Not forgetful. Witless.

Rick Perry’s many defenders on the conservative Web are all saying that his unfortunate lapse during the debate Wednesday night was a “senior moment,” we all have them, and it’s unfair to hold it against him.

This completely misses the reality of what happened. Of course, anyone can forget something he is about to say. But Perry didn’t merely forget something. He went on for 53 agonizing seconds, repeatedly intoning, “Commerce, Education…” and failing to come up with the name of the third federal department he said he wants to eliminate. Instead of failing to come up with the name once and then recovering by either admitting the memory lapse or making a joke about it and moving on to the larger point about the need to reduce the size of government, he tried and failed to come up with the name three or four times. It was as though he was going out of his way to appear like the proverbial hopeless lout standing in agony before the classroom. There is no parallel to such a display of mental incompetence by a presidential contender. Yet his supporters still want him to be president.

But now that I think about it, maybe their position is not as off-base as it seems. To paraphrase Sen. Roman Hruska’s famous remark about Nixon Supreme Court nominee Harrold Carswell, there are a lot of hopeless louts in America, don’t they deserve to be represented too?

* * *

Some further thoughts on this. Typically an intelligent person when he makes a mistake realizes it, and finds a way to correct the mistake or otherwise extricate himself. What is striking about Rick Perry is that he repeatedly makes mistakes and doesn’t realize he’s made them.

Thus after the initial manifestation of his brain-freeze in the debate this week, it was evident from his jocular attitude that he didn’t realize the significance of what he had done and how it would hurt him. Instead of immediately taking steps to extricate himself (I’ve given two examples above of how he might have done this), he kept trying, over and over, like a man lost in a daze, to remember the forgotten name, and failing each time.

Similarly, during his famously incoherent critique of Romney as a flip flopper, he wandered into a verbal haze, but instead of stopping and starting over, or otherwise getting himself out of the situation, he kept plunging ahead, getting himself deeper and deeper into his own mess.

I’m reminded of Gerald Ford’s famous gaffe about Poland in his 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter. After Ford made the initial statement that it was not true that Poland was under the domination of the USSR, one of the reporters on the panel gave Ford a chance to correct the error. He said something like, “Mr. Ford, are you really saying that Poland is not under the domination of the Soviet Union?” And the clueless Ford, despite the fact that the reporter had just given him a strong hint that he had made a mistake and needed to correct it, stalwartly repeated the error. It wasn’t the initial mistake that damaged him, but the insensibility he showed in failing to realize he had made the mistake and correct it.

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

Last night Mark Levin played a series of clips in which Obama stammered and forgot himself for painfully long periods — and presumably Obama even had the benefit of a teleprompter when he went into brain-lock. I had never heard them before.

Alan Levine writes:

I think that you have been a mite hard on Rick Perry. He gives a wonderful imitation of George W. Bush. Sure, he’s unfit to be President. But he should always have a job on Saturday Night Live. Perhaps it was all an audition?

Paul T. writes:

LOL. But surely it’s the mediocre louts who are in particular need of representation by clever and resourceful people? Isn’t that the prime justification for the legal profession?

James N. writes:

I don’t care for Perry, I’ve never thought of voting for him in the NH Primary, and I have been actively opposed to him as a candidate since he announced.

My MAJOR problem with him as a candidate is the obvious and easy simile Obama’s team will make with Bush. This seems SO obvious that I’m surprised everyone doesn’t see it.

His debate performances have worsened this problem so much that I hope he drops out.

I think “totally unqualified to be President” goes too far. He’s been a functional governor of a large state for ten years. He’s 35 years old, born in the US to citizen parents, and resident for the past 14 years.

He’s not my guy. But he’s qualified.

LA replies:

I don’t think anyone here has said that Perry is totally unqualified to be president. However, yesterday I did say that Gingrich is totally unqualified to be president, and I stand by that.

As for the meaning of “qualified,” I don’t see any reason why we should limit the meaning of the word to “constitutionally qualified.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 11, 2011 09:48 AM | Send

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