Taking Rick Perry With a Grain of Salt.

As a big-state governor who just got re-elected, Rick Perry -- whom the great Molly Ivins used to call "Governor Goodhair" -- would seem to be a natural for a presidential run. And he's even taken the first step, "writing" a silly book outlining his ideas about how to make America awesome again (channeling the moment, his is called Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington). And as he goes around promoting it, Perry is telling everyone that Washington is getting way too involved in our lives, down to telling us "how much salt we should put on our food." He repeats this over and over again, wherever he goes.

You're probably wondering what the hell he's talking about. And this would seem to be a prime candidate for the question I'm always begging reporters to ask politicians when they start to throw around these kind of outlandish claims: "What are you talking about?" It's a simple question, but one that almost never gets asked. Fortunately, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank asked, and you'll be surprised to learn that Perry pretty much has no idea what he's talking about:

"Who's telling you that you can't put salt on your food, governor?" I asked after handing over my copy of Fed Up! for his autograph.

The cameras were still on him, and Perry adopted a tight smile. "Um, when you read this book, the footnote is there," he said, "and it's clearly a, um, case, I don't know the exact, uh, page, but it is footnoted, very well."

The governor soon turned his attention to the next paying customer ("I love to see them coming with handfuls of books!" he remarked) and I went to look up the footnote -- only to discover that there was none attached to the statement.

When the fact-checking group Politifact went further into the salty allegations, a publicist for Perry said the claim was based on an article in The Washington Post, although that story had nothing to do with the salt Americans put on their food. It was about processed foods, and it said the government was working to develop standards with industry, which was already pursuing voluntary reductions. "False," was Politifact's ruling on Perry's claim.

As I said, Perry repeats this claim about salt, which it turns out is totally bogus, wherever he goes. And that's not all. Here's an excerpt from his book:

"We are fed up with being overtaxed and overregulated. We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kind of cars we can drive, what kinds of guns we can own, what kind of prayers we are allowed to say and where we can say them, what political speech we are allowed to use to elect candidates, what kind of energy we can use, what kind of food we can grow, what doctor we can see and countless other restrictions on our right to live as we see fit."

Each of these claims is at a minimum misleading, but some are just downright lies. The government is telling us "what kind of prayers we are allowed to say"? Really? The government is telling us "what doctor we can see"? How's that now?

I have to beg the reporters out there: Please, if you have a chance to interview Gov. Perry, just ask him a simple question: "Governor, can you explain exactly how the government in Washington regulates what prayers you can say?" Or, "Governor, can you explain exactly how the government in Washington tells you what doctor you can see?" Or even better: "Governor, you talk a lot about how the government in Washington is restricting our freedom. Can you give me some examples of how your freedom, personally, has been restricted by the government in Washington?" If he starts talking about the salt, you know what to say.

-- Paul Waldman

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