Whatever else one might say of Rick Perry, he could at times be quite charming. Recall a brief exchange between him and then-Senator Al Franken at the former’s Senate confirmation hearing. Franken greeted Perry: “Thank you so much for coming into my office. Did you enjoy meeting me?” Perry, a mischievous smile emerging upon his lips, quipped back, “I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch!” There was a pause for laughter, or perhaps merely for Franken, a one-time SNL cast member who was struggling to restrain his comedic impulses. Perry concluded with a bon mot worthy of Franken himself, “Well, I think we found our Saturday Night Live soundbite, sir!”
If only he were always so engaging.
Juniors and seniors may remember the 850-word op-ed Perry penned in the Houston Chronicle. In it, the former governor, Class of 1972, fulminated against the electoral process by which Bobby Brooks, Class of 2018, became the first openly-gay student body president. There is something unseemly about a man who would impugn the motives of students 50 years younger than he is. There is something ignominious about leveling that critique in any newspaper other than The Battalion. As a general rule, one should keep family business within the family. Perry, ever the swaggering maverick, instead called out specific students in the press. GQ, The New York Times and The Washington Post all covered the incident, causing one of the more embarrassing episodes in recent A&M history.
It wasn’t as if Perry didn’t have his own issues to deal with at the time either. His column was published just three weeks after he assumed his current role as Energy Secretary, a job for which he was woefully underprepared. According to the New York Times, Perry did not realize when offered the position that the Department of Energy was responsible for maintaining the United States’ nuclear capabilities. Instead of displaying an overbearing concern with the ongoings in Aggieland — his column cited both SGA regulations and the Judicial Court’s official opinion on an electoral controversy — Perry would have better served himself and A&M’s reputation (we have the fifth-best nuclear engineering program in the nation) by boning up on how best to protect the United States’ security interests. Failing that, he could have spent more time forging essential relationships within the DoE. Remember: it was in a 2011 debate that Perry famously flubbed the three federal agencies he would eradicate if president. The DoE was the agency he forgot.
The gaffe sunk his campaign, however Perry made a comeback four years later, this time sporting some new fashion. In fairness, it was a good look for him. With his thick glasses, salt-and-pepper hair, crisp suit and cowboy boots, he looked something like an erudite ranch hand (which, at his inconsistently reached best, he actually was). But whether the country remembered his forgetfulness or had simply moved on, the transformation did not take, and Perry lost the primary to Donald Trump.
In defeat, our boy gave a stirring defense of conservatism, a real barn burner that should have made Aggies — some of the nation’s most conservative students — proud. “He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism,” Perry passionately opined, pounding a fist on the lectern in front of him. “[It is] a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.”
Who doesn’t love consonance? Even this Democrat had to admit the power of that speech. Moreover, one can’t shake the idea that if this were the last we had seen of Perry, it alone would have allowed him to exit politics as something of a respected statesman (his brief stint on Dancing with the Stars notwithstanding). But then Trump dangled the Energy Secretary position in front of him, and like a lapdog, he couldn’t resist.
Unfortunately, despite some of his successes at the DoE (massively reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil comes to mind), his time will be bookended with a worse political mess than when he entered. According to the whistleblower account, it was Perry who urged the president to make the infamous call to Ukraine. Concerning what the Washington press have reported so far, it doesn’t seem that the secretary has done anything illegal. Still, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for the man — this is what happens when you sign onto “a barking carnival act,” one which trades in “a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense.” He has no one to blame but himself.
Now, at long last, Perry has reached his denouement. Recently he made two important announcements. First, that he would soon be leaving his post and returning here, to his home state. Second, that he will not be complying with the House’s subpoena for more information about his role in facilitating the call between Trump and President Zelelnsky.
With his timing, Perry in effect says what Davy Crockett said before him: “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas!”