to Texas he’d hear in no uncertain terms what Perry and other real Muricans in the Lone Star State thought of any more dadburn qualitative easing.
What we have to keep in mind is that words don’t matter to the Right. They don’t choose words for what they mean in order to express what they think. They choose words for how they feel.
I’ve made this point many times before, I know. But this is how it works. Most people are not lawyers or intellectuals. They are poets. They don’t use language to create unbreakable contracts or to express complex ideas with precision and nuance. They use language to express themselves and that mostly means expressing their feelings. And so they pick their words for how well they match their feelings. They pick words that sound like their feelings, that feel like their feelings as they’re saying them. They pick words that conjure up images that look like how they feel or that allow them to see themselves as looking like how they want to look as they are expressing those feelings.
Historically, the defining feelings of the Right, even in good times, have been anger, fear, suspicion, and self-pity. These are people who worship power and strength and are afraid they don’t have either. Some Other is always coming along to drain them of both. Been that way since the beginning of the Republic. We’ve always been a country undergoing change. Some new Other is always arriving on the scene to take away “our” country and from whom then “our” country must always be taken back. It’s no wonder that people who are always angry will routinely use words that sound angry, no wonder that people who are always afraid will use words that make themselves sound brave and tough, to themselves as well as to whatever Other has frightened them at the moment.
Demagogues whip up and then exploit people’s angers and fears. The Demagogues of the American Right, like Rick Perry, have been very good at this. They’ve been skilled at identifying various incarnations of the Other and directing voters’ anger and fear towards that Other. The implied threat in Perry’s bombast wasn’t specific to Bernanke. It was, as it is most everything Right Wingers say, general and aimed at the Other. Bernanke is just another name for that Other.
This is part of what makes trying to challenge Right Wingers on their rhetoric so frustrating. They aren’t using words to articulate thoughts or construct rational arguments or what they believe are rational arguments. They don’t place much if any value on thinking, let alone on constructing rational arguments, anyway. They believe in “thinking” with their guts. Their feelings matter more than the greatest philosopher’s thoughts. They use words to express their feelings, and, yes, the feelings being expressed are anger and fear, but the point is the words are expressions. They know that. We’re the ones who don’t get it. When we complain that their words and imagery are full of violence, they just shake their heads at our prissiness, prudery, and lack of imagination, poetry, and soul.
They’re just expressions, they say, figures of speech. We’re being metaphorical, everybody in their right mind knows that.
This is why I don’t think it does much good to call them on their words because of those words’ potential for inciting violence. When we say something that boils down to “You shouldn’t talk like that, somebody will get hurt,” we sound like we’re threatening to run and tell teacher. We should go right after them on the feelings the words are being used to express. We should call them on their anger and their fear and their…childishness.
We know why they’re angry. We know what they’re afraid of. But we should ask them to tell us explicitly again and again. Why are you so angry? Why are you so scared? What are you so afraid of? We should also ask them is why when they need to comfort and pity themselves they automatically resort to the fantasies of twelve year old boys?
Why, whenever they’ve frightened themselves to the point they’re shaking in their boots, do they automatically reach for the rhetorical Red Ryder BB gun?
And this is what struck me about what Perry said, not its implied violence, not its stupidity---well, not entirely its stupidity. Perry doesn’t even understand conservative economic theory. What struck me is how childish it was for a grown man, any grown man, let alone one running for President of the United States, to be talking like he thinks he’s a character in cowboy movie!
This cowboy act isn’t shtick. He isn’t putting it on to be funny or cute. It’s a pose he’s adopted for political effect. This is the the image he wants voters to accept as who he is and a reason to vote for him. All politicians manufacture and exploit their own images. (Even Washington and Lincoln.) But Perry’s is a total fraud. When Theodore Roosevelt rode into the White House as a cowboy and a war hero he was a cowboy and war hero. When Jimmy Carter sold himself as a peanut farmer, an engineer, and a businessman, he actually was a peanut farmer, an engineer, and a businessman. Rick Perry is not Marshal Matt Dillon. Never was. Never will be.
And I don’t believe it’s just a fantasy he expects voters to buy. I think he buys it himself.
He’s a twelve year old boy running for President.
The almost funny thing is that he doesn’t even understand the nature of his own fantasy.
Challenging Iowans to treat Bernanke as ugly as he’d get treated in Texas, Perry’s put himself in the position of the vigilante riling up the mob to storm the jail.
Listen, Cowboy. Heroes of westerns don’t lead lynch mobs.
They face them down.