Then again, the Republicans are doing a pretty good job of preventing conservative Catholics from having to make any agonizing election decisions all by themselves.
There was a chance--a slight one, perhaps, but a chance--that some really intelligent principled pro-life anti-torture anti-foreign entanglement/wars of expansion pro-American pro-traditional marriage anti-debt anti-big corporation anti-big government pro-small business pro-family pro-solutions to poverty anti-confiscatory taxation pro-reasonable taxation social and fiscal and otherwise conservative Republican would somehow elbow his or her way onto the national stage--but at this point, I have to wonder if any such person even exists in the GOP, or at all, anywhere outside of my hopeful imagination.
Living, as I do, in Texas, I've been asked to share my reasons for not particularly wishing Rick Perry to seize the Republican presidential nomination. My short, glib answer is that Rick Perry is Mitt Romney with less hair and more cronyism. To take a longer look at Perry's record is to delve into two specific matters that have been addressed before and then to look at Perry in the whole.
The first matter is a little thing you've probably never heard of, called the Trans-Texas Corridor. Here's what it was supposed to be:
How to bridge the gap? In 2002 the governor, Rick Perry, offered a grand vision: the Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of highways criss-crossing the state. The centrepiece would be a 600-mile (1,000km) thoroughfare running the length of the state, roughly paralleling the existing Interstate 35, from Mexico to the Red river. It would be 1,200 feet (370 metres) across—the width of four football fields, in Texas terms—with plenty of room for cars, trucks and trains. It would be expensive, but never fear: the state would work with the private sector, and companies would run the corridor as a toll road. “Toll roads, slow roads, or no roads,” explained Mr Perry.
Critics howled. They said that carving out the corridor would require unprecedented use of eminent domain to swallow private lands, and fretted about traffic from Mexico and the cost of tolls. Under fire from all sides, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) killed the corridor last year. But the issue is very far from dead. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the state’s senior senator, who is challenging Mr Perry for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor, argues that the “concepts and strategies” of the corridor are still alive and well. They certainly are. Work on toll roads and public-private partnerships is continuing, although in smaller, less showy stretches.
Yep. A road the width of four football fields, owned and run by private companies from foreign countries, along which a handful of restaurants and gas stations would have a veritable monopoly, and on which trucks from Mexico and South America could drive without needing to bother with silly border formalities when they entered Texas from Mexico--that was Governor Perry's baby. And though he pulled the plug on the project in time for last year's election (when he was reelected governor of Texas), he has said that he still wants to achieve many of the TTC's goals--but under a different name and with less obvious eminent domain grabbing and foreign country giveaways, so as not to rile the Texans who were already mad about this the first time around.
The second matter was Governor Perry's attempt to mandate the Gardasil shot for all Texas sixth-grade girls. He says now that it was still a good idea--but that he went about it the wrong way:
A few hours after unveiling his campaign for president, Perry began walking back from one of the most controversial decisions of his more-than-10-year reign as Texas governor. Speaking to voters at a backyard party in New Hampshire, Perry said he was ill-informed when he issued his executive order, in February 2007, mandating the HPV vaccine for all girls entering sixth grade, unless their parents completed a conscientious-objection affidavit form. The vaccine, Merck & Co.’s Gardasil, would have protected against the forms of HPV that cause about 70 percent of all cervical cancer, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
"I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry," Perry said at the Manchester, N.H., event in response to an audience question about the HPV controversy, according to ABC News’ The Note. "But here’s what I learned: When you get too far out in front of the parade, they will let you know, and that’s exactly what our Legislature did, and I saluted it and I said, 'Roger that, I hear you loud and clear.' And they didn’t want to do it and we don’t, so enough said.”
Instead of making the vaccine mandatory, "what we should of done was a program that frankly allowed them to opt in or some type of program like that," Perry told the New Hampshire gathering.
The battle over mandatory Gardasil shots gets cast in the above article, as it usually does, as a battle between social conservatives who think the shots encourage promiscuity and the rest of the world who doesn't want girls to grow up and get cervical cancer regardless of their sexual habits; this is actually rather insulting, as no social conservative I know thinks that at all. However, a look at the reality can be had here; yes, it's an anti-Gardasil site, but it's one of the few places that has been tracking the number of deaths reported to follow Gardasil as well as the very serious reported reactions that go far beyond the warnings contained in the vaccine insert. The site has counted 73 deaths so far from the vaccine, a number which is not that far from the number reported to VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) which included 68 deaths as cited here. Despite the fact that Gardasil is only supposed to be given to healthy girls, though, the CDC believes that these deaths are not linked to the vaccine and that in general information reported to VAERS doesn't ever show evidence of safety issues with a vaccine.
Still, we're talking about a vaccine which may or may not prevent cervical cancer (it will take a few decades before we can really say whether girls vaccinated with Gardasil have lower cervical cancer rates than others) and which has had significant negative press associated with possible dangerous side effects. Why the rush to mandate this vaccine for all Texas sixth-graders, forcing parents who didn't want the shot for their daughters (or wished to delay it, etc.) to opt-out? One possibility is suggested by the first article about this issue I linked to above:
Perry was also dogged by accusations that he was close to Merck, at the time the sole manufacturer of the vaccine. Mike Toomey, his former chief of staff and longtime adviser, was reported to be one of Merck’s three lobbyists in Texas. Merck’s political action committee donated $6,000 to Perry’s re-election campaign. Perry said the donations, small in the relative scheme of big-money Texas politics, had no influence on his decision.
Didn't we already learn that Texas-style cronyism has a dampening effect on conservatism?
The Emerging Technology Fund was created at Mr. Perry's behest in 2005 to act as a kind of public-sector venture capital firm, largely to provide funding for tech start-ups in Texas. Since then, the fund has committed nearly $200 million of taxpayer money to fund 133 companies. Mr. Perry told a group of CEOs in May that the fund's "strategic investments are what's helping us keep groundbreaking innovations in the state." The governor, together with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the Texas House, enjoys ultimate decision-making power over the fund's investments. [...]Which is politics as usual, these days. But is that really conservatism? More to the point: is that really the best challenge the GOP has to President Obama?
All told, the Dallas Morning News has found that some $16 million from the tech fund has gone to firms in which major Perry contributors were either investors or officers, and $27 million from the fund has gone to companies founded or advised by six advisory board members. The tangle of interests surrounding the fund has raised eyebrows throughout the state, especially among conservatives who think the fund is a misplaced use of taxpayer dollars to start with.
"It is fundamentally immoral and arrogant," says state representative David Simpson, a tea party-backed freshman from Longview, two hours east of Dallas. The fund "opened the door to the appearance of impropriety, if not actual impropriety."
In April, the state auditor's office called for greater transparency in the fund's management, and some legislators began looking for ways that the fund might be reformed. With the state facing a $27 billion budget shortfall in the last legislative session, Mr. Simpson filed a motion in the Texas House in May to shutter the fund and redirect the money to other portions of the budget. That measure passed 89-37 to cheers from the chamber. But the fund was kept alive by the legislature's conference committee. The fund currently has $140 million to spend, according to the governor's office.
Michael Quinn Sullivan, the president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, sees in the Emerging Technology Fund a classic example of the perils of government pork. "The problem with these kinds of funds is that even when they're used with the best of intentions, it looks bad," says Mr. Sullivan. "You're taking from the average taxpayer and giving to someone who has a connection with government officials."
As I said above, I'm sticking to my pledge, which means I'm not planning to vote for anybody but third-party candidates anyway. But it would be nice if I could at least be tempted by somebody in the GOP field.