The most evil man I’ve ever personally experienced was almost elected lieutenant governor of Alabama. I met him years before that, though, when he was about to run for his first office. Our first meeting at his office was surreal.
He had the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen. His voice was flat and monotone. But he had a presence that you might expect from a senator or a governor. He seemed to feel entitled. He seemed to feel superior. Strangely, none of his words matched what I felt in his eyes. He talked a good game about morality and ethics and feeling guided by his Christian faith to run for office. The scary thing is that I think he believed what he was telling me. I’ve worked with enough charming liars to know the difference. This guy felt evil, like a psychopath.
I didn’t work for the guy, but he was elected to his first office and became a powerful man in state politics. I heard plenty of things about him from friends inside his campaigns that gave me a great relief that I never worked for him. I felt a sigh of relief when statewide voters barely rejected him.
What I’m about to say is terribly unfair, because I don’t have enough facts to know the truth about this man. I’m well aware of that. But I get the same feelings about Rick Perry that I got from that psychopath long ago. I think he’s scary.
It’s way too early to make a prediction about the 2012 election — and I honestly don’t believe it matters who wins — but I have a sneaking suspicion that Rick Perry is going to be the GOP nominee for president.
There are plenty of places you can read about things you like or don’t like about Perry. You can read about how he supported Al Gore for president back in ’88 (when he was a Democrat), but now seems to forget what Gore stood for. The best brief summary I’ve read of who Perry is, though, came from a writer at Texas Monthly, so I recommend his story as a starting point.
Perry looks the part of a president. He says all the things that the conservative and angry voters in Republican primaries want to hear. He’s like a man sent down from Central Casting to play the leader who arrives in a disaster to save the day. I can guarantee that’s the way many people will see him. So why do I see something sinister in him instead?
I admitted to you right up front that I’m not being fair. He might not be evil. He might not even be a lying opportunist. I can’t say for sure yet. I just know that all of my political and psychological instincts tell me that he’s a man to be feared — and that he’s a man who people will follow. Right now, I’d say that I expect him to win the GOP nomination — but I reserve the right to change that as things go along — and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he turned Barack Obama into a one-term president.
When evil comes to us, it doesn’t announce itself and pull out a business card saying to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Instead, it looks a lot like Rick Perry. I’m reminded of these lines from the 1987 movie, “Broadcast News,” in which a character speaks of someone who he finds dangerous, but who everyone else believes is wonderful:
“What do you think the devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing. He will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance … just a tiny bit.”
Do I believe Perry is the devil incarnate? I certainly don’t mean that in the religious sense. Beyond that, I’m honestly not sure yet what to think about him. I just know that when I look at him closely, I feel some of the same things — on a gut level — that I’ve seen in other politicians who I’ve found to be cold, calculating and scary to sane people who see them for what they are.
It might turn out that I’m terribly wrong about Perry. He might simply be a very sincere but misguided statist who’s no different from the rest. But I suspect we’re looking at a very competent and shrewd politician with the intelligence and ruthlessness to get what he wants by manipulating the populist masses. In that respect alone, it makes me suspect he’s a Republican Bill Clinton — at his very best.
The nation-state is at the end of the road, but men such as Perry will use its coercion in ugly ways as it gasps its dying breaths, whenever that might be. The thought of Perry with that much power is chilling to me.