Rick Perry had the commentariat hyperventilating yesterday, and not without reason, after an appearance in Iowa. Perry told a Cedar Rapids crowd that any attempt by the Federal Reserve to implement an extraordinary stimulus — ie, a QE3 or “printing money” — before the election would be “almost treasonous.” Perry warned that Texas would treat Fed chair Ben Bernanke “pretty ugly” if he visited the Lone Star State after such a move:
According to a video appearing on the left-leading website Think Progress, a reporter asked Perry what he would do about the Federal Reserve.
Standing next to a “Perry President” sign, the governor replied, “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”
“I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history, is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion,” he added.
This wasn’t a good moment for Perry, but it will be a useful one. He’s campaigning nationally now, not just in Texas, and that takes a different tone. The “pretty ugly” part of the comment is being hyped as a threat of violence, but that’s stretching the argument to the breaking point. “Pretty ugly” can mean a lot of things; it’s entirely ambiguous except that it expresses negativity.
Invoking treason is another matter. People toss that word around irresponsibly, but it has specific legal definitions, none of which has to do with changes in Fed monetary policy whether or not it helps an incumbent American President. A QE3 would be bad for the US, but politicians and bureaucrats implement bad policy without committing treason all the time (a lot more frequently these days, unfortunately). Those competing for the opportunity to lead the nation should demonstrate that leadership by eschewing cheap demagoguery in favor of better arguments. For instance, in this case it might be better to warn the Fed that any attempt to interfere with the political process through monetary policy will mean even closer political scrutiny of the Fed after the election, which is not just a legitimate point but also perhaps not a bad idea.
Perry needs to learn a lesson from this experience. It’s good to offer red meat to the base, but it’s bad to let yourself get caught up in the feeding frenzy.
Having said that, perhaps the same press that caught the vapors from Perry’s intemperate remarks yesterday might want to report on the remarks of the Vice President comparing the administration’s Congressional opposition to “terrorists”. Some of those screeching the loudest yesterday were among the quietest earlier this month.