Rick Perry and the Republican Miracle

RightWatch: When his opponents make the Texas governor look less crazy, something remarkable is happening.


Who says miracles don't happen? One occurred at the Republican presidential debate earlier this week. To wit: making Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- the coyote-shootin', secession-talkin', George Wallace-channelin', global-climate-change denyin', extremist loudmouth -- look less loony than some of his opponents.

If that doesn't qualify as a miracle, what would? I mean, Perry is the kind of guy whose positions put the lunatic in the lunatic fringe! Who could be crazier than he is?

Well, the conservative hard cases who are attacking him from the even more extreme right, such as Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and the nuttier members of the Tea Party. (I'm not even going to mention Ron Paul.) For these crazies, any deviation from the science-averse, history-revising, fact-twisting mythology that they subscribe to is heresy -- which may explain why Perry seemed to compare himself to Galileo in a bizarre moment during a previous debate.

Amazing as it seems, Perry has actually managed to get a couple of issues right during his long tenure as governor. He was right on the so-called Texas Dream Act, a law that he signed in 2001 that allows the children of illegal immigrants who have lived in the state for three years and obtained a GED or high school diploma to pay in-state college tuition. It's a humane and practical approach to the very real problem of knitting these young people into the fabric of American society as productive contributors.

And he was also right in 2007 when he issued an executive order mandating the vaccination of preteen girls against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer and genital warts. Public health experts say that inoculating girls before they become sexually active is the best way to safeguard them from a bug that affects 20 million Americans and is responsible for thousands of deaths that could have been prevented if the vaccine had been available to earlier generations.

Protecting women from such a scourge is the right thing to do and no different than shielding them from polio, measles, smallpox and other plagues for which vaccination is routinely mandated across the U.S. and around the world. Besides, Perry's mandate included a provision allowing parents who had reservations about the vaccine to opt out of the program.

But n-o-o-o! Instead, in a reprise of the strategy House Republicans pursued during the battle over the debt ceiling, they dug in their non-negotiable heels and proclaimed that, for them, it's all or nothing all the time. To them, Perry's uncharacteristic lapses from the most extreme right-wing orthodoxy are worthy of savage attack.

"To have innocent little 12-year-old girls to be forced to have government injections through an executive order is just flat out wrong," Bachmann admonished during the debate, even if those injections might save their lives.

"This is big government run amok," Santorum chimed in.

As for the Texas Dream Act, to Santorum, all it amounted to was an attempt to attract "the illegal vote -- I mean the Latino voters." Added Bachmann, Perry's approach is not only "not the American way" but also, even worse, very similar to a proposed federal law backed by the arch demon, President Barack Hussein Obama.