After he called the program a "Ponzi scheme," pundits warned that the Texas governor was foolish. But he could come out ahead in the end.
Why do Republican Gov. Rick Perry's recent comments about Social Security remind me of his remarks a few years back about Texas possibly seceding from the Union? Perry recently went on a wholesale attack against the Social Security system, saying it's completely broken, a failure, and a lie to younger people. They were pretty harsh and pointed words, and pundits, including top GOP strategist Karl Rove, have roundly panned the Texan for his comments. Let me tell you where the Washington, D.C., punditocracy just might be off base and misunderstanding the power of his message.
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In Perry's primary race against popular Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2010, he raised the possibility of Texas seceding as part of his message that the federal government was busted and people in Washington were disconnected from the lives of average Americans. Many folks criticized his remarks, and I got call after call from pundits and reporters saying that Perry was toast. I cautioned my callers about underestimating the anti-federal-government sentiment he had tapped into, and I shared my view that his secession comments would in the end help him in his race. Perry went on to win in a landslide against Hutchison--and at the same time, beating much of the Republican establishment, including Rove and former Vice President Dick Cheney. The Senate primary race in Texas was a factor in the budding tea party movement, and Perry was one of the first elected officials to tap into the energy and power of that movement.
Today, Perry's comments on Social Security feel a lot like that. Yes, he will have to clean up his language a bit--he has been calling the program a "Ponzi scheme"--but his message underscoring how broken the system is and how national leaders are not being honest with the American public will resonate with voters, especially Republican primary voters and caucus participants. Whether it was intentional or not (and sometimes in politics, the best developments are unplanned and unscripted), Perry is voicing a concern that many Republicans and independents share. And it's a concern that many 20-year-olds also share.