Rick Perry and Joe Paterno: disastrous senior moments

Just saw Rick Perry on the Today Show and he still seems to be struggling to remember his talking points. Camera in his face, live national television, all he’s got to do is act like he has some inkling of what he wants to say. Instead we hear a great whooshing sound, presumably from the wind tunnel that is his brain.

It’s not that much to ask of a candidate to remember a talking point. We’re not being cruel to expect that a person who wants to be the leader of the Free World will remember the vapid, misguided, impractical and unattainable sound bite that he had intended to say.

Perry’s dim-bulb gaffe last night — some say the worst ever in a presidential debate — surely will end his candidacy. Who is going to give money, which last I checked was still considered something of value, to the campaign coffers of a man who had a 53-second mental block as he tried to recall that he wants to kill the federal agency charged with, among things, testing the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The Energy Department is not that obscure. Think: Steve Chu. Solyndra. You draw a blank, you find a workaround. Nice campus up I-270, maples aflame this time of year.

[Energy Dept. to Rick Perry: Turn out the lights, the party’s over.]

[Update 12:45 p.m: I’ve been talking to neuroscientists about the Perry mental block — if you’ve got an expert, pass along my email: achenbachj at washpost. com. The folks I’m talking to say this kind of thing happens to everyone, that its not pathological, that it gets worse with age but in this case was almost surely driven by stress, and that proper nouns (like “Energy”) are particularly hard to retrieve. In ordinary life we call a retreat, relax, wait, and the word eventually comes to us. Perry didn’t have that option on live television. Now I feel sorry for him!]

And oh gosh, the Joe Paterno story! Wow. Jaw-dropping. It’s the biggest story in the country — an epic tragedy for everyone involved. In case you somehow missed it, last night the Penn State board of trustees fired Paterno and university president Graham Spanier. In my limited experience, BOTs are confirmational entities, not prone to executive action against the wishes of the people who run a university. And Paterno seemed to think, in his statement calling for the trustees to spend not one more minute on the case, that he could still tell these folks what to do.

But no doubt the lawyers at Penn State told the trustees that there are more tough times ahead, more investigations. The school had to severe sever its interests immediately from those of Joe Paterno, President Spanier, and anyone else within a country mile of this hideous and tragic situation.

[Update: Memo to the thousands of students who rioted last night in support of Paterno: Hit the books and study up on the concept of accountability.]

This ain’t nearly over. This morning one of the TV reporters (CNN?) said the feds are now investigating. Expect lots of records to be pulled, the whole thing re-examined from scratch. What did Paterno et al know and when did they know it? You’ve got wind of a pedophile in your athletic program and you don’t call 911? For years?????

You can bet there will be lots of civil litigation against the school, Paterno, and among and between all the parties involved. Hard to believe I’m writing this: Joe Paterno right now needs a good lawyer.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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