Rick Perry Can't Stop Shooting From the Hip

Decidedly non-Texan journos love the language of the Western

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The clichIé é: Just after Texas Gov. Rick Perry formally entered the presidential race, the Boston Herald's Hillary Chabot wrote that Perry "has a brash, shoot-from-the-hip style that could trip him up on the campaign trail." The commentary was portentous both in its truth and its phrasing. For just days later, when he made his famous comments about the Fed Chief Bernanke's possible "treason", "shoot from the hip" became the unquestionable favorite in the "old West" language often used to describe the Texan.  As he continues to make gaffes on the campaign trail, the phrase risks getting abused. "Perry’s shoot-from-the-hip style led him to a misstep," says Michael O'Brien at The Hill. "It revealed a shoot-from-the-hip carelessness that raises questions about his fitness as a presidential candidate" says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. "He has been in the presidential race for barely more than a long weekend, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry is shooting from the hip," says Michael Muskal at the Los Angeles Times.

Where's it from? Shooting from the hip, in the literal sense, allows a gun-wielder to get off a shot quickly, since he doesn't have to raise the gun as far from his holster. With the gains in speed, though, come losses in accuracy. Through the mid-20th century it became a political metaphor for someone who speaks their mind confidently (and sometimes without tact.) It got a lot of play in political writing during the Reagan years given his decisive style. (His habit of starring in Westerns didn't hurt either.) "His occasional tendency to shoot from the hip on foreign affairs may be his most vulnerable point," wrote The New York Times of then-candidate Reagan in 1980. It then made a natural metaphor for George W. Bush, also prone to act decisively, speak too soon (in a Texas twang.)

Why it's catching on: Well some have commented on Perry's physical and philosophical position as the "perfect genetic splice" of Reagan and Bush, so it's no wonder journalists fall back on some reliable metaphors for the cowboy-like presidents. Perry's rural Texan roots, his cowboy-chic fashion (okay, not that chic), and, of course, his tendency to speak his mind all make the metaphor an obvious choice for a blogger on the run.

Why else? Both journalists and campaigns love to craft narratives, and they have reflexively created an almost cinematic Perry in their writing. (Perry's brazen style hasn't made it hard for them.) It would be difficult to count the gratuitous references to his cowboy boots and his gun-toting exercise regimen. Any chance the media can get to assign their political narrative the same drama as a Hollywood Western, they'll seize. And since Perry doesn't show any signs of quieting down, we expect a lot more shooting from the hip to come.



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