Rick Perry says President Obama, the son of a teen mother who frequently was absent from his life and often was stretched financially, grew up the easy way. It’s the latest in a series of winks at conspiracy-minded conservatives deeply suspicious about the president’s background.
Perry’s comments came as he discussed his new ad attacking Obama for saying US policymakers have grown “lazy” about honing America’s competitive edge, a comment that Republicans have inaccurately suggested was aimed at American workers. Asked by FOX News host Sean Hannity about the spot, Perry launched into a highly personal attack on Obama.
“It reveals to me that he grew up in a privileged way,” he said. “He never had to really work for anything.”
He added that “we need a president who has been through their ups and downs in life, and understands what it’s like to have to deal with the issues in our economy that we have today in America.”
It’s a tough sell considering Obama’s actual life story. Obama’s father moved away almost immediately after he was born, leaving him to be raised by his mother and grandparents in Hawaii and Indonesia. He’s frequently brought up his mother’s sometime reliance on food stamps to support the family. Later he worked his way up to becoming the first black head of the Harvard Law review — a feat that made national news at the time and secured him a book deal — en route to a prodigious political career. And Perry, whose aides insisted he get more sleep after a series of disastrously listless campaign appearances, ought to know better than anyone that presidential campaigns are a pretty tough slog.
But Perry’s latest attack is part of a recurring pattern. While Mitt Romney has mostly eschewed attacks on Obama’s biography, the Texas governor has frequently raised questions about his origins. He called for Obama to release his college grades, a popular meme on the right that emerged from birther circles. The obvious unstated implication, of course, is that Obama got into Harvard based on his race instead of his academic achievement. If that didn’t give the game away, Perry started openly musing about whether Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery before backing off the suggestion.
From a strategic perspective, there’s some sense to these tactics as a last-ditch gambit to turn around the Texas governor’s toxic poll numbers. If Perry can bait Democratic critics into accusing him of racially tinged attacks on Obama, he can cast himself as a victim and rally conservative media and Tea Party activists behind him. So far it hasn’t worked, but it certainly isn’t for lack of trying.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.