With all the attention focused on yesterday's annual Clash of the Performance Enhanced Titans in Miami, it was easy to overlook the other star-studded exhibition taking place in town. An event that, like the Super Bowl, boasted top-tier entertainment and a boisterous crowd while requiring little in the way of actual thought. I'm speaking, of course, about Governor Rick Perry's "Super Sunday with Sarah Palin" rally at the Berry Center in Cypress.
If I'm going to be charitable about it, I'd say the center was filled to slightly over half its 8,500-seat capacity. Most of the rear of the arena was empty, as was about three-quarters of the floor, which had been sectioned off for presumably more teeming masses. Speaking with some of those in attendance, it also became apparent that this number would have been dramatically lower without Palin's presence. Some folks had come from as far away as San Antonio and Austin to hear her speak.
I didn't ask how many were there to see Ted Nugent.
Attendees started filing in shortly after 1:30. They were welcomed by dozens of rally placards strategically placed in the stands -- presumably for those who'd left their own "Perry 2010" signs at home -- and by numerous inspirational banners festooning the center. My favorite -- which is in no way a play on an idiotic statement made last year by the Governor -- is below:
Even before the rally proper started, it became clear that the Republican Party is going to have to change up its game plan if it wants to stay in any way relevant to future politics. In particular, they might want to consider diversifying themselves a bit musically. Bumper songs consisting of country artists like Eric Church and country/rock artists like .38 Special tend to attract...a certain demographic. And for a group that gives lip service to being "inclusive" of all races and creeds, their soundtrack sure sounds like something played exclusively at the Bob's Country Bunker. I mean, I wasn't the only person who commented that pretty much the only black people in attendance (not counting Railroad Commisioner Michael Williams) were Berry Center staff or highway patrolmen.
Senator Dan Patrick kicked off the festivities, opening with a crack about how if they'd had five more people in attendance, it would've equaled the number of "czars Obama has in Washington." It never hurts to dredge up that old Cold War era hatred of all things Soviet (or pre-Soviet, as the case may be), though someone will have to refresh my memory if Patrick and his ilk were similarly critical of George W. Bush (or Ronald Reagan, or George H.W. Bush) for their "czars" as well.
The rally continued with Aggie country singer Granger Smith (in yet another display of canny strategizing, Perry and company seemed to expect everyone in attendance to be a Texas A&M graduate). His set was mostly inoffensive, even if he sports the same baldness-concealing headgear favored by the lead singer of Survivor.
Patrick also introduced Perry appointee Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Because putting Latina judges on the bench is only pandering to a much-needed demographic when Obama does it.
I suppose they were going for that "down home" vibe, what with the Boy Scout troop presenting the colors and the marching band providing musical accompaniment, but the whole thing really just felt cheap and hastily thrown together. And nothing demonstrated that better than Ted Nugent's performance of the National Anthem, which was plagued by mic and feedback problems. He soldiered gamely on, to the "delight" of Perry's more staid supporters.
Finally, it was time to bring out the big guns.
Patrick introduced Rick Perry as someone who "loves life" and "believes in his 10th Amendment rights," just in case the "Texas is Succeeding" joke went over our heads. The two entered the center to much applause, with Perry going largely unnoticed as Palin gave handshakes and a few hugs to those lining their path. Perry, all leer, wisely kept his comments short and let the woman everybody was there to see take the podium without forcing Piper to stand too long next to "Uncle Ted."
Give Palin credit; her anecdote about telling Piper that Texas is like "Alaska's little brother" wasn't met with a great deal of enthusiam, but she quickly won the crowd back by describing the two states' similarities. Namely, how Texas and Alaska both "proudly cling to our guns and religion." From there, she recited a litany of Perry talking points about budgetary successes while conveniently forgetting to mention the social programs gutted to make them possible, or about Texas' dismal rankings in everything from education to teen pregnancy (though apparently Palin doesn't get too worked up about the latter).
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She wrapped up with a few choice bon mots designed to give comfort to the aging Reaganites in the stands, praising "America's exceptionalism" and expressing her belief that we're still that "shining city on the hill." All that was left was for Perry to declare Palin an "honorary Texan" and everybody was free to go home and watch the big game.
"You can burn down my mansion anytime."
For all of Palin's admittedly deft manipulation of the crowd, I noticed a distinct lack of enthusiasm among the attendees for Perry himself. The Governor, to his credit, knows he needs the help of the far right that Palin speaks to so...eloquently if he's going to prevent Debra Medina from siphoning off votes and beat Kay Bailey Hutchison for a third term. Judging by the number of people loudly professing their love for Alaska's
ex-Governor, however, he better make sure he doesn't (se)cede too much of the spotlight.
For more photos from the event, check out our slideshow.