So Much Happening in New Rick Perry Ad, Except for One Verb

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A while back, I argued that Rick Perry made good television ads, and his newest spot–“Lazy”–is no exception. But it is also, in the tradition of the best political advertising, inaccurate, fanciful and grammatically adventurous.


So let’s break it down.

Inaccurate: Did President Obama argue that “Americans are lazy,” as Perry alleges? No. He argued that American policy makers have been lazy in not doing more to attract businesses. (Obama’s standard line about the American people, by contrast, is that they are the “best workers in the world.”) Here is Obama’s full quote, in context:

But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades.  We’ve kind of taken for granted — well, people will want to come here and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America. And so one of things that my administration has done is set up something called SelectUSA that organizes all the government agencies to work with state and local governments where they’re seeking assistance from us, to go out there and make it easier for foreign investors to build a plant in the United States and put outstanding U.S. workers back to work in the United States of America.

The pronoun “we” here does not refer to the American people, whom Obama characterizes as non-lazy “outstanding U.S. workers” two sentences later, unless one assumes the American people are responsible for organizing government agencies to seek foreign investment.

Fanciful: Perry’s central policy proposal is perhaps the most fascinating part of the spot, mainly because it can never happen. “It’s time for a balanced budget amendment that forces Washington to stop overspending. If Congress balks, cut their pay, send them home.” It’s a great line, but it is not something any President, even a Texan, can carry out. The executive branch lacks the power, under the Constitution, to either cut the pay of Congress, or send members of Congress home. Separation of powers, and all that.

Grammatically Adventurous: Clinton struggled over what the definition of “is” is. Perry just gets rid of the word. Here is what Perry says: “Can you believe that? That’s what our President thinks wrong with America?” Most would say this sentence differently: “That’s what our President thinks is wrong with America?” Without the second use of the verb “to be,” the sentence is a lot more folksy. And gutsy. This is a scripted ad, after all, and Perry is choosing to speak informal English. “Thinks wrong” suggests Obama is the one thinking poorly. “Thinks is wrong” makes clear that Obama thinks something else is wrong. But Perry doesn’t seem to mind the confusion.

All that said, I still think it’s a great ad, his best so far in this cycle. Perry comes across as he wants to, an energized outsider who will clean house in Washington, and represent the outraged conservative base. And he looks past the primary field, taking his campaign straight at President Obama, in a way that demonstrates how his general election campaign might look. If the debates only lasted 30 seconds, Perry would probably be polling far higher than he is today.