The difference between Bush and Perry

By Gus Bode

William McKenzie:

Do George W. Bush and Rick Perry loathe each other? Are they blood enemies?

There’s plenty of speculation these days about a personal animosity. Jeb Bush, the former president’s brother, says none exists. After covering both Texans, I still don’t know.


But I do know this: The distinction runs deeper than any personal grievance. The differences are more profound. And understanding them is a key to understanding Texas politics, which many around the country are trying to do again with Perry running for the White House.

Both are conservatives, but they come at politics from competing spheres _ and I don’t mean Yale vs. Texas A&M. The universes represent a cleavage between the modern, business-style Texas politician and the cowboy brand of yesteryear.

Despite an occasional inclination for quick-draw comments as president _ like his “Bring it on” challenge to Iraqi insurgents _ Bush approached politics more as a problem solver. His orientation reflects the career track and culture he was part of before he ran for governor in 1994.

Texas has a broad base of corporate managers, business professionals and independent entrepreneurs. The orientation of this professional class, which includes many engineers and technocrats, is toward getting things done. Or, at least, focusing on how to get things done so their enterprises stay afloat.

If that means taking risks, they will take a calculated one. That’s essentially what Bush did when he tackled the state’s messed-up school finance system as governor and tried to reform the nation’s flawed immigration system as president.

Some Republicans opposed him on both issues. They thought he would spend his political capital unwisely.

They were right in one way: Bush lost those gambles, just as he lost before on oil ventures. But at least he tried to deal with a problem. People derided him for being a CEO president, and indeed he did seem too detached at times, but his MBA background guided his approach to politics.


It also reflected the modern professional class that populates metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin-San Antonio. That’s where you find the headquarters of such corporate giants as Exxon Mobil, Dell and AT&T.

Perry’s style is far more rooted in Texas’ past. In some ways, he is closer to the way Lyndon Johnson came up through politics.

Each came from rural communities and had their world widen once they hit college and bigger cities. But they never lost their rooting to Texas’ rural, cowboy heritage. Hence, the swagger that Perry brings, just as LBJ had his own in-your-face-Texan style.

Politics also was more of an industry in that older tradition. LBJ was a political lifer. And he was surrounded in his days in Congress and the White House by Texas legislators who were Capitol Hill barons, thanks to their staying power.

For them, politics was more akin to blood sport than solving problems. That’s been true, too, for Perry, who has been in elected office since 1984.

As governor, he’s not known for many major signatures outside of keeping taxes low and appointing allies to state boards. In fact, he’s often shown tepid leadership on such big issues as correcting Texas’ school funding problems. Getting too engaged could cost him politically.

What’s surprising about Perry’s rise is that the mythology he represents still lives on, even as the state long ago moved beyond its rural heritage.

But we keep dealing with these competing strains. Last year’s governor’s race provided another glimpse into the duality: cowboy politico Perry vs. manager/businessman Bill White.

My proclivities run toward the problem-solvers, but, as I noted on a column about White vs. Perry, they lack the frontier politician’s flair.

The country is getting ready to see one more example of the old style as Perry takes on all comers. He’ll reaffirm the old Texas stereotype, even though his home state is more complex. And the differences are reflected in the gulf between Bush and Perry today.