Rick Perry's Epic 'Gaffe" Was so Much More Than Just a Stumble
The New York Times reinforced yesterday something I said on Twitter as well: the fact that Perry's debate "gaffe" was about a lot more than someone failing to remember a talking point. We've all had our embarrassing "duh" moments where we forget something simple--though Perry could certainly have handled the moment better. (In his place, I might have made a self-deprecating joke like "see, that's the problem--so many of these agencies, sometimes it's hard even for me to keep 'em all straight. Y'all know I'm not the best talker up here. I'll leave the speechifying to Mr. Obama. But You can see my proposals on my website, all the details are there." The fact that he couldn't do even that to recover is a gaffe in its own right.)
But the problem is that eliminating a federal agency isn't a minor talking point. It's a big, big deal involving hundreds or even thousands of regulatory consequences and tens of thousands of jobs. It's one thing not to remember the name of a world leader, or the precise percentage of a tax or benefit policy tweak. It's quite another to forget an entire government agency you want to eliminate. In non-political terms, that's not like forgetting the name of your coworker. For someone who wants to be President, that's like forgetting the name of your kid. It defies credibility.
And it only goes to prove that more than anything, this is all an ideological act for Republican politicians. The big money men behind the scenes have deliberate and focused goals, but for GOP politicians it's basically an indiscriminate hack and slash routine without even a regard for specific policy objectives. They're just doing it for the sake of doing it, because it fits a "drown the government in the bathtub" ethic. It doesn't even matter which part of government they're drowning (unless it's the military, of course, but even then a few of them have been getting more courageous about that, too.)
From the Times article:
The problem is that he didn’t seem to know the basic details of his own proposal. Here he was calling for what would be a truly radical restructuring of the federal government — involving many thousands of jobs and many billions of dollars in federal expenditures — and he didn’t have a grasp on which sprawling departments he would shutter. It seemed the idea was not his own, but rather something he had tried and failed to memorize.
And in this way, Mr. Perry violated one of the core tenets of modern politics, which is that you have to at least sustain the artifice of ownership. We know, of course, that presidential candidates don’t actually write their own speeches or stay up late at night tinkering with their own proposals to overhaul Medicare. We get all that.
But we do expect them to really believe in the things they propose — to have the requisite conviction to know and recite with passion the basic policies that someone on their team stayed up nights to craft. Say what you want about Mr. Bush, but no one ever doubted his deep well of resolve on tax cuts or education reform.
But this isn't just limited to Perry. Mitt Romney's 59 point plan isn't much better, nor would he be able to name most of them off the top of his head, despite the enormous consequences they would have for America.
This isn't about public policy for these guys. This is a religious exercise: one in which keeping the faith matters more than the specific practice of the dogma, and which has a lot more to do with Ayn Rand than with Jesus.