It seems that the biggest take away from the GOP presidential candidate debate last week was that the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, forgot which third government agency he wanted to cut once in office. What is especially troubling, and likely the most emblematic of what is wrong with the politics of the Right in American today, is that people were not deeply troubled that a presidential candidate was so candid about the scorched earth policy they would implement if elected.
And what is worse is that while Perry stumbled, only able to list Commerce and Education as the two agencies he would dismantle without question, is that one of his opponents, Ron Paul, was busy holding up five fingers to indicate that if he was elected, the agencies cut outright would total five. Forgot three – Paul wants five gone.
On Friday, Bill Maher had Andrew Sullivan from The Daily Beast and Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hard Ball, on the show, and the two got on like cats and dogs. And while Sullivan is right that people did manage to get educated before there was a government agency for education, to suggest that something as critical as government control of education is somehow expendable seems more like Sullivan playing devil’s advocate than what he truly believes.
And while it would not have mattered necessarily what agencies Perry so flippantly regards as fit for the scrap-heap, it did not help matters that he targeted two agencies with critical ties to the future well-being of the country: commerce and education will likely be of value in an America that many feel has fallen from the mantle of research and innovation, to say nothing of manufacturing.
And if we needed further evidence that the Environmental Protection Agency is a dithering joke to the Republican presidential hopefuls, as Perry stumbled his way through his muddied thoughts, the candidates took a moment to joke that the third agency he had in mind was the EPA. And while it wasn’t the agency he was thinking of, Perry could at least seek momentary shelter and laugh at the joke that is the EPA in Republican estimations.
Perry was at least humble about his slip up during the debate, but how could he have done otherwise? If he had been able to walk himself out of the woods during the debate and if not remember the third agency then at least fall with grace, he may have avoided having to admit his embarrassment. Candidly, after the debate, he told reporters he had “stepped in it.” But humility was critical to avoid thinking him hard-headed in addition to a poor public speaker.
“We just keep going out there and talking about the issues that we think are important to the people of this country,” Perry said in the National Post. “The perfect candidate has never been created yet…and Americans are pretty forgiving people.”
Perry is banking on that forgiveness to help propel him back into the Republican spotlight, a space that he held as recently as six weeks ago. His latest announcement calls for Congress’s responsibilities (and salaries) to be halved, which is not a bad way to get ahead with this Republican crowd. Slash and burn is all the rage.
Yet Perry’s success was before Herman Cain, though he too appears to be on the decline as sexual harassment charges keep piling up, and won’t go away. Through all of this, Newt Gingrich surges ahead. But leads are fleeting in this GOP race, it would seem, and the list of candidates may not be finalized. So Perry has a chance to turn his fortunes around.
And while he maintains that his campaign is not over, he needs to prove that the wheels have not come off the campaign just yet. Because the election is a long way off.