No, Rick Perry's not a racist say ... Texas Democrats

Worth posting for two reasons. One: It contains one of the most surreal quotes you’ll ever read in a political story. Two: It helps answer a question I’ve had since WaPo’s story broke on Saturday night. Namely, how’d Perry manage 10 years as governor of Texas without the story about his family’s hunting camp coming out?

The apparent answer: Few people back home seriously believe he’s a racist, including the opposition, so maybe no one thought it mattered.

Even some of Perry’s fiercest Texas critics say they do not believe he is racist. They point to his record of appointments as evidence: He appointed the state’s first African-American state supreme court justice, Wallace Jefferson, and later made him chief justice. (Jefferson’s great grandfather was a slave, “sold like a horse,” Perry once said with disgust.) Perry’s former general counsel and former chief of staff, Brian Newby, is black; so is Albert Hawkins, the former Health and Human Services Commissioner who Perry handpicked to lead the massive agency in 2002.

“He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” said former Democratic state Rep. Ron Wilson, who is black and served with Perry in his early years in the Legislature. “He didn’t then, and he doesn’t now.”

Added Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West, who is also black: “I don’t agree with him on policy issues, but you can point to many things he has done that were sensitive to ethnic minorities.”…

“He appointed a black man chief justice of the state Supreme Court, for crying out loud, one of the many high-profile positions he’s given to minorities during his time as governor,” Jason Stanford, a Democratic opposition researcher and author of an upcoming book on Perry, wrote in a weekend blog post. “… If he were an n-bomb dropping cracker, we’d all know.”

He’s appointed more minorities to statewide positions than any governor in Texas history. See also this NYT story quoting two of his friends, one of whom is black, on their trips to the hunting camp with Perry. They never saw the rock with the slur on it and never heard Perry refer to it by that name. Even if you believe, against the evidence, that Perry is so marinated in the legacy of southern racism that he might be inured to a name like “Niggerhead,” would he really be so inured to it as to invite a black friend to hunt there with him with the sign intact? And if you believe he’s as callous as that, where are the other examples of that callousness over the years? We’re in the strange position here of being asked to believe that Perry’s completely tone deaf on matters of race when he goes hunting yet sufficiently attuned to tone everywhere else that black members of the other party feel obliged to come to his aid.

Dave Weigel has a theory on what this is all about:

This brings us back to a frustrating quandary for white Southern Republicans. When Haley Barbour was thinking about running for president, several Republican strategists told me that Barbour had an inherent problem making the case against Barack Obama. It was not that he was racist — no one thought that. It was two things. One: Growing up in the segregated South, but not personally seeing the effect of white racism on blacks, he had a tin ear for things that could be considered racially offensive. Two: More primally, there was a certain awkwardness in the idea of a drawling white Southerner unseating the first black president. Republicans know that many voters were spurred to vote for Obama because his election would, somehow, baptise them clean of racism. These voters had mostly given up on Obama. Give them a stark choice between The First Black President and a good old boy, though, and what would they do? It was a risk.

Right. Barbour looked and sounded like the sort of guy who tormented blacks for centuries in the south, which is viciously unfair to Barbour but remains a political fact of life. Some undecideds, as Weigel suggests, might decide to vote for O over that “sort of guy” to send a message about racial progress. Perry looks and sounds like that “sort of guy” too even though, according to those who’ve known and worked with him for years, he very much isn’t. But this is how narratives are made: If you’ve got a candidate who looks the part, do what you can to make him play the part and low-information voters will draw a conclusion about his character. As Bryan Preston says, “The Post knows all too well how this game is played. The original story will get major play, and while the follow up and its own climbdown will attract less attention, a lot of dust gets stirred up and most of it ends up on the Post’s target, in this case, Perry. What’s left in the mind of those who don’t follow the facts is that Perry is somehow associated with racism.” Exactly. And even if you do follow the facts, you’re left with the electability point that Weigel raises. Even if you know Perry’s not a racist, will undecideds realize it?

Speaking of electability, Romney told Sean Hannity this afternoon that the name of Perry’s hunting camp is “offensive.” Certainly true, but I’m not sure Mitt wants to push too hard on this point. See Greg Pollowitz for why.

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