Mirage land

BY BEAU ELLIOT | AUGUST 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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What I remember, from many years ago, about driving across west Texas in August is that it was so hot, so flat, so boring (even more boring than Nebraska? which, you have to admit, is a trick you don’t want to try at home), so dry and brown and endless all the way to forever that you started seeing mirages. Glinting, wavering mirages.

(Why were you driving across west Texas? you ask. I don’t know; it’s long enough ago I don’t remember. Kind of like many French verb conjugations. For some reason, I had to get to Southern California from New Orleans and Texas was in the way. Probably a girl was involved. That’s the way this life seems to work: There’s a girl involved, and Texas is in the way.)

So you can imagine the thrill that ran up and down my spine when I learned that a Texan had leapt into the barnyard brawl that is the Republican presidential-nomination process.

(OK, OK; that was unfair. The GOP nomination process is not a barnyard brawl, and the Republican candidates are all nice, honorable people who, through no fault of their own, seem to reside in a “Leave It to Beaver” rerun. And, in any case, I had no intention of insulting the barnyard animals of the world.)

So now Rick Perry, the governor of Texas who not that long ago mused about Texas seceding from the United States, wants to be president of those same states.

Caused quite a jolt (to use New York magazine’s John Heilemann’s word) in Republican circles, too.

Perry entered the fray on the day Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll, and a few days later, a Rasmussen poll of probable Republican voters found 29 percent backed Perry, versus 18 percent for Mitt Romney (who never met a flip he couldn’t flop, or maybe it’s vice versa) and 13 percent for Bachmann. I guess straw polls are made of straw.

Perry, apparently, is the new darling of conservatives. He’s got better hair than Romney and holds many of the same positions as Bachmann, only with a cowboy swagger.

He poo-poos global climate change — no surprise from an oil-state guy. Of course, Republicans in general — though not Jon Huntsman — treat science as if it were a buffet from which they can pick and choose. Theory of gravity — sure, we’ll accept that. Theory of evolution — not so fast.

So Perry, no gasping surprising here, given his general intellectual tenor, derides evolution, declaring that there are “gaps” in evolution.

Well, if the governor wants to spot gaps in evolution, maybe he should look in the mirror.

And then there was the little matter of Perry accusing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke of treason if the latter had the Fed print more money. As Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for the Washington Post (yes, Virginia, conservatives do exist at the Post; and she even lives in Virginia) writes, “A Republican insider on Capitol Hill (no Bush affiliation and no preference for any campaign) disgustedly told me, ‘The guy who threatened secession is now calling someone else treasonous? Hello, pot, it’s me, kettle.’ ”

Perry is counting on the so-called “Texas miracle” to buoy his campaign — you know, under his governorship, Texas prospered while the rest of the country went down the economic toilet. But as many observers have pointed out, when examined a bit closely, the Texas miracle looks more like a west Texas mirage.

The Texas unemployment rate is 8.2 percent — much more, say than that of ultra-liberal Massachusetts. And Massachusetts has nearly universal health insurance. Texas leads the nation with 25 percent of its population uninsured.

So I, for one, am ecstatic that Perry has flung his cowboy hat into the ring. The Bachmann joke was growing stale, and Perry brings back those fond memories I have of spending half my life driving across west Texas.

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