Here’s a TV interview with Governor (and now 2012 Republican candidate) Rick Perry and a reporter from the Texas Tribune. It’s a classic, old style, black-screen-and-ferns political chat, and it’s very revealing.
The reporter’s question: Why does Texas continue with abstinence education programs when they don’t seem to be working?
I’ve heard Perry’s answer as a sound clip, but watch his face as he struggles with the interviewer’s persistent follow-up.
The conventional wisdom expressed by many is that Perry is beauty-queen dim and can’t wrap his pretty little mind around the answer. For instance, Steve Benen:
The problem here isn’t just that Perry has the wrong answer. The more meaningful problem is that Perry doesn’t seem to know how to even formulate an answer. He starts with a proposition in his mind (abstinence-only education is effective), and when confronted with evidence that the proposition appears false (high teen-pregnancy rates), the governor simply hangs onto his belief, untroubled by evidence. As Jon Chait put it, Perry seems to struggle “even to think in empirical terms.”
But I give Perry far more credit. For the hyper-religious, the statement “abstinence works” is only the cover story. The real story is, Unmarrieds shouldn’t have sex (St. Paul, some chapter, some verse).
The trick is to fit the square peg of St. Paul’s teaching into the round hole of an empirical argument — without giving the game away. Perry can’t do it; but in fairness, the way this interview was conducted, no one could.
The clue? Perry at 0:40 — “It is the best form to teach our children.” Again at 2:20 — We’re getting a return on our money that’s appropriate; “those are some dollars that are well spent.” The “comparable” (nice word) steroids example near the end is also telling: Keep kids off sex; keep kids off steroids. What’s the diff?
To translate: If you start from the premise that abstinence is the only moral method you can teach, then a 5% (or .1%) return on your money is just icing on a very important cake. Getting the seculars to let you go anti-sex on their kids is a win all by itself. Getting something back in the form of reduced pregnancy, no matter how little, is like candy, a nice piece of data you can throw back at them when they complain.
It’s the old old story, isn’t it? The hyper-religious in this country hate(love) sex and can’t stand(can’t get enough of) it. And they’ll never admit what they’re really doing because they can’t bear to look at it(can’t keep their eyes off it). So there. Lemme at it(no, I’m not obsessed with it). Got that?
And no, I won’t begin to touch what Perry meant when he said “From my own personal life, abstinence works.” I have no idea where that leads. Or doesn’t.