Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Defense of Rick Perry's Brain Fart

So, last night Rick Perry had a moment of confusion on national TV, during the time in which we all pretend like the once-a-week dog-and-pony show is going to make a difference in whether Mitt Romney becomes the nominee.*

Everyone has been there. We've all been in both high- and low- pressure situations where we forget some crucial piece of information for a temporary amount of time. It's never gotten us fired or caused our spouses to leave us.** Likewise, I don't think it necessarily disqualifies a person from being president just because they forgot something that, in the grand scheme of things, really isn't all that important.

We are right to hold our presidents to a higher standard, but sometimes I think, in this heavily instant mass-media age, the impacts are amplified to absurd levels, as if we live in a cartoon world.

Then again, while I, personally, think sinking a presidential candidate due to one misstatement is a drastic and unhealthy action, I know it's hardly new. Mitt's father, George, was immediately out of the running back during the 1968 election when he said one word: "brainwash." (He claimed he had been brainwashed by military commanders and diplomats upon returning from Vietnam and making him think things were better than they really were.) Ted Kennedy's challenge to sitting president Jimmy Carter was destroyed when he can one technically sound but oddly rambling answer concerning health care.*** In one minute, these men's political ambitions were completely ruined, regardless of the decades they had spent giving service to our nation in some form.

We expect our presidents to know everything, and yet no president ever does, or ever has. It's impossible. And yet because we expect it, men and women run successful campaigns not because they know more than anyone else, but because they can sound like they know more than everyone else. We've crafted a political culture where being very good at lying about knowing a lot is valued more than actually knowing a lot.

Does that mean that intelligence and charisma don't have their part? Obviously not. We've inflated the importance of charisma, trying to justify it by stating that they require the skill to persuade. While it's true, there are many different ways of doing so, and a president who says "uh" once in a while isn't a complete moron.

Intelligence, of course, is important, but it's also important to know what you don't know. George W. Bush was painted as an imbecile because he didn't know the leader of Greece. With almost 200+ world leaders--a majority of those more important than Greece--it's doubtful any of the candidates knew that name.**** Lamar Alexander was lambasted for not knowing the price of eggs and milk, thereby painting probably the most down-to-earth candidate in the field in 1996 as "out of touch." We get hung up on trivia and perfection. I'd rather have a president who knows to appoint someone who had a firm grasp of, say, the derivatives market, than a president who read a book eighteen years ago in college and claims they can wing it.

So we should cut the governor of Texas a little slack, I think. We don't need to get all superior about it, as if we've never lost our car keys. There are, after all, plenty of other reasons not to vote for him.

*I am taking bets now. Line forms to the right.
**Unless that crucial piece of information is our anniversary.
***Also: Chappaquiddick.
****This was, of course, over a decade ago, before Greece had the ability to bring the entire world economy to its knees. WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

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