Rush to judgment

    Is it curtains already for the Republican front-runner? Check out this political story, filed from Des Moines, Iowa: “As the primaries draw near, many Republicans, as well as neutral analysts, remain underwhelmed by the Texas governor. They have now watched (him) perform in three candidate debates, and they still seem unpersuaded that he has the requisite tools for the world’s toughest job.” From the same story, check out this quote from conservative tastemaster Bill Kristol: “Three debates ago, (he) was seen as invincible and inevitable – and now he’s neither. These debates have not put the doubts about him to rest. A lot of grassroots Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire are seeing him for the first time in these debates, and they are somewhere between concerned and disappointed.” And check out this less-than-ringing endorsement of the front-runner, as offered in the story by Steve Roberts, a major GOP player in Iowa: “I’m not concerned about him, for the moment…We’re destined to ride this horse, but I don’t think it’s a bad horse. For many of us, there isn’t much else out there.” Wow, it sure sounds like Rick Perry is destined to be roadkill…but wait a minute…what was the date on that political story? December 15, 1999. And the imperiled front-runner in the story was George W. Bush. And the author of the story was me. In recent days, I have heard all kinds of grand pronouncements. “Rick Perry is finished,” one anti-immigration group declared last Friday. The aforementioned Bill Kristol said that Perry’s most recent debate performance was “close to a disqualifying two hours,” and that conservatives are “horrified” and “demoralized.” I also saw a headline that describes Perry as “Texas toast.” That’s when I remembered my 1999 story. Which I have now unearthed, to make a point: Maybe Perry has indeed peaked – but it’s quite conceivable that too many observers are simply rushing to judgment. This is a cultural hazard; everyone on Twitter wants to be the first to issue the conclusionary decree. But sometimes it’s smarter to just take a breath and assess the big picture with a dose of perspective. I wrote that story in late ’99 because panicking Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire were regaling me at length with their tales of woe. After seeing Bush in the early debates, many of them were convinced that Bush was cooked. Other reporters were getting similar readings; one of my road buddies, Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times, quoted a GOP consultant who worried that Bush’s candidacy “could be a real disaster.” The rest, of course, is history. For all we know, Rick Perry may yet prove to be Bush 2.0. The lesson of ’99 is that nobody (especially the party insiders) should leap to conclusions before the voting season actually arrives. Until Iowa kicks off the primaries in January, we should park all the hyperbole about Texas toast. ——- It’s hard to determine what’s funnier: President Obama’s verbal gaffe on Saturday night, when he said Jew when he meant janitor (“If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a Jew, uh, as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor”) – or the right-wing reaction to the gaffe. Maybe Obama had the Jewish vote on his mind when he stumbled, or whatever. But, naturally, the Republican right seems to think that Obama was actually exposing his inner Heinrich Himmler, or whatever. I’ve been waiting for some hater to break the news that Reverend Wright had prompted Obama to say the J-word via a transmitter in the presidential molars. All we know for sure is that Obama’s line reading would have seriously unnerved Alvy Singer, the Jewish paranoid played by Woody Allen in the great comedy Annie Hall. I thought of Alvy immediately; that’s why the gaffe cracked me up. Here’s the Woody character, fretting to one of his buddies: “I distinctly heard it. He muttered under his breath, Jew….We were walking off the tennis court, and you know, he was there and me and his wife, and he looked at her and then they both looked at me, and under his breath he said, Jew…I pick up on those kind of things. You know, I was having lunch with some guys from NBC, so I said, uh, ‘Did you eat yet or what?’ and Tom Christie said, ‘No, didchoo?’…No, not ‘did you eat,’ but ‘Jew eat?’ Jew. You get it? ‘Jew eat?'” ——- Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.