We crave narrative to help us make sense of the world. In need of a narrative after last month's Republican debate in Orlando, many in the media adopted "The Rise and Fall of Rick Perry." Gov. Perry's tale follows a satisfying storyline that others -- Trump, Bachmann -- have played out previously and that Gov. Chris Christie and Sarah Palin avoided by bowing out of the race, at last.
Perry is down, but I don't know if he's out. On at least one occasion during the debate, Perry stumbled through what should have been well-practiced boilerplate meant to highlight apparent contradictory positions held by the "old" Mitt Romney and the "new" Mitt Romney. As Perry began to run off the tracks, many in the audience could probably have finished the speech with more eloquence than he managed.
But Perry's real problem during the debate wasn't eloquence; it was his unwillingness to take a hard line on illegal immigration.
For example, to the other Republican candidates, most of them from non-border states, a 2,000-mile border fence between the U.S. and Mexico is an abstraction or an attractive fantasy. Like many Texans, Perry appreciates the vast, deserted spaces that lie between the two countries and the futility of trying to keep Mexicans out of the U.S. with a fence, no matter how tall or how long.
A fence, though fun to talk about, isn't really a feasible resolution to our border problems. Unfortunately for Perry, his position won't win him points with primary voters, but he deserves credit for being on the right side of the issue.
The real damage occurred when Perry questioned whether Republicans -- at least the kinds of Republicans inhabiting the audiences during the first several debates -- actually have "hearts."
It's not an unreasonable question. Not much "heart" was evident in the audience when the fate of the hypothetical, very sick but uninsured 30-year-old man was considered. In fact, "heart" is what keeps one from cheering the executions of 234 death row inmates in Texas, even if they had it coming. And "heart" is called for when considering the fate of several million young illegals that were brought to the U.S. as children.
I've written about them before. They occasionally show up in my classroom after having spent nearly their whole lives in Texas, attending public schools, speaking English, eating American food, marching in the band, playing football -- that is, growing up in virtually every way as an American. Mexico is as foreign to them as it would be to any Anglo.
They were brought here by parents who were not only allowed to "sneak" into our country, but were encouraged to come here in order to supply the cheap labor that helps keep the price of our fruits and vegetables down. We've depended on them. In fact, as I write, fruits and vegetables are rotting in Alabama, unharvested because of the absence of cheap Mexican laborers who have fled the state in response to Alabama's crackdown on illegal immigration.
For all practical purposes, these young people are Americans. But they're also criminals, of course, and they live in fear of being stopped for a minor traffic violation. Deportation to Mexico lurks ominously in the background.
Perry's problem is that he supports the Texas version of the Dream Act. Young "Texans" who were brought here as children, through no fault of their own, as Perry puts it, are permitted to attend public colleges and universities at the in-state tuition rate.
Of course, the letter of the law says that they should be deported. But, let's face it: Sending them back to Mexico would be a "heartless" thing to do. It will come as a surprise to many Texans, but Gov. Perry may have too much "heart" to win the nomination.
(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Email him at jcrisp(at)delmar.edu. For more news and information visit www.scrippsnews.com.)
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