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The Rick Perry Book List

Another Mother Jones piece, in which the author tries to divine Rick Perry’s character through the medium of books the Texas governor has read. What particularly caught my eye is that MJ uses National Review as a source in one of their reviews (emphasis mine):

The Five Thousand Year Leap: 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World, by W. Cleon Skousen: Since Glenn Beck dusted it off, wrote a new foreword, and promoted it heavily in 2009, Skousen’s treatise on the Constitution and the faith of our founders has become required reading on the far right. Skousen, whom the conservative National Review once described as an “all-around nutjob,” argued that the Constitution was a direct descendant of Anglo-Saxon Common Law, which in turn was a descendant of the governing system of the ancient Israelites, which in turn came directly from God. To tie it all together, he floats the debunked theory that the Anglo-Saxons were themselves a (very) lost tribe of Israel.

For those looking to more fully understand the roots of Perry’s brand of federalism, The Five Thousand Year Leap is a handy starting point: Skousen views the 17th Amendment, allowing for the direct election of senators, as a crushing blow to the balance between state and federal power—a position trumpeted by Perry in Fed Up! Regulatory agencies like the EPA, which Perry reviles, are treated as the exclusive domain of the states. Even national parks come under scrutiny from Skousen, who believes they lack constitutional standing. It’s a minimalist approach to the Constitution that’s radical even by the standards of todays conservatives; in another book, The Making of America, Skousen holds up the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford as a model of conservative jurisprudence. (The book was actually pulled from public schools in California due to its backwards views on race.)

Above all else, Skousen writes, America is a Christian nation, biblically rooted. As Perry told the Values Voters Summit in 2009 while discussing The Five Thousand Year Leap, “He asserts that natural law, God’s law, is the basis of our nation’s laws.” And it is God’s law that will guide us back to prosperity.

This wasn’t a National Review editorial. To attribute the statement to the magazine is a mistake. The quote above is from a piece Mark Hemingway wrote for NRO in 2007 about Mitt Romney’s ties to Skousen.

I emailed Mark about this, and here is his response:

I did call Skousen and “all-around nut-job,” but I meant that largely in relation to personal issues — such as his paranoia, and his rather unfortunate statements on racial issues.

But to elide quickly from a throw away comment on Skousen’s more regrettable personal characteristics, to suggesting that Perry is similarly nuts because say, like Skousen, Perry doesn’t like the 17th amendment is highly disingenuous. Not favoring the direct election of Senators doesn’t make one a nut-job, it places you squarely in agreement with the original authors of the constitution.

Note that in the same article, I was discussing Skousen’s relationship with his old BYU student, Mitt Romney. I did note the following, regarding guilt-by-Skousen-association:

In Romney’s defense, if one were to dismiss every major Democratic contender based on the fact that they were once close to or, heck, currently have on staff a former Sixties radical — be it a Black Panther, member of the Weather Underground, or Cleon Skousen-approved Commie — the DNC would have to recruit candidates in Never Never Land.

I sincerely doubt that Mitt Romney believes anything near as outlandish as many of the things Cleon Skousen espoused, and to be fair Skousen wrote on numerous topics with wildly varying degrees of intellectual sobriety. In fact, as the radio host in the YouTube video notes, Skousen’s writings on original intent and the U.S. Constitution in The Making of America are compellingly argued, and to this day are often cited by conservatives unaware of Skousen’s more checkered writings. Further, Skousen’s scriptural commentaries are still very popular well-regarded within the relatively unradical world of mainstream Mormonism, insofar as Mormon theology can be considered unradical.

This also applies to Perry. Also note that this is approximately the 4,062nd piece to cite this piece in a ham-handed way. At least Mother Jones, to their credit, linked back to the original source. I hope some people read the piece in full before passing final judgment on Skousen, let alone the fact that Perry read one of his books.

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