When LBJ was a young legislator burning with ambition, the famed Georgia powerhouse Richard Russell cautioned him not to lose his Southern accent as he maneuvered on Capitol Hill. The accent, counseled Russell, helped ensure that the Yankee liberals would underestimate him. During my first year in the Missouri Senate, I was a stereotypical urban liberal who got hoodwinked just that way by more than a few canny country boys.
So: do I think Rick Perry is as smart as LBJ? Of course not. But I think he probably has some similar qualities. Intelligence isn’t just about who can mark up a bill at a granular level, although that’s a great quality for a legislator to possess. Rather, the ability, on any given issue, to understand the critical leverage points with another legislator or interest group or agency is the most important trait for those seeking to obtain, accumulate, and wield power. And my gut is that Perry has plenty of that wiliness.
Does that mean he’d be a good president? No. Does it offset what appears to be a rather parochial world-view? Definitely not. But the fact is that unlike GWB, Perry didn’t have an instant leg up over his opponents in all his races. He’s skilled at reading people, polls, and situations and should not, as the longtime observer notes in Jonathan Martin’s piece this morning, be underestimated.