Rick Perry's prayer and politics

This article appeared in the Patriot News, Aug. 20, 2011.

In the fifth century, St. Genevieve's prayers were credited with diverting Attila's Huns from attacking Paris. Appeals to a higher power saved the city (although carping voices would note that the Huns chose to attack Orleans instead.)

More recently, with Harrisburg facing a threat of its own, Mayor Linda Thompson called for prayer. The massive incinerator debt, the mismanagement of the city’s finances, the crushing terms of Act 47, unhelpful state legislators restricting the options available to the city — surely, only divine inspiration could offer a way out of the morass.

Constitutional niceties such as the separation of church and state would have to wait. The fate of a commuter tax hung in the balance, not to mention the tender interests of bondholders.
But before Ms. Thompson, there was Rick Perry, governor of Texas and recent GOP

contender for the presidency. In April, Perry designated three days as “Days of prayer for rain in the state of Texas.” The proclamation, listed on the governor’s website, cites the “combination of higher than normal temperatures, low precipitation and low relative humidity” as causing an “exceptional” drought in the state. The proclamation ends with the “Seal of state to be affixed at my office,” thereby removing any doubt in anyone’s mind (mortal or otherwise) about the official nature of the appeal.

Alas, the governor’s proclamation has not yet had the intended effects. Across the state, and even in the state capital of Austin, the sun beats down mercilessly. Temperatures during the day hover obstinately above 100 degrees, and rainfall remains conspicuous by its absence. (I know, I was there recently.)

But Mr. Perry is undeterred. A few weeks ago, he organized a national prayer to seek divine guidance to solve the country’s myriad woes. Instead of issuing a proclamation on a website, however, this time Perry conducted the event at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Some 30,000 people showed up to listen to Perry’s call for humility and forgiveness.

Unfortunately, the temper of that occasion did not last long. In a recent broadside at the Federal Reserve chairman, Perry warned Ben Bernanke that if he increased the money supply before the 2012 election, things would get “pretty ugly” for him in Texas. Not exactly a Christian sentiment.

Late in 2008, when the economic crisis looked dire and threats of a second Great Depression loomed large, Bernanke deployed the full powers of the Federal Reserve to prevent a catastrophe. Almost three years later, with the levers of fiscal policy (government spending, taxes) essentially inoperable, only the Fed is in a position to battle the slowing economy.

And now Perry has warned Bernanke not to do it. Even if economic conditions were to worsen, even if unemployment were to rise sharply, even if millions of Americans were to be laid off, Bernanke must not use monetary policy before the elections. Doing so would be “treasonous.” (Or could it be that Perry fears that such policies might benefit the economy, and thereby boost President Obama’s chances of re-election?)

In any event, such an egregious attack on the Fed bodes ill for American politics and policy-making. As an institution that is largely immune from political pressures and the importunings of special-interest groups, the Fed plays a vital role in managing the economic affairs of the country.

Pugnacious demands from politicians, especially leading contenders for the presidency, threaten the Fed’s independence and raise the possibility that its actions will be seen as politicized. During his remarks in Reliant Stadium, Perry asked for prayers for President Obama. Rather than threatening him, Perry might have done the same for Bernanke.

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