Opinion: Rick Perry at Liberty University: What’s with Republican audiences lately?


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You’d think Jesus would beat out guns and dying in a right-wing popularity contest. But after watching conservative audiences the last few weeks, I’m not so sure.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s speech at the uber-right-wing Christian Liberty University came across as decidedly prosaic: He mused about his own religious conversion as a down-and-out twentysomething, said that America could use a resurgence of Christian values and commanded his young audience to make their evangelical voices heard in Washington. I attended a private evangelical high school, and in reading recaps of Perry’s speech, I could swear I sat through the same lecture as a teenager.


The real action, not reported in The Times’ writeup, came before Perry took the stage. In remarks introducing the governor, Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. landed a political cheap shot on President Obama by comparing his school’s improved credit rating to that of the recently downgraded U.S. government’s, and then offered the following line: ‘Today’s speaker also has an A+ rating, but it’s from the National Rifle Assn.’

The audience applauded -- loudly. Here’s a video clip:

Aside from the point that there’s little connection to be made between Jesus and guns, especially for a guy who admonished his followers to turn the other cheek, I have to ask: What’s the matter with today’s Republicans?

Two Republicans debates ago, the audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library erupted into spontaneous applause when a moderator mentioned that Perry had carried out the execution of 234 Texans; this week, several ‘tea party’ debate-goers screamed their affirmative answers when Ron Paul was asked if a patient who lacks insurance should be allowed to die.

Pundits often blame candidates and lawmakers for feeding extremism and polarization for political gain. But judging by conservative audiences’ bizarre blood lust of late, it may be the other way around for Republican presidential hopefuls.


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-- Paul Thornton