Scott Mooneyham: Perdue provides fodder for bloggers

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 30, 2011

RALEIGH — Let me begin with a caveat: I agree with Bev Perdue.
The country probably would be better off if U.S. House members — and state legislators, for that matter — were elected to four-year terms instead of two-year terms. In such a world, congressmen and legislators might spend at least a couple of years of their elected term not thinking about every issue in the context of raising money and the next election.
Perdue didn’t express the idea in the same way.
Instead, the governor told a local civic group that “we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover.”
The only way that “we” could suspend a congressional election would be to rewrite the U.S. Constitution.
And so, Perdue’s foolish remarks led to quite the hubbub in the media, eventually landing mentions on national political blogs and Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. She and her press aides alternately referred to the remark as “hyperbole” and “sarcasm,” although it sounded like neither.
Some pundits were quick to point out that, in the age of the Internet, politicians must be aware that their remarks can quickly go viral.
That explanation of the national reaction missed part of equation.
Politics in America has become entertainment. Gaffs like the one delivered by Perdue become the best kind of fodder for those who promote the spectacle, those who thrive in the realm of politics as sport.
It’s far easier to make fun of politicians as people than to explain that some of their ideas might actually harm people. Personalities and personal conflict grab eyeballs. Cell phone company mergers and tax policy shifts do not.
That’s not to suggest that a politician’s intelligence, or lack thereof, isn’t fair game. We want competent people at the helm of government.
Perdue has a track record of off-the-cuff remarks that sometimes leave her audiences and reporters scratching their heads. She is prone to the absurd gaff. The flipside is that she earned a graduate degree and was an astute political maneuverer during a long legislative career.
Voters should weigh each side of Beverly Perdue accordingly.
But they should also consider that calculated stupidity and willful ignorance from their elected officials is a much bigger threat in the real world than the occasional foolish remark in front of the public.
If I were a business owner dependent on coastal tourism, for example, I’d be far more worried about Perdue being poised for a flip-flop on coastal oil drilling than about her periodic gaffs.
If I had a child with asthma, I’d be more worried about state legislators who seem intent on ignoring scientific evidence about air pollution and the stuff that we pump into the air than a stumble in a speech.
But maybe those matters just aren’t as exciting as a politician who wanders off into the rhetorical hinterlands.
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Scott Mooneyham writes columns for Capitol Press Association.