Former President Bill Clinton volunteered his opinion of newly-minted GOP frontrunner Rick Perry before the International Association of Fire Fighters on Sunday:
I wish someone had thought to ask Clinton whether he thinks Michele Bachmann is a “good-looking rascal’ too. It’s been a while since we saw a really vigorous performance of the Slick Willy Shuck and Jive.
As to the substance of Clinton’s weird criticism of Perry, it boils down to the assertion that no President can ever be a sincere advocate of smaller government, since all of them will be flying around on Air Force One and riding in limousines. This argument is not new, and it’s not meant for liberal consumption.
We’ve heard this line of thinking before. Michele Bachmann, for example, can’t be a sincere advocate of smaller government, because she’s soiled herself with earmarks. The most extreme form of this argument came when it was suggested that Sarah Palin can’t be serious about smaller government, because she appeared on a TV show that enjoyed tax benefits the state of Alaska uses to attract film and television producers. Never mind that Palin was the star of the show, not its producer – her mere proximity to those radioactive tax credits mutated her into a putative hypocrite.
If taken seriously, this nonsense becomes the perfect Big Government mousetrap, a circular argument for infinite government growth. Everyone knows the loving embrace and subsidized kiss of Mother Washington, so no one can honestly speak against her. Every Presidential candidate is angling for a job that involves million-dollar flights on Air Force One, so nobody can sincerely criticize government waste.
Of course, nobody would take such drivel seriously. The targets of remarks like Clinton’s are Tea Party activists, who he imagines are stupid enough to stampede away from serious candidates because they have not maintained absolute distance from a massive State that lurks around every corner. It’s one thing to remain wary of the Beltway’s seductive embrace, but quite another to accept that every politician is so hopelessly poisoned by contact with the State that honest advocacy of smaller government is impossible.
No matter how much Bill Clinton might wish that working within the system to change it is futile, it’s not true. Not yet.