Rick Perry’s Pain and Ours

Rick Perry’s former communications chief disputes the claim that painkillers caused the former presidential candidate’s poor debate performances and occasionally strange demeanor on the campaign trail. Technically, the claim isn’t even in the public square yet, but is said to appear in a soon-to-be-released book by veteran political reporters Mike Allen and Evan Thomas.

If the claim is true, there is certainly no shame in Perry’s use of the medications themselves. Back surgery can produce intense and lasting pain. And if his use of pain medications has led to a debilitating addiction, again, nothing for which to apologize, and he should receive the best medical treatment available. There are pharmacological, psychological and behavioral interventions that can help people overcome iatrogenic addiction, and in general the sooner they seek treatment the greater the chances of recovery.

All that said, if the Governor was experiencing fuzzy-headedness, memory problems, and mood disturbance from his pain medication, then the decision he and his campaign staff made to run for the right to put his finger on the nuclear button was reckless in the extreme. Furthermore, as he is still a sitting Governor with powers of consequence (e.g., consenting to capital punishments) it’s a legitimate question now whether he is experiencing continuing medication-related mental and emotional impairment.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

11 thoughts on “Rick Perry’s Pain and Ours”

  1. There’s something of a Catch-22 here. If Perry has been in enough pain that medicating it resulted in significant cognitive changes, then not being medicated would also lead to significant impairment. (Yes, I know that it is possible to alleviate pain without causing impairment. The point is that something like this should probably be out in the open, especially when lives may depend on the governor’s mood.)

  2. Actually, Perry doesn’t have the power of consent to capital punishment. He can delay executions under state law, not void them.

    The Texas governorship is remarkably weak, with essentially no appointment power (2/3 confirmation votes on anything unless the legislature specifies otherwise), no administrative oversight power (administrative bodies report to the legislature), and no pardon power (limited appointment power–see above–to a board that decides pardons and a limited 30-day stay power).

    Governor of Texas is about as safe a job as there is in government for an incompetent to hold. The idea that Governor of Texas is a real job that involves real responsibilities is a dangerous idea that leads to things like President George W. Bush.

    1. I don’t find this compelling (even the example you give, he can delay the taking of a helpless person’s life…and that’s nothing? Imagine you are that person, or that person’s mother or spouse, or an investigator digging up evidence for an appeal.). In any event, even if someone is a town councilman overseeing $10,000 of public money, there is a public interest in knowing if he is grossly impaired in a fashion that affects the discharge of his responsibilities.

      1. I fear you miss the forest Mr Johnston explains (and for which i thank him), while concentrating on what i accept is a significant tree..
        There are times when i wonder if the republicans learned the rules of the game from their perception of the 1960 election. Didn’t Kennedy also hide significant medical issues, including the amount of pain he was coping with?

    2. Even with a 2/3 confirmation vote, appointment power is pretty strong. (I don’t think that anyone would argue that the President has no appointment power, for example). There’s also the dismissal power, which doesn’t require a vote.

      1. It’s stronger than no appointment power at all, but what it means is that the power really lies in the State Senate.

        The Lieutenant Governor of Texas is generally acknowledged as the most powerful figure in the state government because his role in the State Senate is more than enough to make him more powerful than the Governor. More to the point, the Governor of Texas really doesn’t have the power to do much damage acting unilaterally. If he can do real damage it’s because he has widespread institutional and legislative support and it’s damage that comes from actually planning to do damage, not from being erratic. It’s certainly better if he’s not an alcoholic or addicted to pain killers, but that’s true for just about anyone in any job. An erratic Texas Governor is much more head of state than head of government.

        1. Yes, under most analyses the Governor is (at best) the fifth most powerful political office in the State. The Light Gov is first, by virtue of control of the Senate calendar. The Speaker of the House is second, by virtue of control of the House calendar. Roughly tied for third and fourth are the Railroad Commissioner and the Agriculture Commissioner, both elected positions. You ask why the Railroad Commissioner? Because the Railroad Commission oversees the oil industry.

          But you’re ignoring the difference between Constitutional powers and practical power. Perry has done much to bring practical power to the Governor’s Office during his tenure.

    3. You are ignoring the fact that Perry has had twelve years of incumbency (and has two years on his current term, unless he decides to run again). In that twelve year period, he has strengthened the Governor’s office a great deal according to some observers of the not-so-Great State like Lou Dubose.

      The Governor of Texas’ power lies primarily in the appointment of members of the various and sundry boards. Governor Perry has been careful to appointment people who are personally loyal to him. The 2/3 supermajority isn’t a big barrier when Perry’s party’s majorities in both Houses is combined with Legislative deference and the short calendar of the Legislature. This isn’t a new thing in Texas, what is new is Perry’s long tenure in the Office.

      If Perry decided to stay an execution and let it be known to the Board of Pardons and Parole that he wanted the case looked over carefully, you can bet that they would do so. I would also wager a fair sum that the sentence would be commuted.

  3. Nixon, Reagan. Who says we have not had mentally impaired folks in the office already.

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