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Perry’s 2010 book tripping up his candidacy

Views in ‘Fed Up!’ proving liability in primary tilts

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry signed his book for a supporter in Atkinson, N.H., on Saturday. The book grew out of the Texas governor’s interest in the Tea Party movement. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry signed his book for a supporter in Atkinson, N.H., on Saturday. The book grew out of the Texas governor’s interest in the Tea Party movement. (Adam Hunger/Reuters)
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / October 4, 2011

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Many of the controversial bits are well known by now: deriding Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme,’’ questioning the constitutionality of the minimum wage, lambasting the direct election of US senators.

But Rick Perry was not thinking about running for high office in November 2010, when he released “Fed Up!’’ his rip-roaring jeremiad against Washington.

Unlike politicians who craft cautious, poll-tested books as precursors to a national campaign, Perry published his book just days after he was elected to his third term as governor of Texas and before he began seriously considering a run for president.

Now the book’s sweeping states’ rights arguments have created a major problem for Perry and his advisers, forcing them to argue that his views are not out of the mainstream in the Republican primary, let alone in a general election matchup against President Obama.

Filled with brash language and bold criticism of entitlements, clean-air rules, and education laws, “Fed Up!’’ grew out of Perry’s deepening interest in the Tea Party movement, which was a newly ascendant force in the middle of 2010, when he wrote it.

“It’s an idea book, and it’s not some vanity autobiography, and it’s not a campaign manifesto - witness its timing, ’’ said Jim Hornfischer, Perry’s friend and book agent. “It’s genuine, and it rose organically out of the governor’s sincerely held political convictions.’’

“As such, I think it’s very refreshing,’’ Hornfischer added. “In a cynical age when most politicians are out there reserving their most rigorous thinking for the advancement of their own political careers, here comes Governor Perry with a book about political ideas. I think that’s why the book struck such a chord.’’

Indeed, it has. Perry’s chief rival, Mitt Romney, has seized in particular on Perry’s criticism of Social Security, a highly charged issue for many seniors in Florida and other key primary states.

“Almost to quote, it says that the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business - that it’s unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states,’’ Romney said during the Sept. 22 debate in Orlando. “So you better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that.’’

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, has tweaked Perry for writing that climate science “is all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.’’

“I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,’’ Huntsman tweeted in August. “Call me crazy.’’

David Carney, Perry’s longtime political adviser, who helped edit and assemble the book, dismissed the attacks, saying he wasn’t concerned “at all’’ about the criticism of “Fed Up!’’

“Many in the political class have forgotten that voters are adults and they can handle the truth,’’ he wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “One can’t get in trouble with Americans speaking the truth; only in the chattering class does the truth cause heartburn.’’

Hornfischer said he and Perry first hatched the idea for the book in the governor’s office, in spring 2010. At the time, Perry was already a favorite of the Tea Party movement, well known for suggesting at a rally in 2009 that Texas might secede from the union “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people.’’

“I sensed that there was a real hunger for core constitutional ideas and that he was really well situated as the longest-serving governor of Texas to stand on this platform,’’ Hornfischer said. “I thought, ‘What a perfect spokesperson for these ideas.’ ’’

In the book, Perry questions whether Congress had the power, under the Commerce Clause, to approve environmental rules, gun laws, and a minimum wage.

He calls the 16th Amendment, which allowed Congress to impose an income tax, “the great milestone on the road to serfdom’’ because that revenue was no longer returned to the states. The 17th Amendment - which established the direct election of senators by voters, taking that power away from state legislatures - further weakened states, he writes, and gave Washington “a significant political incentive to spend as much as possible.’’

Dan Schnur, a former Republican political consultant, said that because Perry wrote the book with Tea Party activists and Christian conservatives in mind, he did not scrub it for a national audience.

“A more conventional candidate book has probably been poll-tested and focus-grouped to within an inch of its life,’’ he said. “That doesn’t make it interesting, but it means you don’t have to spend much time trying to defend it.’’

Perry’s book, however, was written by a governor “who seemed, at the time, to be more interested in being the leader of an ideological movement than a candidate for president, so it’s not surprising that the book has become something of a double-edged sword once he switched paths,’’ Schnur said.

Perry always knew the book would be explosive. While promoting it last year, he even pointed to its incendiary arguments as evidence that he would never seek the White House.

“If there is a better signal of my plans for the future of not running for the presidency of the United States, it’s this book,’’ he said on the “Today’’ show in November 2010. “Anyone running for the presidency is not going to go take on these issues with the power that I do.’’

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.