Plenty of those who dismissed George Bush as an idiot ended up feeling pretty stupid themselves, particularly when they found themselves on the wrong side of a political battle with him. Bush was certainly intellectually lazy, and he was never the most articulate of politicians, but he was smart enough to grasp tightly the ideas of his mentor Karl Rove, and - even more importantly - to deliver them with enormous discipline and conviction on the campaign trail. "Compassionate conservatism" may have been Rove's strategy but it was Bush who made it sing.
Whether or not the world needed a reminder of just how good Bush was as a campaigner, it now has one. We are watching his successor as Texas governor, Rick Perry, thrash and flail his way through a presidential campaign like a gorilla with a migraine in search of the right remedy at a drugstore. Perry had a difficult start, and OK that's understandable - a presidential race already underway is a difficult to thing to jump into - but right after he supposedly retrenched and reset he's put his cowboy boot in it again, this time by reigniting the 'birther' issue:
Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
I have no reason to think otherwise.
That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he”—
Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.
But you’ve seen his.
I don’t know. Have I?
You don’t believe what’s been released?
I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.
That came up.
And he said?
He doesn’t think it’s real.
And you said?
I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the President of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.
It's difficult to work out what on earth Perry was thinking here, although that verb may not be appropriate at all (note that in his first answer Perry seems to suggest that he can't be sure whether or not Obama was born in American until Obama has seen Perry's birth certificate). He then declares it a 'distractive' issue. It sure is, Rick - and by raising it you distractived the media's attention from the new tax plan you wanted them to focus on this week.
In case you're still thinking this was some subtle ploy to fire up the right's enthusiasm for his candidacy, note that a couple of days later he backed away from his comments. So his original remarks almost certainly weren't made with any strategic or tactical end in mind - he just blundered into them. As the English saying goes, "a gentleman is never rude, except on purpose." Perry is no gentleman, of course. He's no president either.