One year ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) committed the genuinely daring act of endorsing a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution to declare much of the last century of American progress unconstitutional. In his book Fed Up! and a series of speeches, Perry claimed Medicare and Social Security both violate the Constitution. He questioned the constitutional underpinnings of essential laws such as the minimum wage or child labor laws. And he demanded that the federal government eliminate its role in ensuring that all Americans have access to a quality education.
Perry admission that he holds these radical beliefs showed serious audacity, but Perry is also an ambitious politician who doubtless read the Tea Party’s tea leaves and determined that it was in his political interest to come out as a tenther. Now that his campaign has run seriously off the rails, however, even Perry appears to recognize that outing himself as a tenther was not such a good way to advance his political career. Although Perry’s recently released economic plan would unquestionably be the most radical assault on America’s social safety net in nearly a century if it ever became law, it is also strangely moderate compared to Perry’s previous stance that Medicare, Social Security, and much of our educational infrastructure must be eliminated entirely because they are unconstitutional:
- Social Security: As Travis Waldron reported yesterday, Perry’s new position on Social Security is a George W. Bush-esque proposal to turn millions of Americans’ retirement funds over to Wall Street through privatization. This is a dangerous and radical idea, but it is a far cry from Perry’s original position that the very idea of providing Social Security to America’s seniors is an “assault” on the Constitution itself.
- Medicare: Perry also supports a number of terrible Medicare proposals, including a Paul Ryan-style plan to voucherize Medicare, “gradually raising the age of Medicare eligibility,” and reducing benefits for many seniors. These proposals could potentially phase out Medicare over time depending on how closely they map Ryan’s subtle plan to gradually eliminate Medicare. Nevertheless, Perry’s new willingness to allow something that vaguely resembles Medicare to continue to exist is a step back from his previous claim that Medicare “eroded our founding fathers’ boundaries that they had put upon the federal government.”
- Education: Perry also proposes cutting $25 billion in federal education funds — or about half of all funding for elementary and secondary education programs. This new position is only about 50 percent as radical as his previous statement that “I don’t think the federal government has a role in your children’s education.”
Let’s be absolutely clear. Perry’s proposals would be a disaster for the millions of Americans struggling to get by in a terrible economy. Worse, they directly target the most vulnerable Americans — seniors who have left the workforce and children who are still obtaining the skills they need to provide for themselves in the future. But compared to his previous view that nearly the entire Twentieth Century violates the Constitution, his new positions are quite a step back. Three months ago, Rick Perry was the most prominent and outspoken tenther in the country. Today, even Perry understands that outspoken tentherism is toxic.