The Texas Misstep

Dan Bauman is a sophomore journalism major and staff writer for The Journal

In case you were wondering what the third federal agency Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry wished to dismantle, it was the Department of Energy.
For those of you that missed the political equivalent of a 5-car pile up, do a Google search for “Rick Perry oops” and then come back.  Don’t worry.  I’ll still be here.
To Perry’s credit, he has mitigated the fallout of his 53-second brain fart the only way anyone can — with humor.
His Twitter account and website have become platforms for mild self-deprecation, and he even appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman”
listing the Top 10 Excuses for his gaffe.  And yes, he did make it to 10.
For now, Perry’s campaign will survive the media blather, the “Daily Show” sketches and the “SNL” parodies.  Herman Cain seemed to be channeling Rick Perry yesterday when he was unable to articulate what the Libya conflict actually was and what President Obama had done wrong.  Look for the cable news echo chamber to shift over from Perry to Cain in coming days.  And of course, there is always a sex scandal somewhere in politics.
When you look beyond the hilarity (or painfulness) of the Texas misstep, the event demonstrates a dubious practice in modern politics — not giving a damn about the measure you are putting forth.
You see, Rick Perry was not proposing the United States adopt “National Kill a Wolf on a Run Day.”  He was proposing to completely do away with the departments of commerce, education and energy.  One would think if your policy proposal calls for the closing of three federal agencies, the firing of thousands of government employees and the reworking of responsibilities of the government, the least you could do would be to properly remember which agencies you want to cut.
Said policy decision, though, was probably no decision of Perry’s.
There is an unspoken understanding in politics that politicians don’t actually write their own speeches or map out their own agenda — that work is done by aides, interns and lobbyists.  All candidates are asked to do is memorize these focus group-tested proposals and regurgitate them to a crowd of like-minded people with a folksy accent. Cue card rhetoric for cue card voters.
What Perry did last Wednesday was break the fourth wall of political theatre, look into the crowd and ask, “What’s my line?” He betrayed one of a politician’s most important assets: perceived genuineness.
His gaffe makes him look like a phony peddling buzzwords and sound bites to  hungry conservatives.
It appears though, that Perry doesn’t really believe in what he is selling.  And if he can’t even feign being a merchant of small government, there isn’t much chance voters will support him.  Other candidates take note.  Memorize every word of your next impromptu speech or such ridicule may befall you.
Gaffes, however, are poor barometers to decipher the principles of candidate and should not be relied upon solely for ballot decisions.  If you really want to know what a candidate cares about, look to the history of that candidate.  What did he or she support?  Where did they make mistakes?  Did they learn from those mistakes?  Do your research.
This next election may ultimately answer a fundamental question about our republic: Does this country want small government or big government?
It’s best you know the good and the bad when you enter the booth on Nov. 6, 2012.  Ignore the campaign ads, the pundits and blowhards, and do your own research.  Don’t be distracted by how nicely packaged a candidate is.  That is a campaign machine at work.
We’ve got a year left until Election Day.  Start studying.  You will be glad you did.

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