Rick Perry, US President?

As Perry signals his presidential intent, some say he’s just “too Texan” to make it.

Rural Paint Creek boy; devout Christian; the man who has sanctioned a record 232 executions. There are many ways to describe former-Democrat-turned-Republican Rick Perry, the Texan governor who this weekend is expected to announce his bid for the American presidency.

Until recently, the 61-year-old has consistently denied suggestions that the presidential role held any interest for him. However, Perry's imminent travel itinerary -- which takes him through key primary states in the coming days -- has sparked widespread assertion that the Texan is set to be a Republican candidate by next week.

In an interview for Time magazine, Mark Halperin asked Perry about the presidential nominations:

MH: Is there an open question as to whether you want to run for President?

RP: We're having that conversation. I mean, you and I having this conversation has answered that question.

MH: About whether you want to run?

RP: Sure. I mean I wouldn't be this far into the process... The issue of, "is this what I want to do?" was dealt with about 45 days ago in a conversation with my wife. Prior to that, no. Being the President of the United States was not on my radar screen from the standpoint of something I wanted to do.

The governor is certainly hitting the headlines. Last weekend, the man known as "Ricky Perry" as a boy in provincial America led a 30,000-strong prayer rally in which he painted a picture of a broken America in desperate need of healing:

Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discard at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government and as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us. And for that we cry out for your forgiveness.

The Texan was met with whoops of "Amen" and loud applause at the end of his religious address. To his supporters at least, the US financial crisis helped give added resonance to his pitch. Cynics, on the other hand, might view the prayer as an overt attempt to capture the US evangelical vote by a man who has never shied away from interweaving politics and economics with religion.

Fortunately for Perry, certain aspects of the Texan economy - let's put aside some of the highest poverty rates in America, amongst other things, for a moment - are in his favour. In contrast to the incredibly volatile national economy for example, Texas is currently undergoing significant growth and job creation. The Republican's radical austerity measures -- which include significant cuts to Texan health and education services -- may well pose difficulties for winning votes but such practices will no doubt be easier to legitimise when serious concern over US debt is so prevalent.

However, Perry still has some important hurdles to clear. While the religious vote plays in his favour, those not attracted by overt religion may struggle to disassociate his fervent Christian beliefs from his political ones. Likewise, the Left may well struggle to accept Perry's conservative views on the economy and society: let it not be forgotten that this is a man who embraced the Tea Party movement very early on.

Economics aside, perhaps it comes down to good old-fashioned history, as Toby Harnden suggests when he writes that, post-Bush, perhaps Ricky Perry is just "too Texan" to win a general election.

 

Tess Riley is a freelance journalist and social justice campaigner. She also works, part time, for Streetbank, and can be found on Twitter at @tess_riley

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I am an immigrant – and I believe “migrant” is a far from neutral term

 A seemingly neutral term like "migrant" is so potentially pernicious because we don’t take the kind of care we should in assessing its effect on us.

I am an immigrant. I came to the UK 20 years ago from the US to teach philosophy at the University of Sheffield, where I am now a professor. My American accent remains very strong. I used to be surprised when, despite hearing me speak, people would express anti-immigration sentiments to me, with a clear expectation of agreement. I would tell them that I am an immigrant. “I don’t mean you”, they’d respond, surprised that I count myself as an immigrant.

This shows that seemingly neutral words – like "immigrant" – are not always used in a neutral way. The supposedly neutral word "migrant" is increasingly used by the media to describe the large numbers of desperate people travelling into and across Europe, fleeing war and persecution.

But this use has recently come under attack.

To some, this attack is baffling. A migrant is just a person who migrates, surely, and these people are migrating. What can be wrong with this truthful description? One thing that might be wrong with it, however, is that, according to the UN, that’s not what a migrant is:

The term 'migrant'… should be understood as covering all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for reasons of 'personal convenience' and without intervention of an external compelling factor.

While maybe among the desperate risking their lives to escape places like Syria and Afghanistan, there is a person or two who has joined them for reasons of “convenience”, these people are surely vanishingly rare. According to the UN, then, it is simply factually wrong to call these people migrants.

But why, a more compelling objection goes, should we even care about language? People are dying and need help, and there goes the left again worrying about words. The reason to care about language is that the language we deliberate in shapes our deliberations. We’d see this without hesitation if racial slurs were being used to describe these people. And few people of good will would defend Katie Hopkins’ use of the term "cockroach". We know all too well how such clearly dehumanising words help put in place patterns of thought that make genocide possible. But "migrant"? "Migrant" is not a slur. 

Those who study the intersection of language and politics, however, have become increasingly aware that terms that seem innocent, like "migrant", can do some of the worst damage. This is because we are not aware of the ways that they are affecting our thought. Almost all of us, below our consciousness, are prone to ugly biases that we would reject if we were conscious of them. We see this in studies showing that people presented with the same CV judge it to be less attractive if the name at the top is a typically black one.

Apparently innocent words can come to function as dogwhistles, speaking to our unconscious in ways that our egalitarian conscious selves would reject if only we realised what was going on.

In America, the apparently race-neutral term "welfare" has come to be so strongly associated with black people that attitudes to any policy described using this term correlate with racial attitudes. Fascinatingly, adding an explicit reference to race removes this effect – if it’s too obvious, our conscious egalitarian selves step in. And this is why a seemingly neutral term like "migrant" is so potentially pernicious: it is not, as the UN recognises, actually a neutral term. But it seems like it is – which means we don’t take the kind of care we should in assessing its effect on us.

The suggested alternative terms are "refugee" – which calls attention to the fact that these people are fleeing intolerable conditions of violence; and the simple "human being" – which reminds us of our moral obligations. Either of these is an improvement on the inaccurate "migrant", which threatens to distort our discussions without our even realising it.

Professor Jennifer Saul is from the University of Sheffield's Department of Philosophy.