I think my initial assessment of Rick Perry as a radical theoconservative was off the mark. Or perhaps it wasn’t wrong so much as misfocused: Perry clearly believes all of the insane things he said at his infamous prayer rally, but the diligent work of other journalists has convinced me that tearing down the wall between church and state is not his driving passion.
Instead, Perry’s primary motivation seems to be tearing down the wall between business and state, which is more pernicious in the sense that it is actually possible to do serious harm to the country that way. After playing with it as a thought experiment for a few months, I’m beginning to be convinced that Randian, deregulatory economic conservatism is far more dangerous than theocratic conservatism. There is a kind of built-in limit to how far religious conservatism can get in a world of political elites; eventually, the defund-Planned Parenthood-teach-intelligent-design crowd will always be blocked from the center of power. But Reaganomics and even more radical forms of fiscal madness have been able to capture some of the country’s brightest minds and most prestigious universities. It has been ushered into the halls of power in ways that were previously inconceivable.
This is why the spectacular end of Perry’s campaign at the Michigan debate last night offered such catharsis—why it was such an unqualified win for America. As Matt Taibbi and others have shown, Perry is one of the most shameless crony capitalists in modern politics, lacking a single shred of public spiritedness or interest in serving the American people. While he sold off my home state piece by piece to foreign corporations and domestic billionaires, some of whom were under criminal investigation, he openly touted his ignorance of policy and ignorance in general. (“I wouldn’t understand it anyway,” he told one Texas commissioner, explaining why he didn’t want to hear the details of a particular piece of legislation.)
It really doesn’t happen often anymore, especially not in the Republican Party, that proud ignorance and shameless sleaze are treated as they should be. This primary has and continues to be an orgy of arrogant idiocy, where crass slogans stand in for ideas, where the frontrunner has never heard the names of most of the countries he will be negotiating with as president, and the only viable candidate has to lie constantly and shamefully to avoid being considered a socialist.
The rest of the pack will still be carrying the torch, and people like Steve King and Jim DeMint still have seats in Congress. But last night, as the whole world watched, the biggest villain in the race and possibly in the whole of American politics nosedived into a giant, gaseous ball of flames and thick black smoke. And it felt amazing.
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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