Texas, we have a problem. Your GOP governor is running for president against Barack Obama. Yet, one of his most infamous acts as executive of the nation's second-largest state smacks of every worst habit of the Obama administration. And his newly crafted rationalizations for the atrocious decision are positively Clintonesque.
In February 2007, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a shocking executive order forcing every sixth-grade girl to submit to a three-jab regimen of the Gardasil vaccine. He also forced state health officials to make the vaccine available "free" to girls ages 9 to 18. The drug, promoted by manufacturer Merck as an effective shield against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts, as well as cervical cancer, had only been approved by the Food and Drug Administration eight months prior to Perry's edict.
Gardasil's wear-off time and long-term side effects have yet to be determined. "Serious questions" remain about its "overall effectiveness," according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Even the chair of the federal panel that recommended Gardasil for children opposes mandating it as a condition of school enrollment. Young girls and boys are simply not at an increased risk of contracting HPV in the classroom the way they are at risk of contracting measles or other school-age communicable diseases.
Perry defenders pointed to a bogus "opt-out" provision in his mandate "to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children's health care." But requiring parents to seek the government's permission to keep an untested drug out of their kids' veins is a plain usurpation of their authority. Translation: Ask your bureaucratic overlord to determine if a Gardasil waiver is right for you.
Libertarians and social conservatives alike slammed Perry's reckless disregard for parental rights and individual liberty. The Republican-dominated legislature also balked. In May 2007, both chambers passed bills overturning the governor's unilaterally imposed health order.
Fast-forward five years. After announcing his 2012 presidential bid this weekend, Perry now admits he "didn't do my research well enough" on the Gardasil vaccine before stuffing his bad medicine down Texans' throats. On Monday, he added: "That particular issue is one that I readily stand up and say I made a mistake on. I listened to the legislature ... and I agreed with their decision."
Perry downplayed his underhanded maneuver as an aberrational "error," and then -- gobsmackingly -- he spun the debacle as a display of his great character: "One of the things I do pride myself on, I listen. When the electorate says, 'Hey, that's not what we want to do,' we backed up, took a look at what we did."
Are these non-apology apologies enough to quell the concerns of voters looking for a presidential candidate who will provide a clear, unmistakable contrast to Barack Obama? Not by a long shot.
How Obama-like was this scandal? Let us count the ways:
Trampling the deliberative process. Since Day One, President Obama has short-circuited transparency, public debate and congressional oversight. How can Perry effectively challenge the White House's czar fetish, stealth recess appointments, selective waiver-mania and backdoor legislating through administrative orders when Perry himself employed the very same process as governor?
Not only did Perry defend going above the heads of elected state legislators, but his office also falsely claimed the legislature had no right to repeal the executive order. "The order is effective until Perry or a successor changes it, and the Legislature has no authority to repeal it," Perry spokeswoman Krista Moody told The Washington Post in February 2007.
When both the House and Senate repealed the law six weeks later, Perry did not -- as he now claims -- listen humbly or "agree with their decision."
Human shield demagoguery. In response to the legislature's rebuke, the infuriated governor attacked those who supported repeal as "shameful" spreaders of "misinformation" who were putting "women's lives" at risk. Borrowing a tried-and-true Alinskyite page from the progressive left, Perry surrounded himself with female cervical cancer victims and deflected criticism of his imperial tactics with emotional anecdotes.
He then lionized himself and the minority of politicians who voted against repeal of his Gardasil order. "They will never have to think twice about whether they did the right thing. No lost lives will occupy the confines of their conscience, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency." Perry, of course, has now put his own ghastly Gardasil order on that same altar -- but with no apology to all those he demonized and exploited along the way.
Cronyism. Most noxious of all, Perry wraps his big government health mandate in the "pro-life" mantle. But the do-gooder theater is a distraction from the business-as-usual back-scratching and astro-turfing that are Obama hallmarks. Perry's former chief of staff Mike Toomey is a top Merck lobbyist. Toomey's mother-in-law headed a Merck-funded front group pushing vaccination mandates. And Merck's political action committee pitched in $6,000 to Perry's re-election campaign in 2007.
The PerryCare executive fiat was not simply a one-off mistake explained away by lack of "research." It exposed a fundamental lapse in both political and policy judgments, an appalling lack of ethics and a disturbing willingness to smear principled defenders of limited government who object to the Nanny State using their children as guinea pigs.
Trusting Rick Perry's tea party credentials is a perilous shot in the dark.