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Rick Perry’s Serious Unforced Error

Today in Iowa, Rick Perry was asked about the Federal Reserve and, in a halting 45-second answer, went off on chairman Ben Bernanke: “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost teacherous…treasonous in my opinion.” The clip is here.  Liberals on Twitter exploded immediately in outrage after Think Progress posted it, with the economist Nouriel Roubini actually comparing Perry to the Norwegian mass murderer and saying he should be put in a mental institution.

I think it’s pretty clear from the clip that Perry was trying to play folksy straight-talkin’ populist guy while taking up a complicated issue, using colorful dirt-kicker language to connect to his al-fresco audience as he might in his home town of Paint Creek. And in the early going on Twitter, I suggested the harrumphers were knowingly making a mountain out of a molehill to bring him down a notch. I was wrong.

He’s trying to be the next president, and he needs to be judged on that standard. What Perry did was make a thoughtless blunder, an unforced error; we’re now going to spend a couple of days discussing whether he was summoning violence on Ben Bernanke’s head or not, which is of absolutely no use to Perry. He is, or was, moments away from becoming the race’s frontrunner, and what is in his interest is to harness the excitement of his late entry with qualities of leadership and control that will rally the majority of Republicans unhappy with the choices facing them to his side. Rick Perry made that more difficult today; this was a serious rookie mistake on the national stage.

Taking up the issue of the Fed’s behavior is entirely legitimate. Many think the Fed’s loose-money policy has been, at worst, ineffectual; others are more worried about it and fearful of a third round of money printing. And it’s not an outre wild-man idea at all; Bill Kristol and I share a friend, a prominent businessman and investor of unimpeachable reputation, whose eloquent thoughts about what he believes to be Bernanke’s gross irresponsibility can be read here. But if Perry is going to talk about these things, he needs to do it with care and not like a caller to a radio show.


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