Last fall, Rick Perry published a book called “Fed Up!” in which he called Social Security “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal.” He was telling the truth then, but he’s running from the truth now — because he wants to be elected president.
In the book, Perry asserted that Social Security is unconstitutional, and he said the program was an affront to respect for the Constitution and limited government. He compared it to a “bad disease” that’s continued to spread. Perry said that individuals should be allowed to own and control their own retirement plans, so they could have “a retirement system that is no longer set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme.”
Every word he said there was accurate, but he’s now running from that truth. According to the Wall Street Journal, his campaign claims that the views in last year’s book — published less than a year ago — don’t reflect Perry’s current views:
“His communications director, Ray Sullivan, said Thursday that he had ‘never heard’ the governor suggest the program was unconstitutional. Not only that, Mr. Sullivan said, but ‘Fed Up!’ is not meant to reflect the governor’s current views on how to fix the program.”
It’s amazing how quickly a politician’s views can change when he knows telling the truth will lose him votes. Notice the weasel words in the statement, though. The campaign press flack doesn’t quite say that Perry was wrong then. He just said that the book doesn’t represent Perry’s views on “how to fix the program.” If Social Security is an unconstitutional disease, how exactly do you fix it?
It’s easy to take shots at politicians for flip-flops such as this — and I’m happy to do it — but there’s a more important lesson here. Rick Perry told the truth in what he said in the book last fall. (Whether he wrote it or just approved a ghostwriter’s words doesn’t matter.) Why would he go public with such an inflammatory truth then and pull back from it now?
The answer is simple. Voters insist on being lied to. If you believe that Social Security isn’t ultimately dead, you might also believe that Elvis Presley is still alive and hanging out at a nearby 7-11, but voters don’t want to hear that. They don’t want to hear any difficult truths, because lies are sweeter and make them feel better. Truth makes them confront harsh realities and make hard choices. Voters are intellectually lazy and morally “flexible,” because they reward whatever candidate promises them the most — and promises to make other people pay for it.
I’m no fan of Rick Perry, but this ultimately isn’t about him. This is about voters who insist on being lied to and it’s about a system that requires politicians to lie in order to win. If you believe you can win the game without lying — or at least avoiding hard truths — you haven’t been paying attention.
Ultimately, the problem is the system, not the politicians.