Credit Where It’s Due: Perry’s “Part-Time Congress” Makes More Sense Than It Sounds
I was all set to do a post blasting Perry’s “Part-time Congress” idea as doing more harm than good if it ever came to pass (it won’t but play along).
My concern with Perry’s proposal is that with Congress less involved in writing laws and overseeing the impact of what they do pass and the regulations promulgated under them, power would shift to bureaucrats, lobbyists and the courts. That would obviously nullify any advantages of the part-time citizen Congress Perry envisions.
What I would argue we need is a full-time Congress with significantly slashed staffs (again, it will never happen but assume it’s possible for the purpose of discussion). Make “lawmakers” actually make the laws. There was a time when legislators actually wrote the bills they submitted for consideration. If you can stop the reliance on staffs and abdication of authority to executive branch or independent regulators, you won’t see 2,000+ page bills like ObamaCare that no one can possibly understand.
Well, it turns out that Perry’s proposal actually address these concerns but you only will learn that if you go to his website (which I recommend).
This brings me back to my overarching problem with Perry…does he actually understand in any detail what he’s advocating or is he just a terrible communicator?
Whenever I’ve seen Perry make the case for his part-time Congress plan (in debates, interviews and Q and As with voters) he simply relies on a flip talking point along the lines of “taking back government” or “putting people in charge”. It’s always a populist appeal which is devoid of depth and blind to the potential consequences when he talks about it. Reading his website, you see it’s actually a thoughtful and reasonable idea (though one that will never come to pass) to make “Washington as inconsequential as possible”.
Perry does this constantly on his signature flat tax and social security/Medicare reform proposals. He simply delivers the crowd pleasing applause line and never goes an inch deeper. This is the same problem I and others had with Sarah Palin and Herman Cain. @here’s the demonstration of knowledge? Not deeply wonkish stuff but the ability to show command or at least acknowledgement of the complexities involved.
This isn’t simply intellectual snobbery or being wowed by a smooth talker. I think it’s reasonable to expect someone who wants to be President to meet some basic standards of engagement.
On a substantive note, this ability to understand and communicate an understanding of complex issues is an important campaigning and governing tool. Any idiot (see Obama, Barack H.) can promise to give people “free” government stuff. If you are advocating the reform of some very big and politically controversial (to say the least) programs, people need to believe you know what you are talking about in order to trust your proposed solution. A President needs to be able to build a case in order to marshal the political force necessary to accomplish things of consequence which is what Perry is proposing.
My problem is that too often Rick Perry operates as if everyone already shares his basic assumptions and convictions. This is why his supporters claims of “look at Texas” are unconvincing. A good number of Texas voters do share his assumptions and convictions but that simply isn’t the case with the wider electorate.
I’m not a fan of appealing to the authority of Ronald Reagan but his presidency is instructive on this point. Reagan didn’t simply say, “cut taxes and increase defense spending” then call it a day. Over the course of the campaign against Carter and his early administration, he repeatedly explained to the American people the connection between reducing tax rates and economic growth and in the process made the Laffer Curve a household phrase. On defense he steadfastly maintained that the Soviet Union was a mortal threat to the United States and the world in general. Over the course of his administration he moved the nation away from a strategy of containment to managed confrontation. At each step along the way he connected his policy proposals (increased defense spending, confrontational rhetoric, SDI, etc) to policy outcomes and national benefits. By explaining the challenges we faced and his proposed policies to meet them, Reagan was able to build political will where none had existed before. In doing so, he changed the country and the world forever.
Those are two cases where Reagan clearly had a deep and serious understanding of the problems we faced. He had spent a lifetime thinking about them and his demonstrated knowledged moved the country’s politics in his direction. Yes, he was a wonderful speaker but he knew what he was saying and what he wanted to accomplish. That was the underlying power of his communication skills and they served his policy ends well.
I simply remain unconvinced that Rick Perry is intellectually engaged enough (I don’t think he’s stupid) with the issues he is clearly passionate about be an effective candidate let alone President of the United States.