Why Rick Perry Must Never, Ever Be President

From his attacks on science and the environment to his fringe religious beliefs, the candidate's not who we want in the White House

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll released on Monday found that Rick Perry now leads the pack among GOP presidential hopefuls, with more than one in four Republican voters saying they would cast a ballot for the longtime Texas governor.  I’m not sure what scares me more, the idea of a Perry presidency or the fact that one of my neighbors might be among those who would support it.

Rick Perry is not your average Republican, a fact that—taken at face value—may seem like a refreshing change to a GOP voting base fed up with politics as usual. But underneath the elephant suit, Perry is a far-right demagogue who supports repealing the Sixteenth and Seventeenth amendments (which authorize the collection of income taxes and the popular election of senators, respectively) and scrapping our 235-year tradition of checks and balances by giving the legislature the ability to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

Anyway you slice it the Texas governor is a fringe candidate; that he represents an extremely vocal minority can’t be denied (radicalism by its very nature is vocal), but Perry’s beliefs are obscenely out of step with the majority of voters from both parties, which makes his current popularity that much more confounding. The paradox would be intriguing if it weren’t so scary.

Beyond his dangerous fiscal policies—like a promise to cut spending while increasing the military budget, or his support for a balanced-budget amendment during a period of economic recovery—Perry’s social agenda runs so counter to American sentiment that  he makes the Tea Party look like a Rainbow Gathering.

He presides over a state that executes more people than any other in a nation where support for the death penalty is waning. He has called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, while across the country support for the institution has grown faster over the past two years than at any other time in history. (Polls show that more than half of Americans now favor it.)

Even on the heated subject of abortion—which Perry supports banning—a Gallup poll from May finds more people are now pro-choice than pro-life (49 percent to 45 percent, respectively) and far more people in both parties (71 percent, according to the Pew Research Center) support some form of compromise over outright abolition.

Don’t get me wrong: I feel for Rick Perry and his supporters. It must be hard to live in a country that is so out of step with your beliefs. I can’t blame them for trying to change it. But I carry a special disdain for the majority of Republicans—especially those in Pennsylvania, who tend to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate—who don’t share Perry’s radical views but would cast their vote for him anyway. It’s these voters, who would put the country at risk as part of a reactionary exercise against an admittedly unpopular president, who are lifting Perry in the polls.

To the “Big Tent” Republicans who rallied under Ronald Reagan to expand party membership in the 1980s through enlightened conservative outreach, Perry represents the antithesis of their goals: a partisan exclusivist who is so far to the right on social issues that we can only hope that thinking conservatives will soon put down the Kool-Aid and open their eyes to what a post-Perry America would really look like.

Until that time comes it falls to the rest of the thinking population to spread the word about Perry’s  peculiar (and dangerous) brand of conservatism.  I’ll start.

Here are four things that will suffer under a Perry presidency:

The Environment:  Perry has famously bashed the Environmental Protection Agency for years.  The candidate’s spokesman, Mark Miner, laid out Perry’s plans for the agency recently in an article in the Texas Tribune: “The governor’s energy priorities will be centered around scaling back the EPA’s intrusive, misguided and job-killing policies, which will empower states to foster their own energy resources without crippling mandates and open the doors for our nation to pursue and strengthen an all of the above energy approach,” he said.

An “all of the above” energy approach is code for scrapping any regulation that currently gets in the way of probing, drilling or scraping the earth in search of whatever remnants of fossil fuel we haven’t already tapped.

A vocal skeptic of climate change, Perry sued the EPA last year, challenging its classification of greenhouse gases as pollutants. Of the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Perry famously remarked: “From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented.”

His support for the oil business in his state helped him draw in more than $11 million in donations since 1998. One of the governor’s  primary donors is a man named Harold Simmons, a Dallas billionaire who managed to squeak out permits for a West Texas radioactive waste disposal site over objections from environmental officials in 2008. Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Simmons has donated more than $1.2 million to Perry’s campaigns during his governorship.

Perry’s outlook is inspired by a version of Christianity called Dominionism that believes God has given the human race, specifically Christians, carte blanche to use the Earth to their advantage and that “Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions.” In his book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry writes: “We are Americans, of course we can have the world we want to live in.”

Your Faith: Rick Perry thinks you’re going to hell. Well, maybe not you, but those of us who haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (which includes Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists). How do I know that you ask? Because he said as much. Asked by the Dallas Morning News in 2007 to respond to a pastor’s assertion that nonbelievers get a “non-stop ticket” to fire and brimstone, Perry said: “In my faith, that’s what it says, and I’m a believer of that.”

It’s also a primary caveat of the fiery brand of evangelism he practices, which holds that only Christ, not the law, the government or the collective efforts of passionate and determined individuals, can save the world from utter destruction. Perry has made little effort to hide his religious convictions, some of which are frankly troubling, particularly his proximity to pastors affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes, among other things, that tragedies like 9/11 are punishment from God. The group played a prominent role in the “Response”—the August 6th prayer meeting in Texas at which Pastor John Hagee, who infamously called the Catholic Church “The Great Whore,” offered a prayer for the Governor.

Perry gave his own sermon at the meeting, begging God for forgiveness for the sins of America, which he believes have caused everything from Hurricane Katrina to the economic collapse. “And as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness,” Perry prayed.

Your Children: From his open denial of human-caused climate change to his famously telling a child in New Hampshire that evolution is “a theory that is out there—and it’s got some gaps in it,” Rick Perry has become a laughingstock in the scientific community.

He’s also made it clear that he supports prayer in school and would fight to re-institute it. And he mistakenly (but no doubt, longingly) stated that Texas public schools are currently teaching creationism alongside evolution—even though the Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional. That last statement, also made in New Hampshire, may have been a Freudian slip, but throughout his tenure Perry has worked to appoint pro-creationist officials to the Texas Board of Education, which last year approved new standards that, among other things, require instructors to teach the Christian influences on the founding of America and mandates that students evaluate efforts by global organizations such as the United Nations to undermine U.S. sovereignty.

The governor has also pushed an abstinence-only sex education policy that  has been a miserable failure (Texas has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.)

But none of that compares to what Perry did to Texas schools this year, whacking $4 billion from the school budget in a determined effort to balance the budget through spending cuts. Ezra Klein, writing for the Washington Post, called the cuts “the first per-capita decrease in education spending since World War II” and said they could put tens of thousands of teaching jobs in the state at risk.

The Union:  Though he has since rejected the notion, on at least one occasion Perry has suggested that Texas could become so fed up with the federal government that it might choose to secede. In 2009, Perry told a reporter:

“There’s a lot of different scenarios. We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

Was he being serious, or just making empty threats?  I’m not sure it matters.

Writer and photographer Christopher Moraff is a news features correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and a contributing writer for the Chicago-based magazines Design Bureau and In These Times, where he serves on the board of editors.