by Jason Johnson, Chief Political Correspondent for Politic365.com
There is something about being the ‘frontrunner’ in a presidential nomination that just curses you politically. Somehow, the moment you are deemed to lead the pack, a plethora of stories start surfacing that were likely forgotten by even your oldest political enemies and allies.
Thus is the case with the “Niggerhead” ranch scandal that rocked the Rick Perry campaign on Sunday. Governor Rick Perry hasn’t lost his chance at the nomination over this one, but you have to figure it’s about time to put a pitch fork in him if he makes the 2012 general election.
The Washington Post saved the best for last this week by dropping a story of epic proportions on the public that will reverberate even louder the next day when the political news ticker blows up.
Apparently, property that was purchased by Perry’s father in the 1980’s and subsequently leased by him in the 1990’s was affectionately known in his hometown of Paint Creek as “Niggerhead.” Not only that, but a large stone slab sign in front of the property with the name “Niggerhead” emblazoned on it was visible to all for years – and was only recently painted over (perhaps when Perry announced, who knows). Perry had entertained various political elites from Texas and the GOP at this property since taking over in the 1990’s, so it’s unclear when the sign was painted over and who actually did the painting. Sometimes political comedy writes itself and it’s times like this I wish Dave Chappelle was still working.
The Political Realities
The sharks are already swimming around the story. “I come to Bring the Cain” Herman chimed in, saying that he is personally offended by the name and thinks that Perry has some explaining to do.
However, let’s dispense with the feigned offense and pained expressions and get to the meat of the matter.
No one in the Republican Party is truly offended by this sign, whenever it was actually visible or not. Perry has brought dozens of party elites there over the years and I’m sure that the hidden White enclave of Paint Creek was not clamoring for private property owners to change anything.
Moreover let’s not pretend that this is the first racist skeleton we’ve found in the closet of a Republican candidate for president. George Bush owned a house with a covenant requiring that the owners never sell to blacks and that didn’t prevent him from being his party’s nominee.
Further, let us not suggest that inheriting or adopting racist behaviors or cultural attitudes popular in one’s local community is the truest indicator of a political leader’s actual attitudes on race. If that was the case, then any Generation Xer who plans on running for president better make sure that no one finds all those old pictures of them dressed up as the Dukes of Hazzard for Halloween in 1982. Everyone knows what Governor Rick Perry’s racial politics are by simply scanning his record. Look at the issues where he has not taken a stand, where he has not spoken out on behalf of equality and where he has clearly pandered to the lowest common denominator in American life in order to advance his political career.
Perry’s politics are damning enough on their own. Finding out he did some hunting at “Niggerhead” ranch isn’t going to truly change anyone’s mind. Remember the Perry-loving audiences at most of the Republican primary debates have cheered for 30-year olds to die without medical care and booed gay veterans. I sincerely doubt this issue will move the base one way or another.
What this does speak to however is whether or not Governor Perry is really ready for primetime. It does not shock me that in Texas, despite this man’s long political career, the story never surfaced before – but that says more about the Texas press than anything else. However, if Perry plans on running for President of the United States he has got to do a much better job of cleaning up his own background. This story was easy to find, a simple matter of a White reporter visiting his hometown and asking questions.
So, what happens if some real scrutiny shows up?
For the moment, Perry has taken the right strategy, claiming he painted over the sign, found it offensive etc. etc. But he should use this 24 hour window to clean up his background. There are bound to be some pictures of him and his friends holding a bloody deer by it’s hindlegs dripping blood onto a sign that says “Niggerhead” floating around, and if those hit the airwaves, no political force in America will be able to save his candidacy.