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.”