Verner: Politicians prone to memory lapses

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 21, 2011

Before I forget, I’d like to offer a few words on presidential candidate Rick Perry’s debate lapse in which he blanked out on one of his three talking points about federal agencies he’d like to abolish.
I have to cut Perry some slack here because I recently had one of those brain freeze moments myself. I forgot where I put my checkbook.
Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I didn’t “put” it anywhere. I hid it with all the calculation and cunning of a squirrel stashing away a prize nut.
Before a recent trip to the beach, I decided to hide the checkbook in a safe place, rather than leave it in the usual drawer. Our neighborhood had a recent break-in, so I thought I’d take an extra precaution, just in case burglars weren’t satisfied with the 15-year-old TV, my collection of non-functioning wristwatches or the stepladder I left leaning against the garage in hopes that any marauding thieves would take pity and clean out the gutters after cleaning out the flatware drawer.
My hiding place must have been sheer genius, because I still haven’t been able to remember where the checkbook is hidden.
I’d be more worried, but such instances of forgetfulness are a rarity in my case, and my household searches haven’t been in vain. So far, I’ve found some tax documents that went missing in 2002, the driver’s license I misplaced in 2005 and a bag of M&Ms with a “12/1999” expiration date. How the latter ended up duct-taped to the underside of the toilet flush-tank lid is a mystery. Since our son moved out of the house, I no longer hide candy except for the Valentine’s Day treats I buy for my wife, conceal in the closet behind the Christmas wrapping paper and stumble across months later while searching for the “supporting documentation” requested by the IRS.
We all forget things, and it’s pretty unreasonable to think that, just because you’re a politician, your recall suddenly improves. A brief examination of history shows us that forgetfulness is nothing unusual among those who aspire to high office.
For instance, Presidents Clinton and Kennedy were prone to bouts of absent-mindedness in which they forgot they were married men. To be fair, presidents have high stress jobs, and the chief of staff’s daily “to-do” list probably doesn’t include “brief president on his current marital status.” Or perhaps these presidents didn’t forget they were married; they just had trouble recalling which particular woman was their wife. I’m fairly certain this was the case with Clinton, who apparently approached any female within range of the presidential radar in the happy expectation that she might be the conjugal partner whose face (and perhaps name) had momentarily escaped him. (Newt Gingrich appears to suffer from a similar affliction, although considering the rate at which he acquires and discards wives, the confusion is understandable.)
President Obama has had a few memory lapses as well. In a 2008 stump speech, then-candidate Obama made reference to having visited “57 states — I think one left to go.” Instead of a senior moment, it was a Heinz catsup moment. The so-called “birthers” gave Obama a particularly hard time about this slip of the tongue, which seems patently unfair. If someone was actually born in Kenya, you couldn’t very well expect him to possess expertise in U.S. territorial divisions. Besides, what with Texas and Vermont perpetually on the verge of secession, offering a precise accounting of the states is always an iffy proposition.
Obama’s predecessor, President G.W. Bush, experienced a few “misrememberings” as well. He promised to be a “uniter, not a divider,” and that got lost along the way. He also had trouble remembering exactly where all those WMDs were hidden in Iraq. To his credit, President Bush did remember that he was married — except for the unfortunate incident involving the Angela Merkel backrub.
John Edwards not only forgot that he was married but had trouble recalling how many children he had fathered.
Former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford forgot the meaning of “hiking” as well as which continent contains the Appalachian Trail.
Chief Justice John Roberts forgot the words to the presidential oath.
And let’s not forget former Vice President Dick Cheney, who went bird hunting and forgot to aim.
A moment or two of forgetfulness shouldn’t be a disqualification for higher office. We all draw blanks on occasion. To prove my point, I may make a small donation to Rick Perry’s campaign, just as soon as I find my checkbook.
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Chris Verner is opinion page editor of the Salisbury Post.