Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who tried twice to run for president, is like a human ice-cream headache: Every time he shows up, your teeth start to hurt and you get a pain in your noggin that you can't quite get rid of.
Back in the day (2011), he was the great Republican hope to beat Barack Obama before he demonstrated an inability to count to three. In the early days of the 2016 campaign season, he called eventual GOP nominee Donald Trump a "cancer on conservatism" before…endorsing the billionaire and showing up at rallies for him, including the Republican National Convention. Trump "is one of the most talented people who has ever run for the president I have ever seen," the longest-serving governor in Texas history said when endorsing the billionaire developer back in May.
It is precisely this sort of flip-floppery among major political figures that is driving record levels of contempt for the major politicial parties and their nominees. It's one thing to say that you disagree—even vehemently—with an intra-party opponent. It's another to liken him to cancer and then essentially say, "Never mind." Or, as Perry also did, say you're open to being vice president for President Cancer.
And then there is this new spectacle that Perry is forcing on America:
— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) August 30, 2016
I'm not one to stand on false ceremony and I think that "dignity" is vastly overrated, but would it kill politicians who want to be taken seriously not to act like complete attention whores all the time? Trust in authority is declining, which is generally a good thing. Voter identification with the Democrats and Republicans is at or near record lows, which is also generally a good thing. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump started the general election season as the least-approved major-party candidates of all time and their poll numbers continue to sink—again, generally a good thing. Yet there is a serious problem when trust and confidence in government and politicians hollows out:
The political scientists Philippe Aghion, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc and Andrei Shleifer wrote a paper titled "Regulation and Distrust." Using data from the World Values Survey, the authors convincingly argue that "distrust influences not just regulation itself, but the demand for regulation." They found that "distrust fuels support for government control over the economy. What is perhaps most interesting about this finding . . . is that distrust generates demand for regulation even when people realize that the government is corrupt and ineffective."
That is most definitely not a good thing. And to the extent that politicians can stop their own clown-show antics, they really should, even if it means that Rick Perry doesn't get to cut the rug on Dancing With The Stars or is pushed not to call opponents cancer and then embrace them in the interest of getting some small position in a Trump administration.
There's a long line of criticism of libertarians that we're fundamentally not serious about politics and policy (never mind the hundreds of thousands or even millions of words published in issues of Reason and at Reason.com over the years, not to mention by the Cato Institute, Foundation for Economic Education, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Mercatus Center, and other libertarian outfits). But it's characters such as Rick Perry—and Anthony Weiner, of course, and Alan Grayson, but also Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, with all their "appearance of impropriety" baggage—that have hollowed out belief in good government. While the GOP nominated a political novice whose reality-testing seems to be on the fritz and the Dems nominated a cabinet member who refused to use government-supplied email, the Libertarian Party nominated a centrist two-term governor for president. Bless its pointed little head. And God bless the USA. Because our political class is full of idiots and worse.