The Origins of the 'Texas Miracle'

Chalk up another similarity between Rick Perry and George W. Bush

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The cliché: A "Texas Miracle" is on the move. A phrase that once existed only between quotation marks is now migrating outside of them to become generally accepted vernacular. Back in 2008, Texas experienced muted effects during the recession, and during the recovery, faster-than-average job creation. This economic boon was deemed a "Texas miracle." The phrase gained traction just after the recession hit, and thus came the attempts to debunk it as myth. But it really made its way into the mainstream this weekend when Governor Rick Perry declared his candidacy for president. Perry will presumably run on the strength of the "Texas miracle" which he oversaw, and this has revived the attempts to question just how miraculous his tenure was. "[W]hat you need to know is that the Texas miracle is a myth," writes Paul Krugman today in The New York Times. "The Texas miracle is, like so many miraculous things, complicated upon closer inspection," The Atlantic's Derek Thompson says more charitably. What's notable in today's coverage is that while many are continuing to put the phrase between quotes or to add a qualifier -- "the so-called Texas Miracle," USA Today's Paul Davidson writes -- many are beginning to throw around the phrase, whether they accept its truth or not, without reference or explanation.

Where it's from: The "Texas miracle" phrase harkens back to the 2000 presidential race, when George W. Bush campaigned on statistics that showed improving test scores and graduation rates for Texas public school students -- a "Texas miracle" he called it. Then, too, opposition sought to expose the "Texas miracle" as a sham and the statistics as untrue or at least misleading.

Why it's catching on: The controversy surrounding the first Texas miracle sheds much holy light on usage of the phrase to describe the second one. It largely appeared between quotes, though they aren't quoting anyone in particular (certainly not Perry), indicating that most writers approached claims of Texas's economic success with skepticism.While calling Perry's job creation a "Texas miracle" might seem like overstatement, it is actually a subtle way to cast doubt on it.

Why else? The phrase is telling, especially in reference to Perry, in two other important ways. First, as Krugman points out, the religiosity of the phrase is convenient. Some of the "miracles" Perry touts "will involve things that you’re liable to read in the Bible," Krugman notes. The "Texas Miracle" evokes not just his record on jobs, but the mass prayer rally he led last week. It also brings to Krugman's mind Perry's official call for a miracle to deliver Texas from rampant wildfires earlier this year. And secondly, it's a quiet way for pundits to link Perry to Bush. Many are not so quietly wondering whether Perry's accent and personality resemble the former president's in a way that might damage his campaign. " Michael Tomasky calls him "chillingly Bush-like" in The Daily Beast. On Twitter, people put it even more succinctly with a newly popular hashtag: "#RickWPerry".

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