Style, Substance, Perry, and the Media
Rick Perry gave a superb speech to NH Cornerstone, a New Hampshire conservative group. The full speech is here and well worth the time to watch (about 25 minutes). In fact, this partisan New Hampshire reporter considers the speech close to perfect for the audience.
How did the left-leaning media react? As could perhaps be anticipated, with ridicule and mockery. For example, in a harsh piece by Brian Browdie of the NY Daily News titled "Rick Perry's unusually expressive 2012 speech in New Hampshire sparks rumors he was drunk," Mr. Browdie said:
During his remarks at the Cornerstone Action Dinner in Manchester, the Republican presidential candidate seemed to titter at his own jokes, gesticulate wildly, make odd facial expressions and go off on strange tangents.
A video, edited to about eight minutes, is included in a Politico posting by Alexander Burns titled "Rick Perry's Bizarre New Hampshire Speech." There are several other similar edits. A three-minute, forty-second version that appeared on the ABC News website was used to create a timeline for the comparisons that follow. The edited versions went viral, but very few people took the time to watch the entire 25-minute speech.
Why did the media react this way? Maybe because Perry is a conservative, and the media are liberal. Maybe for Perry's exhibiting "unquestionably unpresidential behavior," as David Badash of the New Civil Rights Movement put it. What is the current definition of presidential behavior during a speaking engagement? The loud, monotonous rant we are witnessing so often of late? The disingenuous or worse content of those rants?
Perry opened his remarks with the World Series. He said that he had arrived in New Hampshire Thursday evening with the Rangers leading 7-4. He gave an exuberant shout, with much arm-waving ("gesticulating wildly"). Texas was finally going to be a world champion after fifty years. Then, in a much more subdued voice, Perry said that it was now Friday, and they were still playing. This is where the edited version dropped out. In the actual speech, Perry went on to say that Chris Carpenter was pitching, and he is from New Hampshire, implying that Texas had no chance. Self-deprecating humor, timing that Jack Benny would envy, and audience involvement. The crowd went wild -- cheers and applause. He had them.
As an aside, President Obama snubbed the Cardinals (from the swing state of Missouri) by not giving the traditional presidential congratulations. Presidential behavior, Mr. Badash? Smart politics, Mr. Badash?
One of the edited clips concerned Perry's use of New Hampshire motto "Live Free or Die" and the Alamo rally call of "Death or Victory." Perry was high-spirited in his comparison, using a loud "Bring It" emphasized with arm motions. The edited clip ends at this point, but in the actual speech, Perry segued to an inspiring two-minute discussion of freedom and its meaning to the governor and to Americans. He said, "Government exists to protect our rights and guarantee our freedom." Compare this thought to the authoritarian use of executive orders that is our current governmental paradigm. Small wonder the left-leaning video editor did not include Perry's description of freedom.
A little later in the speech, Perry made the following points:
You know, I have a great respect for the New Hampshire model. Think about it, no state income tax, no state sales tax, do that Right-to-Work thing and you are going somewhere (applause). You can put some big signs up, big neon signs up, on the border of the state that say "Open for Business" and they will come. They will come.
Our mocking progressive video editor did not include this clip, even though the right-to-work statement was presented in a loud, exuberant manner, with exaggerated hand and arm gesticulations. Of course it wasn't included in the edited version. Right-to-work and its connotations of individual liberty scare the collective socks off our left-wing statists.
In the grins and giggles department, Perry did have instances of tittering at his own jokes and making odd facial expressions. In one case, early on in his presentation, he urged his audience to contribute to the organization sponsoring the event, saying:
Write the check. Gold is good. If you've got any in the back yard, you know, if they print any more money over there in Washington, gold is going to be good. And she will take it.
Now, this is humorous by itself, but consider the implications. Is Perry channeling Ron Paul? He is certainly taking a not-too-veiled shot at Ben Bernanke and the policies of the Fed. And by the way, according to this piece, gold really is good.
In another grins-and-giggles comment, Perry gently chided Herman Cain for suggesting a nine-percent sales tax in the great state of New Hampshire.
One of the transgressions Mr. Browdie of the Daily News attributed to Governor Perry was going "off on strange tangents." Now, laughing at your own jokes and making faces and being animated are matters of personal style, and Perry exhibited all three. This is wrong because...? Going off on tangents might be more serious, but Perry did not do this. In each of the examples above, Perry's style was on display, but in none of them did he end up on a tangent. Each case resulted in his making a solid political point -- usually a solid conservative point.
Style and substance. Perry had style, and his speech had substance -- a lot of substance.
Most of the speech was given in a well-modulated conversational tone (not included in the out-of-context edited clips). There was no slurring of words or stumbling with context (as one would expect if the presenter were drunk or otherwise impaired, as suggested by the media). I suspect that Mr. Perry had some sort of a teleprompter device on the podium, as he would glance down occasionally as if looking at notes. This was not at all distracting, nor was the governor a slave to prepared remarks. He often ad-libbed, directing questions or observations to specific members of the audience in several instances.
Governor Perry is a man of faith, and his faith was evident; he is a patriot, and his patriotism was unmistakable; and he is a conservative, and his conservative principles were the very foundation of his presentation. Don't take my word for it -- watch the speech.
Perry has been stiff and ineffective in the debates. He was also ineffective in his short opening remarks at an event my wife and I attended. At that event, Perry went to the floor (see the photograph here) to answer questions, and it was as if a switch had been thrown. He was energetic and articulate, answering in depth and with obvious understanding of the issues, connecting with his audience one voter at a time.
After the event, Perry came into the crowd to sign autographs. My wife had a copy of Newsmax with Perry's picture on the cover. See the wonderful photograph by Kayana Szymczak in the LA Times. Look at that look! And the rascal included a heart with his autograph. One voter at a time.
Was Perry high at the Cornerstone speech? Yes, very much so. He was high on patriotism, high on faith, high on family, and high on his message. He was the epitome of the comfortable conservative -- comfortable with his beliefs, comfortable with his audience, and comfortable with his message. Continuing the campaign in a similar manner could well capture the nomination and the presidency. Go, Rick.
Mike Johnson is a concerned citizen, a small government conservative, and a live-free-or-die resident of New Hampshire. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.