The Washington Post

Rick Perry’s big ’Oops!’

Just when I thought I would take a day off, this happens!

Rick Perry unleashed a whammy of an answer at last night’s debate when asked which Cabinet departments he would eliminate. Perry’s response? “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.”

(As the audience chuckles, Mitt Romney suggests “EPA.” But it’s not the EPA, so Perry has to keep flailing.)

“The third agency of government I would — I would do away with, Education, the . . . 

(At this point some Samaritan to Perry’s right, and out of the camera’s view, volunteers, “Commerce.”)

“Commerce,” Perry agreed, “and, let’s see . . . I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”


One thing I learned from doing stand-up comedy that you are doing really badly only when the audience switches from heckling you to expressing concern for your well-being. “You are dying up there!” they say. “Do you need help? For the next punch line, try ‘Betelgeuse.’ I will bring you a sandwich later!”

Hecklers you can handle. This is far worse: bombing so badly that no one can bear to watch without at least trying to intervene, lest the memory of the evening haunt them the rest of their lives.

That describes Rick Perry’s 53-second flailing at Wednesday's debate. Even Mitt “Nice Try” Romney had to say something. Someone else yelled “Commerce!” It was that bad.

Before, people complained that Rick Perry didn’t belong in the presidential debates. “He belongs on ‘Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader,’ ” we said. “There, at least, he might stand a fighting chance!”

Now even that seems like a charitable assessment.

But I have to wonder whether we are entitled to be so smug. At least Perry could name two Cabinet departments off the top of his head. True, he is a presidential candidate who includes eliminating three departments in his platform, so you’d think he’d remember which ones they were. Ron Paul remembers. Ron Paul likes to lie in bed reciting the names of superfluous Cabinet departments. It is how he lulls himself to sleep. Sure, Mitt Romney can’t name all 59 of his points, but that’s just because he did it once and everyone in the audience fell asleep or endorsed Herman Cain.

But still, can we really judge Rick Perry? Remember that time Newsweek gave us the citizenship test, and only 38 percent of us passed? Nearly 30 percent of us couldn’t name the current vice president. And 44 percent of us were unable to define the Bill of Rights.

Perry is just proving he’s one of us.

Usually that’s a good strategy. We like a president with whom we would feel comfortable having beer. “Civics?” we would belch, loudly. “Who needs ’em?”

But not this year. This year the electorate has been very clear in its demands: a superhuman yet relatable figure capable of mysteriously resolving all our economic woes with a manly flick of his wrist.

That’s certainly not Rick Perry. He can't even name the Cabinet departments. And now we know that.

In the immortal words of Rick Perry, “Oops.”

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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