Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Perry: A Baconian Analysis

"Surely princes had need, in tender matters and ticklish times, to beware what they say; especially in these short speeches, which fly abroad like darts, and are thought to be shot out of their secret intentions.  For as for large discourses, they are flat things, and not so much noted."

These words come from Francis Bacon's "Of Seditions and Troubles" (thanks to M. for sharing them with me).  They seem apropos—stunningly apropos—in considering how to think about the "short speeches" that Rick Perry has been making.  Such speeches "fly abroad like darts."  Perry is quite an expert dart-tosser.  If Perry's darts about secession, treason, global warming, etc. are shot directly "out of his secret intentions," as Bacon suggests, they make him seem real, quite different from your usual scripted politician who cannot say anything until it has been tested on multiple focus-groups.  When Perry says that printing more money would be "treasonous," we should not be too quick to say, "Oh, that's just a rhetorical flourish, not to be taken literally."  On the contrary, it is a remarkably good guide to what he actually thinks.  Deep down, he probably believes that people whose ideas are different from his own are not merely misguided, but enemies worthy of being punished by death.  If he could get away with punishing his opponents—whom he seems to regard as his enemies—he probably would.

What of his "large discourses"?  There is his book, Fed Up, which I should probably read in order to form a fully responsible opinion about the man.  But I like Bacon's implication that the "short speeches" are not only as revealing as long discourses, but actually more revealing, of what the man actually thinks. One might object: perhaps there's far more to the man than what comes across in his "short speeches."  As a college student, he had the opportunity to cultivate the powers of his mind, developing habits of reading and reflection that inform his more nuanced assessments of the day's events.  Perhaps beneath Perry the dart-tosser lurks Perry the thoughtful contemplator.  But this would assume that he took his college education seriously.  Did he?  The evidence suggests that he did not.

Another objection: Aren't there people who perform poorly in school, but regret it later, wishing they'd made more of the opportunities they squandered?  I've known a few such people.  I admire them enormously. However lightly they took college, they grow up later.  They go back and read the authors they once ignored.  Their own experience has taught them the point of liberal education.  It's certainly possible that while Rick Perry did poorly as a student at Texas A&M, he proceeded to become an intellectual adult.  But did he?  Again, the evidence suggests that he did not.  Instead, he seems proudly to have carried the lack of respect for humane learning he had as an undergraduate into his later, "successful" years.

Near the beginning of the Ethics, Aristotle says that the "young" are not the chronologically young, but those who are habitually led by their emotions. Regarding the things studied at universities, Perry seems to have been led by one emotion in particular, that of disdain.  This is unfortunate, since as Bacon's example shows, some things studied at universities are quite important for politics.


  1. A little off topic, but I find it ironic that the populist right wants to erect a cross of gold.

  2. Rob a/k/a "Andy"August 19, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    Great post, Rob, I get what you are saying, and I don't think much of Perry's intellectual prowess, either. But we've HAD an administration full of navel-gazers who made good grades at Ivy League schools, and look where we are! Trillions in additional debt, and up the proverbial creek without a paddle!

    They've never DONE anything tangible or "real world". They lack the experience and common sense to run the country. The ideal President would have both. Both "book smarts" and "street smarts". Sadly that person won't run precisely DUE to their street smarts.

    The problem is that, in most places, getting elected to any office is more about people skills than book smarts. How many men out there who were bookworms devouring some Aristotle also have the charisma to get elected? Answer: very few. I guess that says a lot about the electorate and what we value. The Rick Perry types are maybe not intellectual giants, but they can work a room--they have emotional intelligence. That's why they get elected to office while the "nerds" end up on Sunday morning talk shows picking them apart.

    I know I'd prefer to have someone else to choose from, and James's (assuming that's Caz) Populist Right is winning at the moment, but only by default. Actual leadership (not just leading by sound byte) by someone who has practical experience running & doing things, yet shows decent education and willingness to learn what they don't know would likely get our vote. To be fair, this response is a combined work of Samantha and I. She is now buying our son a copy of both "Plato in Pictures for Little People" and "How to Win Friends and Influence People". If we can just make it another 31 years until he's old enough to run for President!

  3. This is too cool! I feel as though I'm a senior again, writing an editorial and listening to Caz and Andy react to it. I was just looking at old issues of the Carroller, as I was cleaning some things out, so the timing is right. Pretty awesome.

  4. @Andy: my mother just moved to Frisco. Next time I come up to see her, I'd love to drop by and say hello to you, Sam, and the girls.

  5. this is very helpful in describing my own fears about Mr. Perry's popularity and lack of qualifications. thank you for the insight.

  6. This was insightful.....Rick Perry day in and day out shows how "unqualified" he is to run this country. He can't even keep his on back yard in order (TEXAS).