Today’s New York Times piece on Rick Perry’s states’ rights stance makes much of the fact that Perry has from time to time accepted federal grant money for Texas, despite sometimes ostentatiously turning down such aid, and despite the fact that some conservative governors have sometimes rejected some aid of a type that Perry has sometimes accepted. The Times seems to think it’s hit on major hypocrisy here, but it hasn’t. Perry himself tells us in his book, Fed Up!, that governors like him are in a trap when it comes to accepting federal money.
For one thing, that money comes from taxpayers in their own state. To reject it is to deprive the public of services they’ve paid for. A governor who turns down federal money is also sure to be slammed as a heartless fool by political opponents. On the other hand, taking federal money often forces acceptance of regulations and conditions a state doesn’t want. It’s a no-win situation, and Perry makes it clear that you go different ways at different times, depending on the particulars of a given program and the needs of your state. Toward the end of his book, Perry calls for states to reject federal money more often, but also concedes that this will not always be possible. (For more on Perry’s views, go here.)
As a front page hit piece on Perry’s states’ rights stance, the Times’ effort fails to impress. It is notably different, of course, from the paper’s glowing and credulous 2008 portrayal of Obama’s political rise in Chicago as a “pragmatist.” Of course, Obama is and was a pragmatist, although on behalf of very left-leaning political goals. Obama eschewed the harsh rhetoric and the most extreme ideas of even his close political colleagues, like Reverend Wright. Yet broadly speaking, Obama shared the hard-leftism of his radical Chicago colleagues, along with the pragmatic tactics of the most sophisticated of those colleagues — the ones who trained him. Alinsky, after all, called himself both a radical and a pragmatist. The Times gave only the barest hint of this side of Obama in 2008, and always interpreted the tensions between leftism and pragmatism in his record to resolve in favor of pragmatism.
With Perry, on the other hand, the Times takes tensions Perry himself has already forthrightly acknowledged and thoughtfully discussed and treats them as newly discovered hypocrisies. True, the Times briefly quotes a Perry spokesman in the governor’s defense, but the reader is never presented with Perry’s core explanation of why his periodic acceptance of federal funds is both justified and necessary, even as he must at other times bite the bullet and turn federal funds down. The Times is also careful to convey the charges of Perry’s harshest local and national critics, when in 2008 it did little to put forward the case being made by critics of Obama.
So what could have been a glowingly positive article on Perry’s struggles with an overweening federal government (in the spirit of the Times’ 2008 coverage of Obama) becomes a thinly veiled hit-piece about supposed hypocrisy instead. Fine. We all know where the Times is coming from. But readers should understand that Perry himself gives an instructive and persuasive explanation for his handling of federal dollars, even if the Times will not.