I've been mostly apathetic about Rick Perry's entrance into the GOP primary, if for no other reason than none of his principal challengers thrills me. It's well-documented that I'd like to see the nominee come from the lower tiers -- specifically, Ron Paul (who is arguably a borderline first-tier candidate despite being completely ignored by most media types), Gary Johnson or Jon Hunstman.
Although Perry's entrance has thrilled many seeking an electable alternative to Michele Bachmann and a more conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, several damaging elements of Perry's record have emerged very quickly. While Romney's missteps are well-documented and have been discussed here ad nauseum, Perry is largely considered far more conservative than Romney, so his record is, as of yet, unimpeached.
First: In 2006, Perry supported a trans-Texan highway that would ostensibly link up the populous cities in the east to the sparsely populated west. To secure land on which to build the highway, Perry proposed gobbling up myriad property owners' homes through eminent domain. This reflects the worst excesses of the Kelo v. New London era, where state governments are held to an absurdly low standard when asked to justify why citizens should be thrown off their land. In the opinion of most conservatives (see the O'Connor/Roberts/Scalia/Thomas dissent in Kelo, for starters), the state must clear an exceptionally high bar, and have a deeply compelling interest, when taking private property through eminent domain. Building a "highway to nowhere" is far from a sufficient justification. West Texas is a notoriously sparse place, one of the most remote areas of the country. As such, Perry's initiative represented big government at its most dangerous. Property rights are sacrosanct. But apparently not to Rick Perry.
Second: While decrying the tyranny of big government, Perry is highly deferential to that same tyrannical government on matters of law and order. He exemplifies the maddening dichotomy that has enveloped 21st century conservatism: A distaste and even fear of intrusive government on the one hand, and ultimate deference to the Security State on the other. Perry vetoed a bill that would have spared mentally retarded defendants from the death penalty, despite Supreme Court decisions from time immemorial that require a minimum level of cognition in order to impose capital punishment. Since he took office a decade ago, he has seen fit to only reduce one death row inmate's sentence to life in prison, despite rampant evidence of prosecutorial misconduct nationwide. Perhaps most critically, Perry engaged in the most depraved sort of underhanded executive abuses regarding Cameron Todd Willingham. WIllingham was accused of setting fire to his home killing his wife and daughters. After he was convicted, and shortly before the execution, Willingham's lawyers provided Perry and his forensic science commission (who are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the governor) a report from an arson expert appearing to exonerate Willingham, and demonstrating that the prosecution's evidence and methodology was deeply flawed. The commission began to review the case after investigative journalists cast serious doubt on Willingham's guilt, and hired an investigator who was scheduled to give the commission a report. Shortly before the investigator's testimony, Perry dismissed the chairman and replaced three members of the commission. Willingham's appeal was subsequently denied, and he was executed in 2004. Whatever one's opinions about the death penalty, Perry's conduct was inexcusable and disgusting. That shouldn't be how "justice" is done in America.
Third: Perry once mandated that all 11- and 12-year-old girls be vaccinated with HPV while there were still serious questions about the drug's efficacy and safety. This was a mandate handed down from above without regard to parental control or local choice. Even the most genuine public health arguments are exactly those which have been made by liberals in defending Obamacare. To his credit, Perry now admits this was a mistake. Irrespective of whether mandating a vaccine is good policy, the equally damaging element of the story that Perry cannot possibly explain away is that one of the lobbyists pushing for the order, and who worked for the vaccine's manufacturer, once served as Perry's chief of staff and has since helped found a PAC for the purpose of elevating Perry to the presidency. This is cronyism of the worst kind.
Finally, Perry has engaged in embarrassing double-talk on the Tenth Amendment. Just weeks before announcing, Perry correctly, and admirably, told an audience that states should pass their own laws concerning gay marriage. Perry correctly pointed out that many Texans would not want to live in New York, and most New Yorkers probably would not care to live in Texas either. But shortly after announcing, Perry did a Gingrichian reversal, promising to impose a federal gay marriage ban if elected president. This is ludicrous and laughable. Someone must ask Perry whether he has read the Tenth Amendment lately. Even assuming the best, Perry was transparently pandering to a family-values audience. Assuming the worst, Perry is yet another Bachmann, mouthing support for the Constitution when it suits him and tossing it out the window when it doesn't.
The impression of Perry as a staunch, torch-bearing conservative is far from accurate. The press -- especially conservatives like the Wall Street Journal editorial board, National Review, Bill Kristol, Sean Hannity and yes, even self-described water carrier Rush Limbaugh -- must hold his feet to the fire and demand answers about his record, parts of which would not be out of place on the resume of a liberal Democrat.