Time magazine has an article describing Rick Perry’s time in the Democratic party in 1984 and the history of his political activities from then until the election of George Bush. Now Rick Perry is trying to become President. There are two different ways to read his prior activities. One way is that Perry has changed his allegiances so that they reflect his beliefs. The other way is that Perry is changing his beliefs to fit the circumstances. Good historians – unlike the Times – do not prejudice the issue by assuming that only one way of reading it could possibly be correct. Neither do they assume that one way rules out the other. The best way of reading this issue (using the information in the article) is that he is doing both.
First, let’s consider the evidence that he is changing his practices because his beliefs have changed. At the beginning he supported Al Gore. The Al Gore he supported was a member of the conservative wing of the Democrats. This wing no longer exists. So Al Gore has changed his mind along with the minds of the rest of his party and become liberal. At first, Perry made a pragmatic decision and decided to support the party that supported his beliefs. He did so because the Democrats were not supporting his beliefs. So his practice is resulting from his beliefs. He does not lie about his previous associations nor does he deny that his beliefs have changed. While the article does not describe why Perry changed his mind, we can imagine that he followed the conservative leanings he started with wherever they went.
Now that we have considered that, lets consider the evidence that his practices have changed his beliefs. First, he has attached himself to prominent people both times. Gore seemed to be a definite winner and the “right guy” to pick for political reasons. Later on, Bush would seem that way also. Both times, he used the connections he gained to advance his political career. Not only that, but he supported both candidates without any sort of reservation. All of these decisions seem to be made pragmatically rather than because the particular candidates were the best or held beliefs most in common with himself.
So what are we to make of Rick Perry then? I suggest that his decisions have pragmatic sources as well as internal sources. It would be really hard to separate them. Most of his political decisions have both reasons behind them. He chose Al Gore because Al Gore agreed with the same things he did. But he also chose Al Gore because he thought that Al Gore was a pragmatic decision. It was the same way with George Bush. So good historical practice suggests that he is doing both things at the same time. So why is this supposed to be “an inconvenient truth“? Perhaps Perry’s past is simply a truth common to all politicians. Why should we think otherwise? This is especially true since all politicians have to think in pragmatic terms in order to succeed at all.