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"?
Nationalism, patriotism, commitment to one another are for Perry an anachronism, a thing of the past. He has not said that those with the greatest wealth, talent, and circumstances have any special responsibility to our country or their fellow citizens. He has not said we are all Americans together. Rather, he seems to be able to watch human suffering with equanimity -- as though America should be a place of survival of the fittest. No Social Security, no Medicare, no unemployment insurance, no laws to protect clean air, clean water. When hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and flood destroy home and communities -- no FEMA, no help. "We" are on our own.
In his book Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America From Washington, Perry writes that the 16th Amendment, which gave birth to the federal income tax, was "the great milestone on the road to serfdom," because it represented "the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States."
Individualism, self-reliance, self-respect -- these are great virtues, useful in many fields of endeavor. But they are not enough to sustain a nation. Virtues don't spring into being in a moment. They need to be exercised and practiced. Nations at war need courage, quick thinking, and selflessness. Nations at peace require that sense of duty to others. No man goes into a burning building for mere money. Nor does a fierce individualism nurture the patience that a teacher requires, the love given by a hospice nurse caring for a dying man.