Doing damage control in the wake of Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s “senior moment” during last night’s nationally televised debate, in which he cast about for full minutes in search of a government agency he could vow to slash, Team Perry is spinning the gaffe as a folksy human flub, recalling episodes of high-profile mental drifting by Presidents Obama, Reagan and Ford. Staffers blasted out a fundraising email asking supporters what department of the federal government they would cut if they were president.
The post-debate Perry campaign email:
We’ve all had human moments. President Obama is still trying to find all 57 states. Ronald Reagan got lost somewhere on the Pacific Highway in an answer to a debate question. Gerald Ford ate a tamale without removing the husk. And tonight Rick Perry forgot the third agency he wants to eliminate. Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies.
The governor said it best afterwards: “I’m glad I had my boots on, because I sure stepped in it tonight.”
While the media froths over this all too human moment, we thought we would take this opportunity to ask your help in doing something much more constructive: write us to let us know what federal agency you would most like to forget.
Is it the EPA and its job-killing zealots? The NLRB and its czar-like dictates? The edu-crats at the Department of Education who aim to control your local curriculum?
Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you are on twitter join us in using a new twitter hashtag: #forgetmenot. And, if you could, throw in a $5 contribution for every agency you would like to forget. We hope you have a long list. And we promise we will write down every last idea. So we don’t forget.
Still standing in our Boots,
The larger unacknowledged problem is that the worst part about Perry’s Klieg-lighted search for a federal agency to eliminate wasn’t that it suggested Perry is addled or slow; it’s that it supports the argument that the whole business of Republican candidates for office going on in full bluster about slashing government programs is merely pandering performance. Perry wasn’t sure what to cut in the moment because he probably isn’t serious in an adult way about eliminating programs. That is to say, he hasn’t done the work. He didn’t know what agency he means to cut because he hasn’t sat down and pored over documents and done the math and considered what constituencies support which agencies and who in Washington he would have to win over to get the job done and how he would replace the services provided by whatever agency he would decide to slash and so on.
In the New York Times this past Sunday, William Galston argued for mandatory voting in the U.S. One of the improvements in our politics that would result, he said, would be to drive down pandering.
“Rather than focusing on symbolic gestures whose major purpose is to agitate partisans, members of Congress might actually roll up their sleeves and tackle the serious, complex issues they ignore.”
Galston’s argument was dismissed in many quarters as “moonbattery” but Perry’s senior moment of shallow government-slashery offers more evidence that the problems Galston described tied to the present political system won’t go away unless the American public decides to seriously address them.
Scot Kersgaard contributed to this article.