Ah, what’s in a name?
As it turns out, plenty for the campaign of Rick Perry. It seems that the Texas governor and erstwhile leading GOP candidate for the presidency leased a secluded hunting camp earlier in his career where he hosted his supporters and political colleagues. Outside the gate of the camp, there was a flat rock carrying the property’s name: “Niggerhead.”
In the last few days, since a Washington Post article brought all of this to light, the Perry campaign has been in something of tailspin. In a just a few short weeks, the Texas governor has gone from being the savior of the Republican Party’s presidential ambitions to the latest in a string of souring GOP flavors of the week. Since entering the race as the frontrunner, Perry has lost about half his footing in polls among Republican voters.
After a series of lackluster debate performances and controversial statements about overhauling Social Security and sending troops to Mexico to combat drug violence, the Perry candidacy-once so highly championed by the Republican right-is steadily losing is appeal.
But back to that unsightly flat rock. When asked about it, the Perry campaign insisted that the rock was painted over years ago by the governor’s father, who initially leased the property. The Post, on the other hand, states that the Perry hunting retreat bore the offensive name well into the governor’s political career, reporting that several people had seen the name on the property into the 1990s. Indeed, Perry has offered his own strong response, saying that the word on the rock is an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world.” The Perry campaign did not dispute the fact that the racially charged name had once appeared as a name for the property.
No matter whether, how or when the name was retired, its very existence at any point speaks to a disquieting feature of the Perry narrative. It stands somehow as an embarrassing symbol. It speaks to a period of time when the Perry family happily vacationed-not to mention hunted and killed its prey-in a family wonderland with a name that conjures so much of the pain and adversity of a large population of Americans.
Whatever the fate of the name of that parcel of land, it remains part of the Perry story. It reminds a nation that is just becoming familiar with the Texas governor that he is a man who grew up in a segregated world where African-Americans were a rarity. Certainly, there is no crime there, but that history invites scrutiny into his stewardship as governor of the nation’s second most populous state, which includes a history of creating low-wage jobs and attacking programs that serve some of the most vulnerable Americans.
Of course, the mere presence of the rock on the Perry property should not be considered conclusive evidence of the governor’s racial sentiments. However, it offers a tidbit for voters to develop their own perspective of this particular presidential candidate, a candidate who has embraced the Tea Party and its mantra of slashing government services.
In the meantime, Perry has benefited tremendously from the frenzied media attention devoted to the presidential aspirations of Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, rather this revelation. Now that Christie is definitively out of the race, the concentration must appropriately return to Perry, his record and his history.
David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s campaign strategist, said it best when he observed that a campaign is similar to an MRI for the soul. “Whoever you are, eventually people find out.”
Over time, we would do well to devote more scrutiny to Perry and develop a fuller view of who he really is.