Commerce, Education, and Uh

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 11 2011 9:42 AM

Commerce, Education, and Uh

Rick Perry is trying to heal the wound he opened up Wednesday by slapping himself around in full public view, sort of like Scorpio getting himself beat up so he'd have a case against Dirty Harry. Here's the most successful (yet still weirdly animated) Perry clean-up job, from his appearance on Late Night.

So: He's aware that he screwed up. He was aware on Wednesday that he screwed up. Good for him: He can accept reality and move on. The way he's chosen to move on can teach us plenty. Remember this, his chart asking supporters "which agency do YOU want to forget"?

Screen shot 2011-11-10 at 7.37.31 AM

The more I think about it, the more this explains the flub. Let's return to the first principles of why Perry made abolishing some federal departments such a campaign priority. In his pre-campaign book Fed Up!, Perry runs down a bunch of government agencies that prove Washington's control is "so far-reaching" that it's "difficult to know where it ends." The very first department he mentions: Energy. But he has a bunch of chopping block nominees, and elsewhere in the book he argues that almost every modern function of the government is unconstitutional. So when he's been honest, he's wanted to get rid of a lot of government agencies.

In 2011, he's running for president, and he now wants to kill three departments. This might be why he screwed up -- it's not natural for him to turn his agency-bulldozing agenda into a list. As Byron York points out, he hasn't been campaigning so aggressively that he might have had the three names pounded into his skull. But that doesn't really help him -- shouldn't his agency-smashing agenda be something deeply felt, not just a line to take away Michele Bachmann voters? People remember ideas that they deeply believe in. Perry doesn't believe in this version of the idea.

The pick-your-own-agency chart isn't as revealing about Perry, because clearly some campaign staff hashed it out in a hurry to start spinning the debate. It's calibrated to win back anti-government conservatives, though, so it does remind us that a lot of "dynamite this program/department!" talk is based on what sounds silly. The Marine Mammal Commission has an annual budget of only $3 million, and I've never heard Perry or anyone else explain why it's worth scrapping, but it sure does sound wasteful!

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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