WHEN TEXAS GOVERNOR RICK PERRY announced his campaign for president last weekend in a speech to the RedState Gathering in Charleston, S.C., he saved his best line until almost the very end. "I'll promise you this," he said to exuberant cheers and applause, "I'll work every day to try to make Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your life as I can."
To a Democrat steeped in the big-government tradition of the New Deal and the Great Society, there could hardly be a greater heresy.
For liberals, perhaps the only thing more absurd and disagreeable than the prospect of a Washington with radically reduced influence in American life is a presidential candidate pledging to make that reduction a priority. MSNBC's Chris Matthews, a former Jimmy Carter speechwriter and aide to Tip O'Neill, characterized Perry's applause line is nothing less than a call for anarchy. The governor is saying "not just that the era of big government is over," Matthews hyperbolically told his "Hardball" viewers on Monday, "he's saying the era of government is over. . . . Let's get rid of the government, basically."
But to countless libertarians and free-market conservatives, it is exhilarating to hear a candidate talk this way. And why wouldn't it be? After all, large majorities of Americans consistently say they don't trust the federal government and have little faith in the ability of Washington's immense bureaucracy to solve the nation's problems. In promising to curb Washington's outsize authority, Perry is responding to an alienation from government that is very much a Main Street phenomenon.