Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Perry Way of defamation

Ever since he first strutted stiff-spined onto the presidential candidates' stage, Rick Perry has struck me as a danger to democracy  -- the purest thug in that confederacy of charlatans, demagogues and ideologues that constitute the GOP field. Time after time, I've felt compelled to point out the pattern of his verbal aggression: escalate a garden-variety policy difference or critique with the most inflammatory of slurs, and justify the slur by insisting that since there is some criticism to be leveled at the target, any insult will do.  Social Security is a "criminal enterprise" because its funding may need to be tweaked; Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is "almost treasonous" because his policies may help Obama; Obama is opposed to the country's founding ideals because Perry is pleased to label his mainstream Democratic policies "socialist."

The latest target of Perry's signature mode of verbal assault is Turkey. In last night's debate in South Carolina, asked whether Turkey, having allegedly "embraced" Hamas and "threatened military force against Israel and Cypress, still belongs in NATO, Perry called Turkey "a country that is being ruled by, what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists." Note, for starters, the recourse to vaguely defined authority: "what many would perceive." That's a typical Perry dodge: his trademark slur for Social Security is okay because "calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme has been used for years. I don’t think people should be surprised that terminology would be used." 

Today, after Turkey's foreign minister condemned the slur, both Perry and his spox Victoria Coates defended it in Perry's usual terms. That is: because some criticism of Turkey might be legitimate, the most inflammatory insult is legitimate.  Coates had recourse to that 'other people say' dodge:  

The key to the whole business is to look at the question and the way it was asked," she said. "It's an important distinction that what [Perry is] saying is that the Turkish leadership is engaging in behavior that many people would associate with Islamic terrorists [my emphasis].
Coates went on to qualify that claim with a good deal more nuance than Perry himself would ever employ, effectively admitting that the insult of choice was inaccurate while asserting it would not be retracted:
So would Perry, if elected president, put Turkey on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Hamas supporters Iran and Syria [with which Perry did group Turkey]? Not exactly.

"No, we would not list Turkey as a state sponsor of terrorism. We don't have any evidence of them engaging in international terrorist acts," Coates explained. "I think we know they are extremely supportive of Hamas, but these things go in stages."
 Perry simply fell back on his "one insult is as good another" defense:
"This is a country that's got some explaining to do to the United States," Perry told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, The idea that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime has somehow or other has somehow or other earned our respect is not correct."
Right. And a Fed Chairman who's go some explaining to do by Perry's lights is 'almost treasonous.'  

Last night, Perry put this thug-logic into a peculiar kind of reverse when defending the U.S. marines caught on film urinating on dead Afghans:

PERRY: They -- they made a -- a mistake that the military needs to deal with. And they need to be punished. But the fact of the matter -- the fact of the matter is this, when the Secretary of Defense calls that a despicable act, when he calls that utterly despicable. Let me tell you what's utterly despicable, cutting Danny Pearl's head off and showing the video of it.
PERRY: Hanging our contractors from bridges. That's utterly despicable. For our president for the Secretary of State, for the Department of Defense secretary to make those kinds of statements about those young Marines -- yes, they need to be punished, but when you see this president with that type of disdain for our country, taking a trillion dollars out of our defense budget, 100,000 of our military off of our front lines, and a reduction of forces, I lived through a reduction of force once and I saw the result of it in the sands of Iran in 1979. Never again.
Because beheading Daniel Pearl is despicable, urinating on corpses is not. It's just a mistake -- though Obama administration condemnation of the deed is despicable, occasion for the smear that it has disdain for the military).  

In fact, desecration of enemy corpses is a crime under U.S. and international law.  Someone (via the WaPost's Felicia Somnez?) must have told Perry as much in the interim between his first defense of the marines and last night's debate, because his acknowledgement that the marines have to be punished was new.  But when it comes to war atrocities, as Rudy Giuliani might say, "it depends on who does it."

The toxic brew of massive upper income tax cuts and domestic spending cuts, military spending increases and all-but-promised war with Iran advocated by all the Republican presidential candidates (save in part Ron Paul) bespeaks deep long-term trouble for the United States if Obama is defeated.  Among the viable candidates, though, I have felt from the start that Perry constituted the gravest danger. Gingrich is an inflammatory demagogue, willing to deploy any lie or incite any fear for political gain, but I don't sense that his aggression goes as deep.  Santorum is the most rigid of ideologues, dangerously willing to go to war, but there are some shreds of compassion and respect for law in him.  Romney will say anything to get elected -- and fearfully, make any promise -- but he is competent and analytical; were he not beholden to his base, he might govern well.  Perry is the purest thug among them. You are with him or against him -- and if you're not on his side, no insult, and presumably no punishment, is too good for you.

Perry's rejection by GOP voters, notwithstanding his seemingly tailor-made experience, cultural positioning and war chest, is one bright spot in a terrifying election season.

Related posts:
Our next 'great communicator'
Voters sniff out Perry's dominant trait
Perry keeps skidding on smears

1 comment:

  1. Well, Perry's out. I was surprised how happy that made me.