In his first week as a presidential candidate, Gov. Rick Perry found there are more people than ever who are paid to parse his every word. And he’s making it easy for them.
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election,” Perry said of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke this week, “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 treacherous, err, treasonous in my opinion.”
What didn’t make as much news is that he had started that answer by telling an Iowa voter that, "I’ll take a pass on the Federal Reserve right at the moment…"
The off-the-cuff remark that followed is the one that made news.
The Texas Republican’s mouth has failed him before, but it has always blown over.
There he was in 2005, sitting in an Austin broadcast studio with an aide, doing a series of interviews, including one with a Houston TV station. He finished, thought the deal was over, and offered a jokey signoff, apparently for the benefit of his aide and anybody else in the studio.
It wasn’t intended for broadcast and isn’t polite in print, either, so let’s just say the governor offered the sort of genteel good-bye you’d get from an El Paso rapper.
Perry apologized to the TV station and the reporter, and in a press conference later, called it "inappropriate banter."
Except for its long afterlife as a slogan for Democrats’ T-shirts and, in the coming months, as the title of a book from a couple of Austin-based Democratic writers, the governor didn’t suffer any long-term damage.
It was the public equivalent of getting his mouth washed out with soap.
Here’s another moment — an earlier one, from 2000, when Perry was still lieutenant governor and that job didn’t come with a state police security detail.
Perry, with his aide driving, was zipping down the road when a state trooper decided that the state’s speed limits ought to be enforced. Irritated and late for whatever he wanted to do next, the governor got out of the car to see what his driver and the state trooper were talking about. He offered her his ID — a non-verbal "do you know who I am?" — and demanded to know if she was writing his driver a ticket. The trooper told Perry she was writing a warning, and the camera in her patrol car (see the video below) picked up a juicy little sound bite when the governor demanded,
"Why don’t you just let us get on down the road?"
Talking about it later, Perry admitted he probably would have gone down the road quicker if he had just kept his seat belt on and stayed out of it.
That one landed in the middle of a presidential election year, but Perry wasn’t on the ballot. His 2002 gubernatorial opponent tried to make something of it, suggesting that voters help the incumbent "get on down the road." But the voters didn’t bite; perhaps Perry hit a chord with people who don’t like getting pulled over for speeding.
One more, from Iowa, but from another political race. The governor of Texas, campaigning for the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, was at a private reception at someone’s house when he was asked about the 43rd president of the United States.
"Let me tell you something. George Bush was never a fiscal conservative, never was," Perry said, then added, "I mean, ’95, ’97, ’99, George Bush was spending money."
Perry has said that was the incident that showed him the power of YouTube and of the video cameras that everyone seems to have constantly at the ready. It was supposed to be private; it wasn’t. It was also a moment that showed him — or should have — the close attention that comes with the presidential trail.
This week’s remark about Bernanke was different. The cameras were there. Reporters were there. He’s a candidate, and ought to know better. And maybe, when all is said and done, he’ll stick with the treason line, as he has done so far.
Voters might forgive him for calling Bernanke treasonous, as they did with his previous sound-bite adventures. They might not; some of his fellow Republicans — even some from Texas — have been scolding him for it.
Live by the quip, die by the quip.