Live by Identity Politics, Die by Identity Politics

Politico tells us that some GOP elites are not too excited about Rick Perry's potential presidential candidacy. Here are a few excerpts:

"What we don’t know about Gov. Perry is how he'll perform on the national stage. We know he's got a great record in Texas," [GOP strategist Charlie] Black said. "How well does he campaign in states that have different cultures? You know, non-Southern, non-Western states."...

Still, many Republicans express alarm about the possibility of nominating a man whom several compared to a "Saturday Night Live" caricature – "Will Ferrell doing a George W. Bush imitation," as one state GOP chairman said...

Perry, who joined the GOP in the late 1980s as Texas was breaking to the right, has thrived throughout his political career by riding the Lone Star State's conservative tide. From his first statewide race for agriculture commissioner to his bruising reelection campaign last year, Perry has always made sure to be more conservative, more confrontational and, above all, more ostentatiously Texan than his chief opponents.

I think we could all agree that our politics would be better if it didn't matter what state you came from or what your voice sounded like (not to mention your race or gender) but rather that all politicians would be judged on their ideas and their character. Unfortunately, America is too big a country with too many regional differences for that. Perhaps one day all those differences will be homogenized in our grand melting pot, but it won't happen any time soon. And given how often in the past Republicans have exploited regional animosities (e.g. both Bushes heaping contempt on Massachusetts, the home state of their opponents), it's a little hard for this Northeastern elitist to have too much sympathy for Perry.

That's because few politicians have played the identity politics card with more vigor than Perry. He wears the boots, he waves guns around, his drawl is thicker than a Texas t-bone, he uses the resources of his state to advance his sectarian religious beliefs, and he's prone to things like contemplating whether Texas ought to secede from the United States. Throughout his career, Perry has been a divider, not a uniter (to paraphrase another Texas governor), making sure voters knew that he was a "real" American and a "real" Texan, while others weren't. It's true that voters in the Northeast, Midwest, and West may have an irrational, kneejerk reaction against his voice or even just his home state, without actually knowing whether that reaction is justified. But the truth is, in his case, it pretty much is.