Friday, November 11, 2011

Rick Perry’s Energy dependence

It’s one of the more brutal aspects of life and visibility in the Internet age: When your picture or words are Out There, in the vast informational nethermaw of the modern world, kiss it goodbye. Whether through a blunder or a blooper on YouTube that circles the globe twice in the time it takes to get coffee, or a congressman’s in flagrante delicto tweet that ruins a promising career, our 24/media age imposes its own harsh prime directive: Thou Shalt Have No Second Chances at First Impressions. The first-blush response to your image or narrative or vision is likely to be the one that sticks.

The rolling train wreck that is the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is confronting that harsh truth yet again, in the wake of Gov. Goodhair’s epic faux pas last night at the CNBC candidates debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., the latest episode in the ongoing campaign sitcom series brought to you by the Republican Party.

Perry was holding his own for much of the evening, not stinking up the joint any more than his partners in ambition Mitt Romney (Let Italy go under, Europe can fend for itself! Punish China for currency manipulation!), Newt Gingrich (Fire Ben Bernanke! Repeal Dodd-Frank and housing will recover! Audit the Federal Reserve!), Ron Paul (Repeal the government! Spend nothing! Let the free market determine interest rates!) and Herman Cain (9-9-9! 9-9-9! 9-9-9! I don’t know who that woman is).

Then Perry broke formation, committing a blunder that will forever be enshrined in the American Political Blooper Reel.

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From almost the start of his feckless campaign, Perry has doubled down on the need for American energy independence and the broad deregulation he says is necessary to make that possible, in part by shutting down those pesky unneeded federal agencies — part of his early campaign pledge to “work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.”

And back in October, at the Bloomberg-Washington Post Republican debate at Dartmouth College, Perry said he intended “to open up this treasure trove that America’s sitting on and getting America independent on the domestic energy side.”

Other, similar statements preceded and followed that one, enough to constitute a campaign platform, something he believed in deeply enough to politically internalize. So it stood to reason that Perry — deregulation cheerleader, energy nationalist, champion of offshore drilling — would have something to say on Wednesday night:

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Speaking about the favorability of Texas’ business climate, Perry said “… Americans are looking for … a tax plan that basically says, you are going to be able to keep more of what you work for. They are looking for a regulatory climate that does not strangle the life out of their businesses when they want to put those dollars out there to create the wealth.

“That's what Americans are looking for. I think we are getting all tangled up around an issue here about, can you work with Democrats or can you work with Republicans? Yes, we can all do that.

"But the fact of the matter is we better have a plan in place that Americans can get their hands around. And that's a reason my flat tax is the only one of all of the folks -- these good folks on the stage, it balance the budget in 2020. It does the things to the regulatory climate that has to happen. And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see.

Paul: You need five.

Perry: Oh, five, OK. So Commerce, Education, and the...

(Unknown): EPA?

Perry: EPA, there you go.

Then with two fairly simple questions, one of the debate moderators, CNBC’s John Harwood, set Rick Perry on fire.

Harwood: Seriously, is the EPA the one you were talking about?

Perry: No, sir, no, sir. We were talking about the agencies of government -- the EPA needs to be rebuilt. There's no doubt about that.

Harwood: But you can't -- but you can't name the third one?

Perry: The third agency of government I would -- I would do away with, Education, the... Commerce and, let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.

The 52 seconds of Perry’s cerebral paralysis are bad enough to read from the transcript. Watching it is worse:

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The missing word — the name of the third federal agency he would shut down — was Energy. The same thing he’d been talking about, passionately and presumably with authority, on the campaign trail for weeks.

Perry came around about 15 minutes or so later, remembering the word, but the damage was done. As you might expect, the Twitterverse weighed in almost immediately. Mike_Lock tweeted: Rick Perry = Texas toast.

Patmcpsu agreed: “Perry is done.”

Republican strategist Mark McKinnon was more expansive but just as fatalistic when he put things in perspective in The Daily Beast: “It’s one thing to not be able to tick off all of Mitt Romney’s 59-point economic plan. Or even a 10-point plan. But when you can’t get past two in a three-point plan, you’re done. Disqualified.

“Perry is now a dead man walking. He’ll go through the motions to save face, but he won’t get a single new voter. And he will quickly lose the ones he had. Once they’re laughing at you, you’re finished. Perry supporters Wednesday night were running out in the dark and pulling out yard signs.”

Conservative writer Jonah Goldberg came to much the same conclusion in the National Review: “Perry couldn’t remember that he wants to shut down the Department of Energy!? For weeks, energy reform was the only substantive policy he’d put forward. Energy is still one of the only topics he can discuss with anything approaching fluency. But he couldn’t remember he wanted to shut down DOE? It’d be more understandable if he forgot the Department of Commerce — people forget the existence of the Commerce Department all of the time. ...

“It’s fine to say everyone has these bad moments. That’s true. Everyone makes mistakes. What you look for are patterns. Last night was so deadly because Perry reinforced his pattern rather than deviated from it.”

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In our 24/7 world, you had to know what was coming next. Sure as night follows day, Perry hit the airwaves this morning, doing the requisite All Apologies Tour on all the major networks.

NBC’s Today Show, Fox, CNN — everyone got a variation on what he said within minutes of the debate’s conclusion: “I stepped in it.” It was capped off tonight by an appearance on CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman,” with the governor reading the Top Ten list. One in his honor: The Top 10 Rick Perry Excuses.

It’s been funny to this point, but Perry’s latest gaffe — that phrase deserves its own macro key right about now — really points to something sad, weak and obviously desperate about most of he Republican field arrayed against President Obama: a paucity both of ideas and anyone equipped to articulate them. Quiet as kept, the woes now visited on the Perry campaign have had their rough equivalents with those of just about everyone else in the race.

From Cain’s still-unfolding debacle re sexual harassment allegations to Paul’s ardent but economically and geopolitically impractical platform to Newt Gingrich, whose baggage precedes him handsomely, the GOP and its presumed standard-bearers are in a mess — one that, ironically enough, is symbolized by the governor from Texas, even as the others put distance themselves from a goof that was his, and his alone.

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"I hate debates," he said recently in Des Moines. "I used to hate spinning in aircrafts. ... Finally I did it, and I did it enough that I finally got pretty good at it. So hold on, maybe I'll get better at debates, too."

We’re gonna find out fast. The next debate is Saturday in South Carolina and any hopes that Rick Perry’s about to morph into Daniel Webster are thin at best. Give him credit” Perry’s confident enough to return to the same rhetorical corral where he stepped in it little more than 72 hours earlier.

Maybe he’ll keep his Tony Lamas clean this time. Or maybe he’ll just keep spinning in this latest aircraft, putting himself, his party and the nation he presumes to lead through the political equivalent of a five-spiral crash.
Image credits: Perry: CNBC. Perry All Apologies montage: NBC News.

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