Washington - In theory, Democrats should be nervous about Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to enter the presidential race. In practice, though, it's Republicans who have zoomed up the anxiety ladder into freak-out mode.
To clarify, not all Republicans are reaching for the Xanax, just those who believe the party has to appeal to centrist independents if it hopes to defeat President Obama next year. Also, those who believe that calling Social Security "an illegal Ponzi scheme" and suggesting that Medicare is unconstitutional might not be the best way to win the votes of senior citizens.
These and other wild-eyed views are set out in Perry's book "Fed Up!" His campaign has already begun trying to distance the governor from his words, with communications director Ray Sullivan saying last week that the book "is a look back, not a path forward" -- that "Fed Up!" was intended "as a review and critique of 50 years of federal excesses, not in any way as a 2012 campaign blueprint or manifesto."
One problem with this attempted explanation is that the book was published way back in ... the fall of 2010. It's reasonable to assume that if Perry held a bunch of radical, loony views less than a year ago, he holds them today.
Another problem is that as recently as Aug. 14, according to The Wall Street Journal, Perry responded to an Iowa voter who asked how he would fix entitlement programs by saying, "Have you read my book, 'Fed Up!'? Get a copy and read it."
But Perry doesn't give us time to plow through his tome, what with his frequent newsmaking forays onto the rhetorical fringe. He had barely been in the race for 48 hours when he announced it would be "treasonous" for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to increase the money supply before the 2012 election. If Bernanke did so, Perry said, "we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas."
The outburst allowed Ron Paul, who has spent years calling for the Fed to be abolished, to say of Perry: "He makes me look like a moderate."
Perry made no attempt to disavow his remarks about Bernanke. Whatever his campaign staff might wish, the candidate apparently does not warm to the task of disavowal.
Soon Perry moved on to the science of climate change, which "Fed Up!" dismisses as a "contrived phony mess." Perry told an audience in New Hampshire that "a substantial number of scientists" have acted in bad faith, manipulating data "so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects." Perry added that "we're seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change."
None of that is true. There is overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that human activity -- especially the burning of fossil fuels -- is contributing to climate change. Multiple investigations have found no evidence of fraud or manipulation of data. Unless Perry is ready to publish fundamental new insights into physical and chemical processes at the molecular level, his swaggering stance against climate science is all hat and no cattle.
"The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem," candidate Jon Huntsman said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" -- a declaration that makes me wonder how familiar Huntsman is with the political organization he seeks to lead.
Also in his first week of campaigning, Perry suggested that the military doesn't respect Obama as commander in chief -- and, when asked whether he believes Obama loves America, told a reporter that "you need to ask him." This is music to the ears of the hate-Obama crowd on the far right. But mainstream voters, whether they support Obama's policies or not, generally like the president, do not question his patriotism and want him to succeed.
"I think when you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party," Huntsman said of Perry, "you make yourself unelectable."
He's correct. But maybe we shouldn't take his word for it, or Ron Paul's word -- after all, they're Perry's opponents. Maybe we also shouldn't take the word of Karl Rove, who called Perry's remarks "unpresidential," since Texas apparently isn't big enough for both the George W. Bush camp and the Rick Perry camp to coexist without feuding.
Suffice it to note that two weeks ago, GOP luminaries were scrambling to find new candidates. And now, after Perry's debut? Still scrambling, I'm afraid.