Something’s rotten in Denmark—or, in this case, the blogosphere. Much of the Right seems to have united around Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who currently leads the 2012 Republican pack by a wide margin, thanks to a combination of Texas’ impressive job-creation record, his bold, take-no-prisoners style, and his ostensible conservatism on all the major issues.
Except…he’s not all that conservative, or all that appealing a candidate. He’s got a horrendous immigration record, he initially tried to use states’ rights as an excuse to punt on gay marriage and abortion, his 2008 pick was the radically pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani, he’s a practitioner of taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, he seems to have an Obama-like ego, he’s a surprisingly clumsy debater (to the point where he can't even give a compelling defense of his own position on global warming), and, in the scandal that’s been getting the most press lately, he signed an executive order trying to force young schoolgirls to be injected with an unproven vaccine meant to prevent an illness which children cannot contract in schools through casual contact.
As Michelle Malkin and Shannen Coffin have explained, the Gardasil mandate raises multiple serious questions about Perry’s principles and trustworthiness. There’s the fact that his EO circumvented the democratic process and tried to unilaterally impose a sweeping policy change. There’s the fact that his position presumes the government has the right to make medical decisions for parents for reasons completely unrelated to the justification for traditional school inoculations, as explained by Rick Santorum. There’s the fact that he both defends the mandate and condemns its critics with leftist-style emotional appeals about who does and doesn’t care about disease. And there’s the unproven but certainly plausible possibility that his decision was motivated at least partially by cronyism.
The defenses leveled by Perry and his supporters don’t hold water. First is that he apologized. Only partially—he’s said the EO was a mistake, but not the core policy (nor has he apologized to those he’s slandered as not caring about Texan children). Second is that the policy had an opt-out. But not only is it offensive from a limited-government perspective to presume that the state is going to do something to your child unless you take proactive measures to stop them, the opt-out itself had numerous shortcomings. Third—and most pathetic—is that the policy never went into effect. Obviously, we don’t give people a pass for trying to do wrong simply because they didn’t succeed!
Perry’s been taking a beating for this from several competitors, including Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul. But this week, the focus shifted from Perry’s statism to Bachmann’s incompetence, as she relayed the story of a mother who told her Gardasil caused her daughter's mental retardation. To be clear, she absolutely deserves criticism for recklessly passing along an anecdote without bothering to verify it. (Full disclosure: This is one of several blunders that have convinced me she doesn’t have the good sense or communication ability to be the Republican nominee, and so I no longer support her for president.)
But the response from two of the Right’s biggest professional blogs has been something else entirely. At RedState, Lori Ziganto says Bachmann “has shown she is of bad character,” Ben Howe thinks she “should be ashamed” for “diminish[ing] the pro-life movement for her own political gain,” Brad Jackson & Elizabeth Blackney discuss Bachmann needing to “pray the crazy away,” and Leon Wolfe declares that Bachmann doesn’t “deserve to be one of the 435 people who gets to contribute to the creation of legislation that might one day influence health policy in America.” (Before Bachmann became an issue here, RedState’s Streiff also impugned Malkin’s “integrity and intellect” for questioning Perry, a nasty, unfounded attack on a conservative heroine which RS editor Erick Erickson refused to criticize.)
Meanwhile, at Pajamas Media, PJM CEO Roger Simon said Bachmann and Santorum sounded “rabid, and frankly scary” in criticizing Perry (please note that he’s talking about the debate itself, not Bachmann’s subsequent retardation claim). Bryan Preston has done six posts so far blasting Bachmann over this, including declaration’s that she’s “descend[ed] into self-parody” and that her “time as a serious candidate is over.”
Again, I want to be clear that the criticism isn’t what I have a problem with. Michele Bachmann has displayed a clear pattern of factual sloppiness and rhetorical recklessness. I am, however, asking why there’s such a double-standard—why all of a sudden Bachmann is being treated with a level of scorn no GOP candidate other than Ron Paul ever gets, at least not in such volume and unanimity, from the blogosphere.
Rick Perry gives speeches to La Raza and smears lawmakers who resisted his Gardasil mandate as heartless monsters who don’t care about women’s health; Mitt Romney continues to insist his state’s healthcare plan was a good thing; and Herman Cain shows no signs of having assembled a coherent foreign policy platform, despite campaigning to become leader of the free world—all of which are bigger substantive problems than repeating an anecdote without bothering to verify it—and the blogosphere reaction is much more diverse and balanced. Some criticize, some defend, but most conclude that the problems aren’t disqualifying on their own. (Heck, going back to the last election, not even Rudy Giuliani’s support for partial-birth abortion and taxpayer funding of abortion was enough for a consensus that he was beyond the pale!)
Perhaps the most suspicious thing is that these new Bachmann critics apparently weren’t this bothered by Bachmann’s own previous blunders, like signing the Iowa Family pledge without reading it, that weird talk of Tea Partiers slitting our writs and signing a blood oath together, or calling on people to be "armed and dangerous" in opposition to Obama. Those were worth varying degrees of criticism, but she was still generally considered a respectable choice for the nomination.
What happened? Rick Perry. The biggest difference between this gaffe and all of Bachmann’s others (as well as the aforementioned failings of various other candidates) seems to be that this time, she made it while crossing the latest man to be anointed Savior by a segment of the Right that still hasn’t gotten over the hero-worship tendencies that have all too often led conservatives to gloss over the failings of various politicians, including George W. Bush, Fred Thompson, and Sarah Palin.
How many times does the movement have to replay this game until we finally see that it’s about principles, not personalities? When will we stop being infatuated with alluring poll numbers and conservative-sounding bravado, and instead maintain the detached objectivity to consistently judge all those who would be our standard-bearers?