Texas Gov. Rick Perry is pandering to the far-right conservative fringe when he refuses to say whether he believes President Barack Obama was born in the United States.
At a news conference this week after he’s introduced a major economic plan, the GOP presidential candidate wouldn’t answer a reporter’s direct question about whether he believed the president was born in the United States. Obama’s birth certificate shows he was born in Hawaii.
Perry said the question was a distraction without acknowledging his role in fueling the distraction, including offering to release his own birth certificate.
The question comes on the heels of Perry’s interview with CNBC and the New York Times in which he said the birth certificate question was “a good issue to keep alive.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Perry was asked directly “Why did you choose to keep the birther issue alive?”
Perry response was revealing.
“It’s a good issue to keep alive. You know, Donald (Trump) has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke him a little and say “Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.” I don’t have a clue about where the president — and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it.”
However, if Perry wants to be viewed as a serious candidate he should not be emulate the likes of Donald Trump.
Some Republican leaders, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have criticized Perry’s birther comments as a needless distraction.
Perry is wrong to pander to the far right by raising the birther issue. Republican candidates should clearly and categorically reject the notion that Obama was not born in the United States.
Rick Perry, the current Governor of Texas and GOP Presidential front-runner is losing the prestige battle. When he entered the race in August, he bolted to prestige level because he appeared to be strong from a fundraising and policy perspective. With the recent Federal Election Commission reports showing that Governor Perry raised more than $15 million dollars in less than six weeks is still quite impressive, his command on policy issues has been less than stellar.
Consider the last three debates that Governor Perry has participated in — almost every political observer would agree Perry did not do well in any of them. In fact, many reporters and party organizers alike were amazed by Perry’s canned responses to some of the most basic questions and his inability to aggressively define himself and others as frontrunners have to do.
Some Members of Congress who have endorsed Governor Perry’s candidacy are becoming very nervous and wondering aloud if they backed the wrong horse in this race. Others are standing by Governor Perry’s weakened campaign. The first Member of Congress who endorsed Perry’s campaign Congressman Michael McCaul from Texas does not have any doubts that he can turn it around, “I’ve known him for a long time — he’s a friend of mine — and I know he’s taking a little bit of a hit in the polls recently, but you know, in politics it’s a long time between now and the election,” he said. “You go through a lot of political lives in elections, and I still think he’s a very strong candidate, and he’s got a very good shot at being the nominee. I think he’s going to have a comeback.”
Some debate watchers and rank and file Republicans are not so sure. At two recent debates when Perry was asked about his near amnesty proposal for illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico and granting them a state funded college education (the Texas version of the DREAM ACT), he was booed — by Republicans. McCaul went on to say that, “It’s [meaning Perry’s stance on immigration] a tough one in the Republican primary. The question is how fatal is that going to be? I think he can recover, but there’s no question that it’s a hit,” McCaul added. “He’s got to get off that topic and move to what he’s done for border security, and he’s done a lot.”
Another Republican member of Congress, Louie Gohmert said the immigration issue might cost Perry endorsements in Congress.
“I know there were a number of Members who were trying to decide whether to back Perry or [Mitt] Romney or whoever, and after Gov. Perry said, ‘If you don’t support this position, you don’t have a heart,’ I’ve had more than a couple of people say, ‘When I heard that, I can’t support him,’” said Gohmert, who has not endorsed anyone yet in the GOP Primary.
In many ways, Perry’s debate performances show just how green he is on the national stage, for the unfortunate truth is that for as long as he has been governor — nearly 13 years — he has never been challenged by the Texas state media corps nor has he ever had a rigorous debate challenge. In other words, he’s learning how to be a presidential candidate while actually being a presidential candidate. To be fair, other candidates running for president have been in the same predicament: Obama, Kennedy, Ford and Eisenhower — but with the advent of new media, running for the office while learning to be a good candidate is a hard thing to do. Can Perry do it? Of course he can. Is he running out of time to learn the art of the balance? Yes, his window is closing faster than you think. Stay tuned.
Elections do have consequences. After losing the popular vote for the fifth time in the past six presidential elections, I expected to see Republicans make some changes or risk following the dinosaur and the dodo on the path to extinction.
But even I have been surprised to see so many changes so soon, beginning with the Grand Old Party's brand new vigor for making new amigos with Hispanic voters.
For the first time since the collapse of President George W. Bush's bipartisan immigration-reform effort in 2007, a genuine debate over immigration is re-emerging within the GOP. The debate stalled primarily over Bush's proposed "pathway to citizenship" to bring the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally out of the shadows. To the right wing, "pathway to citizenship" has been the same as "amnesty for lawbreakers." They wanted to "secure the borders" first, and then maybe, just maybe, they would talk about amnesty.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign imploded partly because Mitt Romney and some of his other primary opponents pounced on his humane and realistic policy of extending in-state college enrollment benefits to undocumented immigrants. Arguments like that, as well as Romney's odd suggestion that illegal immigrants might "self-deport" under his presidency, help to explain why Bush received 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, compared to Romney's 29 percent in November.
If Romney had received the same percentage of the Hispanic vote as Bush, we'd be calling him President-Elect Romney now. It was appropriate in that light for the former president to help get a new debate rolling with a recent speech in Dallas. Bush called for Republicans to embrace a "benevolent spirit" when writing national labor and immigration policy, sounding themes he has promoted since the beginning of his presidency.
Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas pushed the ball further down the field with their own version of the Dream Act, a failed bill that would have allowed a path to citizenship for immigrants brought here illegally as children. Their version, called the Achieve Act, would give legal status to undocumented youth but not a pathway to citizenship. Unfortunately, without a path to citizenship, the proposed bill would leave the youngsters in a limbo between neither "illegal" nor citizens, for an indefinite length of time. The Achieve Act needs work, but it's a start.
At least, we appear to be seeing an end, for now, to the can-you-top-this hysteria that produced dangerous legislation like Arizona's "show your papers" law. It requires police to ask people about their immigration status if an officer believes they may be in the country illegally. Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker said as a candidate that he would sign such a law. But he now says he would fight any Arizona-like proposal. A spokesman said Walker changed his mind after doing more research, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It's not hard to believe Romney's vote count had an effect, too.
Will the party's new attitude work? Even Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies and a long time proponent of reduced immigration rates, sees hope for " a common ground on immigration," he wrote in a recent blog, with "amnesty for long-term, deserving illegal aliens in exchange for an end to future mass immigration" after enforcement tools are beefed up.
Yet I think Richard Land, a leading conservative evangelical leader, had the right idea last year when he said fellow Republicans who called the pathway "amnesty" needed to get "a course in remedial English." To get "amnesty," he said, "you've got to have done something wrong. These young people are innocent."
With a more compassionate conservatism like that, Republicans will have a better chance to reach more voters in constituencies that are growing instead of relying on those whose population percentages are shrinking. Today's problems call for a vigorous, innovative debate. For that, we need two healthy parties, at least.
Besides, I've seen what happens when Democrats get too cocky after Republican defeats. They become their own worst enemies, just like Republicans do.
Recently, 400,000 poor and underserved Louisianans, many them people of color, were shut out of potentially life-saving health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
A Louisiana House health committee voted down a measure that would have forced Gov. Bobby Jindal to opt into the Medicaid expansion provision of ACA that is being subsidized by the federal government to cover vulnerable communities. Even more discouraging was the unfortunate reality that the vote was right along party lines. Is it too much to ask to keep partisanship out of our health care? I certainly hope not.
Gov. Jindal made it perfectly clear that he won’t accept federal funding to expand Medicaid. As he appears to be more focused on positioning for his own political future, this is coming at a huge cost to Louisianans.
Louisiana has the second-highest rate of uninsured adults in the country. Many people — especially women and African Americans — in the state lack access to basic health care. In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, 33 do not have a single OB/GYN.
Accepting federal dollars would mean that an estimated 398,000 more hardworking Louisianans would get basic health care when they need it, without facing devastating medical bills.
Medicaid expansion would also have the most positive impact on African Americans in the state; nearly half of those in our community who don’t have health insurance would likely gain coverage. Across the board, the percentage of uninsured in the state could actually drop by as much as 60 percent.
It would also be a huge benefit to the state’s economy. If the state doesn’t accept federal funding, it could actually cost Louisiana’s economy $15.7 billion over the next decade – money that could go to job creation and supporting small businesses, the backbone of our nation’s economy.
There is no doubt that this would be life-changing for many Louisianans. More people would be able to afford preventive health care. They would be able to avoid chronic health problems, costly long-term medical care, and personal bankruptcy — especially among African Americans, who often shoulder the increased cost of health care.
Of course, Louisiana is just one example.
Some politicians in other parts of the country continue to put their own self-interests before the hardworking families in their state. In Texas, for example, Gov. Rick Perry has vowed to block Medicaid expansion. That’s especially disturbing as Texas is the only state in the country that ranks higher than Louisiana in terms of uninsured people.
I write this as someone who understands via experience – not just hypotheses and projections – the fiscal burden many local governments are facing. As the former mayor of New Orleans, a former Louisiana State Senator and current head of the National Urban League, I’ve seen how basic health care can help empower people in underserved communities.
State lawmakers have a unique opportunity to care for more people than ever before, to make their states healthier than ever before and, in the process, save their states millions of dollars. It’s a pity that Louisiana lawmakers seem determined to reject what could be a boon for the state and for its residents who have suffered enough in recent years.
Folks like Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry must act on behalf of the millions of hardworking families across the country that will benefit from this funding, rather than play politics with their health and well-being.
It’s up to lawmakers to lead on these issues, to accept federal aid to expand Medicaid and provide basic health care to millions of women and families. By doing so, they have the potential to transform their states, improve – and save – lives, and reduce taxpayer costs.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.