‘Fed Up!’ may come back to haunt Perry

Gay marriage among issues on which he’s backed away from book

WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press

AUSTIN — Maybe Rick Perry’s not so Fed Up! after all.

Just nine months ago, the Texas governor released a rhetorical bomb-throwing book under that title. He dismissed Social Security as a New Deal relic that smacked of socialism. He said states’ rights trump all else. He suggested that the Supreme Court’s nine unelected “oligarchs in robes” could have their rulings overturned by two-thirds votes in both houses of Congress.

Now that the Republican is running for president, his campaign has begun distancing itself from some of the candidate’s own words on issues such as Social Security and states’ rights.

Pulling back won’t be easy because Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington is anything but the nuanced list of general positions that fills the pages of most presidential candidates’ books.

Politicians “typically don’t take strong positions. They are largely biographical and usually not specific at all,” said Adam Bellow, editorial director of Broadside Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, who edited Sarah Palin’s two books. “It is unusual,” Bellow said of Fed Up!, “but we are in an unusual moment.”

Perry, who’s shot to the top of many public opinion polls among the GOP contenders, hasn’t shied away from bashing Social Security. Last month in Iowa, he said the program “is a Ponzi scheme for these young people.” Later, he told reporters, “I haven’t backed off anything in my book. So read the book again and get it right.”

Campaign spokesman Mark Miner said “no one can argue that Social Security isn’t broken.”

“The goal was to put these issues on the table and ensure they’re addressed,” Miner said.

But, in his book, Perry goes well beyond criticizing the program’s financing problems and vilifies the entire concept as a failed social experiment.

“Like a bad disease,” he wrote, New Deal-era initiatives have spread. “By far the best example of this is Social Security.” The program “is something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now.”

Already, Perry communications director Ray Sullivan was reported as saying that the book is not meant to reflect Perry’s current views on Social Security — even though Fed Up was published just last year.

While skewering the program might help Perry with tea party supporters, it could cost him with elderly voters in Florida and other important states were he to win the nomination, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

“He definitely needs to cut back on the volatile rhetoric and couch his words more carefully or they can come back to haunt him,” O’Connell said.

Polling by the Pew Research Center in June found that 87 percent of Americans see Social Security as good for the country. “The views of the public are, it’s overwhelmingly positive,” said Carroll Doherty, the Pew Research Center’s associate director.

Perry’s GOP rivals are expected to use the book against him, emphasizing the idea that he might be too extreme for independent voters.

“This year, Republicans believe that losing the election means losing the country,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who has worked for Perry opponents but is now unaligned.

“Any candidate who displays general election weakness, because his radical views scared seniors, independents, or soccer moms, would be disqualified in the GOP nomination process. A vote for such a candidate in a primary would be seen as a vote for Obama in the general.”

Already, Perry has pulled back from his unequivocal position on states’ rights.

In Fed Up! he writes, “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas. If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.” Elaborating in July about New York’s decision to allow same-sex marriage, he said, “that’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me.”

Perry has since clarified that he’s against gay marriage anywhere, and last month signed a pledge that, if elected, he would back a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, which would preclude a state’s choice.

He devotes an entire chapter to lambasting the Supreme Court, anticipating that the justices one day issue a ruling forcing nationwide gay marriage on the country. As a check on judicial power, he proposes allowing Congress to override the high court with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

“While ideas like that may sound very cogent to Perry, he may have a real problem explaining them,” GOP strategist O’Connell said.

The governor has long known his book could be problematic in a national campaign. As the polls closed on election day 2010, giving Perry his third full term as governor, he told The Associated Press that Fed Up! proved he was too conservative to seek the White House.

“I think probably the best display, the best concrete evidence that I’m really not running for president is this book,” Perry said, “because when you read this book, you’re going to see me talking about issues that for someone running for public office, it’s kind of been the third rail, if you will.”

—  John Wright

Power of the pyramid

Kitchen Dog debuts ‘Ponzi,’ a financial horror story

NOUVEAU POOR | An heiress (Christina Vela, left) flirts with a man (Max Hartman) and his wife (Diane Casey-Box) in the economic meltdown play ‘Ponzi.” (Photo by Matt Mrozek)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

PONZI
The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through June 25. $15–$25.
KitchenDogTheater.org.

…………………….

“The rich are different from you and me,” Scott Fitzgerald waxed, to which Hemingway allegedly responded, “Yes — they have more money.” But they are different. Money is never a big deal to people who have it, so they stand above it all. They don’t talk about how much they have, or how much things cost because, at some point, what difference does it make? If you don’t have to work to earn it, its value is fungible.

Then again, losing money — losing a great deal of it — is something everyone can understand. It becomes a source of ego, of pride. How would you feel if you pissed away $20 mil you didn’t deserve in the first place?

That is the situation posed to Catherine (Christina Vela), the regal heiress in Ponzi, the world premiere mainstage production at Kitchen Dog Theater’s New Works Festival. Catherine’s father was a legendary up-from-his-bootstraps self-made man who left Catherine two things: A solid fiscal philosophy and millions in cash to execute it.

She’s honored him by not being as showy and shallow as Allison (Diane Casey-Box), the quintessential nouveau riche Real Housewife, a woman with more cents than sense. Allison and hubby Bryce (Max Hartman) are enraptured by the get-rich-quick scheme of a flashy money manager, and their enthusiasm — plus Bryce’s unabashed flirtation with Catherine, driven in part by his lust for her balance sheet — leads to a series of bad mistakes.

Ponzi should frighten you more than it does, the way the Oscar winning documentary Inside Job did. There’s so much techno-talk — about the gold standard, how Social Security is a classic example of a Ponzi scheme that no one will touch, about how greed feeds pyramid schemes, about the lemming mentality that can cause sensible people to behave irrationally — that it needs to chill you. Like the financial meltdown, it’s not that some people didn’t see it coming; it’s that none of these so-called experts had any idea how reckless they were being. (The use of tarot cards to emphasize the randomness of life and fortune is a witty touch.)

Such horror is a ripe fruit that playwright Elaine Romero should have picked. Instead, she removes some of the universality of the tale by making it so specific to these characters.

That’s not entirely a bad thing. Instead of getting lost in the esoterica of money, she concentrates on the personality traits that drive people to make bad decisions. An undercurrent of sexual tension — between Catherine and Bryce, but just as electric (though more subtly expressed) between Catherine and Allison — makes the seductive power of the purse all the more visceral. Money is the new toy — and it’s a sex toy, at that.

Casey-Box plays the betrayed wife better than just about any actress in town; she’s always quick to turn on the ravenously uncensored switch in her characters’ brains, the one that makes people both pitiable and annoying. It’s delicious fun to watch. Vela is good as Catherine, but her final arc strikes a false note; it seems literary, not realistic.

Even still, the actors ply all these twists in one the KDT’s best-looking plays in years, with lush costumes from Tina Parker and a sleek set by Bryan Wofford. Amid such glam, the seduction of money begins to work on us, too. Maybe more is more, even if we hate to admit it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens