Is Rick Perry as American as He Thinks He Is?

He touts individualism and the importance of limited government, but the Texas governor neglects to remember the "We" in "We the People"

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece asking whether Governor Rick Perry could call himself a Christian given his opposition to government actions to help the hungry, aged, and ill. Not surprisingly, many challenged my view of Christianity. In letter after letter they pointed out that Christ spoke to individuals, not government. My observation that He was speaking to a conquered people, not free individuals who could use their power to make a more just state, was not convincing. My reference to the prophets Micah, Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, each of whom called on governmental leaders to help the poor, was dismissed as being from the "Old Testament."

I will surely return to the issue of Christianity again, but I devote this piece to Rick Perry's character and the character he would nurture in American citizens. Teddy Roosevelt said, "Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike." So what is the character that Perry embodies? What is his view of the American citizen and the citizen's responsibility to our country and to one's fellows?

First, Perry himself.

His persona evokes the rugged individualist. His warning to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, not to come to Texas so that he can avoid being subjected to "real ugly" frontier justice evidences a character antithetical to one of the crowning achievements of the United States -- a nation under law, not men. In a phrase, he dismisses the Bill of Rights -- due process, trial by jury, the right to confront one's accuser.

The real question is not what character he would make of the United States but whether he believes in America at all. He has threatened to secede. Central to his campaign is his pledge to shrink the federal government -- making it impossible for our noble nation to lead the world, to serve as the "city on the Hill."

Perry may want to pretend that he is taking America back to a better past, but his actions are part of the movement away from nation-states, where countries are largely irrelevant. The notion that we are at the end of the need for nation-states is gaining more adherents globally. The fortunate few, commonly referred to as the Davos groupies, hang out with the other well off and well-heeled all over the world. Summering in Europe, wintering in Colorado, the global elite have more in common with and feel more loyal to their carefully connected crowd than with their fellow citizens. When one's loyalty lies with one's own class, where does that leave one's country?

In declaring his wish to shrink the size of government, Perry believes that government should have as little role in people's lives as possible. No investment in education, science research, building the railroads, highways, or sewage systems of the future. Why care about America's future, why set inspirational goals that bring people together, if you don't believe in "We the people"?

Presented by

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the author of Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Mixed God With Politics and Lost Their Way. From 1995 to 2003, she was Maryland's first woman lieutenant governor.

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