Former New York Times editorial page editor turned columnist Gail Collins made the front of Sunday Opinion with a (what else?) condescending and stereotype-filled story on Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Texas, rounded out with a cartoon of Perry as a cactus and an undignifying stack of headlines: 'Rick Perry, Uber Texan – Meet the lone wolf of the Lone Star State. To him, Texas has all the answers and Washington is the enemy. Go Aggies!'
Clearly the Times isn't afraid of offending those particular regional sensibilities. Collins opened:
You think of Rick Perry, you think of Texas. And more Texas. Perry the cowboy coyote-killer, the lord of the Texas job-creation machine, the g-dropping glad-hander with a 'howdy' for every stranger in the room. He barely exists in the national mind outside of the Texas connection.
This later line required some gall:
Perry comes to the race with a remarkable lack of national experience and exposure. The only recent equivalent would probably be Sarah Palin, and it's not surprising that Texas and Alaska would produce the people with little frame of reference outside of their home states. Both places are huge, so it's easy for people who live there to think they're in a self-enclosed world. If Texas or Alaska had the population density of New York City, either one could contain every person on the planet, although of course a lot of them would be very uncomfortable.
What was Barack Obama's 'national experience' again?
Rick Perry has never spent any serious time outside of Texas, except for a five-year stint in the military. Nobody sent him off to boarding school to expand his horizons. He grew up in Paint Creek, where he graduated third in a high school class of 13. He went to the most deeply Texas of all the state's major institutions of higher learning. He was a terrible student, but won the prized post of yell leader, the most deeply Texas of all possible Aggie achievements. Then he joined the Air Force and flew transport planes out of Texas, Germany and the Middle East. 'There was no telling what you were going to haul around on any given day, from high-value cargo like human beings to the colonel's kitty litter,' he once told a reporter in Texas.
Having an interest in national government that's mainly limited to disliking it might work fine if you're the governor of a state that has always regarded itself as 'low-tax, low-service' anyway. It's a little more problematic if you're the guy in charge of keeping the dollar stable, the food supply safe and the national defense ready.
We could live with a president who named his boots 'Freedom' and 'Liberty.'
Not sure about one who has contempt for the job he's running for.
In 2008 the Times evaluated the major presidential contenders in a comprehensive continuous series of long articles titled 'The Long Run.' On Sunday the Times devoted what seems to be its first 'Long Run' profile of the 2012 campaign to Perry. Deborah Sontag's front-page profile Monday, the paper's official welcoming of Perry to the campaign, 'Paint Creek, the Town Perry Left Behind,' was lukewarm at best and hostile at times.
People here in Haskell County do understand Mr. Perry in a way few can, seeing the spirited, mischievous child in the brash, ambitious politician and recognizing how far this son of a dry-land cotton farmer has already traveled from a county with one stoplight.
But they also know that this town 'too small to have a ZIP code,' in Mr. Perry's words, propelled a restless farm boy whose disciplinarian father was a local power broker into a life of politics that fed off his roots while he moved beyond them and, some say, betrayed them.
Many in itty-bitty Paint Creek, with its 259 registered voters, are proud and protective of Mr. Perry, the ardent Eagle Scout and scrappy athlete dubbed 'most popular' and 'Future Homemakers of America Beau' by his class of 13.
But others here will never forgive Mr. Perry for switching to the Republican Party five years after they elected him as a Democrat to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984. And they are leery now of seeing Haskell County, with its graying population, ailing economy and drought-parched landscape, used as a bucolic backdrop for his self-promotion.
Mr. Overton, 72, the late scoutmaster's son, said the young Rick loved to play pranks and push limits. One winter night when he was 11, he sneaked into the Overtons's yard to fish for crawdads with his friend Bob Earles.
'I caught them and told them they'd catch their death of cold,' Mr. Overton said. 'Rick said, 'Well, I'm not going to catch pneumonia because I got my underwear on, but Bob here is naked.' '
Consulted for Mr. Perry's scouting book, Mr. Overton said he enjoyed its reminiscences and its acknowledgment of his father. But he rolled his eyes at the governor's depiction of a 'war on the Scouts' being waged by atheists and 'activist homosexuals.'
'I think there are a lot of good men who can't be scoutmasters because they are gay,' Mr. Overton said, adding that he would not vote for Mr. Perry for president despite their personal ties.
About the time that Mr. Perry graduated from high school, his father was elected county commissioner and held on to the post for 28 years. Mr. Perry wrote in his book that his great-great-grandfather was county judge and that public service - some here call it a thirst for power and a steady salary - runs in the family.