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Rick Perry: The Best Little Whore In Texas

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In addition to the highway contract with Cintra, Perry this year signed a bill written in part by a lobbyist for a British firm called Balfour Beatty, paving the way for the state to sell virtually everything that isn't nailed down to anyone – foreigners included. The bill, Hall says, allows "all public buildings, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, ports, mass transit projects, telecommunications, etc. to be sold off to corporations." Even more incredibly, the bill authorizes companies to borrow money from the state, which will also help secure their debt. In other words, Perry passed a bill under which a foreign company could theoretically borrow money from Texas taxpayers to buy the taxpayer's own state property back from him, at a discount!

But the most treasonous Perry deal of all came when he tried to do a macabre favor for his political hero, former senator Phil Gramm. Gramm gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Perry's campaign, essentially emptying the remnants of his own campaign war chest into Perry's when he left public office and went to work for the Swiss bank UBS. In 2002, Gramm came to Perry's administration with a proposal that would allow the bank to take out life insurance policies on retired Texas teachers. Under the deal, UBS would collect on the policies of the teachers when they died, and reward the state with a small cut for arranging the wagers. Teachers who balked at letting UBS profit from their death were reportedly to be paid $100 to sign on the dotted line. The state insurance commissioner, a Perry appointee, approved a special waiver to allow the deal to go through, but the project collapsed after a media backlash.

To recap: Rick Perry sold the right to tax Texas highway drivers to Spanish billionaires, let a British firm write a law authorizing the sale of virtually all Texas state property to foreign corporations, and tried to literally sell the lives of retired Texas schoolteachers to a Swiss bank. Yet he's somehow built a reputation in the national media as a fist-shaking America-first nativist, with a Tea Partier's passion for small government. How Perry has managed to sell this fictional version of himself is a testament to the extraordinary power of marketing over reality in our modern political system. In fact, his entire career is a profound testament to our nagging collective inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to distinguish between what a politician says and what he actually does.

"People are like, 'He wears a red shirt, he must think like I do,'" says Medina, Perry's Tea Party opponent. "It's 'you're Christian, I'm Christian, we must believe the same.'"

For a long time, perry masterfully exploited this basic weakness of the American voter. As he prepared his run for the White House, he took loud and drastic steps to plant flags in both of the main camps of the Republican Party base, making sure there was an extensive record of Tea Party-friendly remarks attached to his name, as well as lots of file footage of him cozying up to prominent evangelicals. He accomplished the former task mainly through his book, Fed Up!, an impressively shameless volume of avalanching self-congratulatory horseshit that lays the indignant Tea Partyisms on so thick, one imagines Perry wearing a tricorner hat as he dictates to his ghost writer. "We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kind of cars we can drive," Perry writes. "We are fed up with bailout after bailout and stimulus after stimulus... the government picking winners and losers based on circumstance and luck."

Nowhere in the book, of course, does it mention that Perry, who famously refused Obama's stimulus money and blasted the administration for reckless borrowing and creating "zero jobs," greenlighted two gigantic stimulus programs of his own. Both the $200 million Emerging Technology Fund and the $363 million Texas Enterprise Fund were little more than crude vehicles for repaying campaign donors with state aid. The state has also given millions in handouts through the Texas Film Commission, paying for TV commercials for Fortune 500 firms like Walmart.

Perry, who consistently criticizes Obama for borrowing to pay for his stimulus, even paid for the Texas Enterprise Fund in part by borrowing $161 million from the state's unemployment insurance fund – meaning he took money from the paychecks of blue-collar workers and turned it into millions in welfare grants for companies like Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments and Hewlett-Packard. Ironically, Texas is now running out of money to pay for unemployment claims – including those laid off by companies receiving grants from the Texas Enterprise Fund.

But despite the fact that Perry does a lot of exactly what he decries in his book, there are still plenty of Tea Partiers who profess fierce loyalty to him. The odd thing is that while being uncompromising and morally absolutist is normally one of the key features of the entire Tea Party movement, some of the same true believers who were willing to risk a national default rather than borrow one single dollar over the debt limit suddenly become long-view-taking pragmatists when it comes to Perry. "Ideology is wonderful in principle," says Toby Marie Walker, a Tea Party leader in Waco, sounding more like Barack Obama than John Birch. "But it's not practical in politics."

Walker says she gives Perry credit for changing course when there was a public outcry over some of his less-than-classically-conservative policies – including his use of eminent domain (he later signed a bill restricting it) and his HPV vaccine order (which he has since renounced as a "mistake"). Admitting your mistakes, says Walker, is "valuable to have in a leader."

When I point out that Perry essentially repeated the same "mistake" this year, signing a bill mandating shots of a meningitis vaccine (made by Novartis, a $700,000 donor) for every college freshman in the state, Walker suddenly changes tack and defends the move as good policy. "You can opt out of a shot – you cannot opt out of meningitis," says Walker, joking that I'm giving the governor a hard time for forcing people to avoid cancer. When I ask how that is any different from Obama forcing people to buy health insurance, she again points to the "optional" nature of Perry's executive orders. "I can't opt out of Barack Obama's health care plan," she says.

In point of fact, students can "opt out" of Perry's vaccines only if they obtain a conscientious-objection form from the Texas Department of State Health Services, and renew it every two years – which, if nothing else, is an entertainingly surrealist take on the Tea Party doctrine of limited government.

In any case, my discussion with Walker is predictably pointless. When I ask about Perry selling stretches of already-paid-for highway to foreigners, Walker replies, "We need another road." When I ask about Perry trying to force Texans to pay tolls to an unaccountable Spanish corporation, the answer is, "I don't have a problem paying for upkeep."

When you start hearing Tea Partiers say they don't mind paying taxes, you know the matter has exited the realm of the logical. Medina, who took an impressive 18 percent of the vote in her primary race against Perry, says some Republican voters are so focused on beating Barack Obama that they can't see the truth about a big-government machine politician like Perry.

"You have to want to know," she says. "And it's easier not to."

As befits any Texas politician, Perry has always been at least superficially religious, growing up in the same Methodist tradition as George W. Bush. But like his relatively late conversion to extreme anti-tax/Tea Party rhetoric, Perry's decision to throw in with the truly loony sect of evangelicals only came very recently, after a prayer meeting with two crazy-ass pastors, Tom Schlueter of Arlington and Bob Long of San Marcos, in his office in 2009. According to The Texas Observer, Schlueter had received a "prophetic message" the day before this visit from a local Christian soothsayer named Chuck Pierce, instructing him to "pray by lifting the hand of the one I show you that is in the place of civil rule." Meaning Perry, apparently.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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