They're all fine -- it's the office that's gotten too big


Texas Gov. Rick Perry has taken a lot of ribbing about his inability to remember, during yet another GOP presidential primary debate on Nov. 9, which three federal departments he’s supposed to pretend to want to close.

Though it was painful, he was probably wise to capitalize on it as an “I can laugh at myself” moment.

Actually, I found the notorious 53-second “gaffe” fairly endearing.

With the possible exception of Ron Paul, none of these half-dozen posturing politicians, if elected, is likely to reduce the overall size of government by one iota.

So until we find ourselves in the midst of a Weimar-style currency collapse, or unless you’re referring to some mere cosmetic RESHUFFLING of federal agencies into newly re-named departments (with a concomitant necessity to print millions of reams of new letterhead stationery), all this talk about “slashing the bureaucracy” and “cutting departments” falls along with “securing the borders” and “rigorously enforcing the Bill of Rights” into the category of “silly fibs you must memorize and intone just long enough to get you the nomination, at which point you can sell them at your next garage sale with your old VCR tapes.”

If it were otherwise, Mr. Perry could simply have said “Oh, Agriculture; Housing and Human Services, you name a third one and I’ll tell you if I can find it in the Constitution. Probably it won’t be authorized there, either; this’ll be an instructive exercise.” He couldn’t manage this because he in no way grasps or embraces the PRINCIPLE of a government of powers sharply limited by specific authorization.

So, to a deer-in-the-headlights candidate about to step out in front of those cameras and glaring Colortrans, his stomach churning at every cough and crackling candy wrapper from the crowd, his brain newly packed with all kinds of new stuff he’s supposed to remember to touch on, from his position on Medicare Advantage to the name of the Grand Poobah of Kyrgyzstan, it probably sounds like ...

“And remember the three departments you’re going to close, throw the bums out, slash and burn.”

“Commerce and ...”

“Commerce, Education and Synergy.”

“And what?”

“Eenie Meenie and Moe.”

“Eenie, Miney ...?”

“Easel, Weasel and Dweezil.”

“Dreidel, Dweezil ...?”

“And ... you’re on! Let’s have a big round of applause for our candidates ...”

It’s like expecting the starting nose tackle of the Super Bowl champions to go on some TV talk show and dance the tango. If he actually got it right it’d just be boring (See: Jon Huntsman.) The point is to prove he’s a good sport by allowing us to laugh at him as he gives it the old college try.

Ten or 15 debates full of “gotcha” questions from supercilious reporters who think they’re qualified to run the State Department even though they’ve never commanded an infantry platoon or an ice cream stand or run for dog-catcher, fielded by candidates coached to “pivot” to their memorized talking points, are custom-designed to cultivate the foregone conclusion that all Republicans are either failures or terrible bores, whereas Barack Obama can brag about this nation building the “Intercontinental Railroad,” can repeatedly praise the service of something called a Navy “corpseman,” can claim that he sees many veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice and who we honor on Memorial Day standing here in the crowd today, can ramble for excruciating long minutes during to an apparent teleprompter failure trying to explain how much one of his big-spending boondoggles will “save” us, can tell you he’s campaigned in 57 states now with only eight more to go, and he gets a free pass since he’s a genius, after all he got admitted to Columbia ... even if his grades are sealed and curiously few of his classmates can actually remember ever seeing him there.

Frankly, I don’t think we’re going to find anyone big enough to run this entire country, either. Which is why -- instead of selectively dismissing only the Republican aspirants as “the seven dwarves” -- we should go back to hiring someone to exercise only the limited, written-down powers of the office which proved plenty big enough for Washington, Jefferson, and Van Buren, none of whom ever pretended to be able to single-handedly bring us all jobs, happiness, and prosperity ... let alone decide what kind of fuel we should burn, or the 18th- or 19th-century equivalent of what kind of light bulbs and toilet tanks we should be allowed to use.

We merely need an executive officer with no imperial designs, to supervise a pretty large corporate down-sizing. Would-be saviors and multipliers of fishes and loaves can apply at the next tent down the street.