The Texas governor might be bad for the GOP and bad for Democrats. But the media relies on his brand of hyperbole to have any sort of public policy debate.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry might not be good for the Republican Party, the environment, state poverty, or Mitt Romney. But I'm nearly convinced that he is a force for good in American civics and public policy debate. Or more specifically, that his brand of brashness and hyperbole has become necessary for any sort of serious public policy debate on television.
Take the issue of state economics, for example. You might not have predicted six months ago that cable news would join a wonky debate about whether natural resources or public policy play a greater role in state-by-state job growth. Who cares about weighing business tax incentives against international demand for crude oil, right? Wrong. In August, there they were -- CNN, MSNBC, Fox News -- one week after the Iowa Straw Poll, filling the airwaves with opposing arguments on whether Perry could claim credit for the "Texas Miracle," or to what extent he had been dealt pocket aces by topography. Here was an important economic debate, once relegated to the lonely corners of the urban policy blogosphere, that enjoyed a week in the primetime spotlight thanks to Perry's campaign launch.
It didn't take long for the governor's civic education instincts to strike. Two days after the Iowa Straw Poll, Perry said it would be "treasonous" for Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke to print more money. This whistled the beginning of a familiar form of pundit tug-of-war. After the initial cross-partisan howling, reasoned progressives explained that Perry was flat wrong and "printing money" was a reasonable response to a weak economy. Conservatives rebutted that if Perry was hyperbolic, he was at least right that more money won't lift the economy. "Expansionary" vs. "contractionary" monetary policy is a debate fit for think tank conferences. But Perry gift-wrapped the discussion for cable news producers by making it a war between "treason" and "patriotism."