But even aside from style and/or political appearance points, the gaffe is profoundly worrisome on substance. Having done live TV, I can sympathize with a glitch. But the kind of stumble Perry made last night seems symptomatic of a candidate who is trying to memorize points for debate prep, rather than an off-moment for someone trying to expound on well-integrated personal knowledge or a deeply-held philosophy.
To put it plainly, a gaffe as prolonged and as painful as Perry's implies a certain disconnect between what he's saying and what he's actually thought about. It suggests that Perry's debate problems aren't just a stylistic problem -- that they indicate a distinct lack of comfort with the underlying substance of the answers. After all, it's not like his point was one that required a deep, exhaustive knowledge of the intricacies of the federal tax code or legislative regulations; if eliminating three agencies is something in which one passionately believes (and if it's Energy, a key theme of his campaign!), it's hard to imagine forgetting one of the agencies.
It's sad. I had high hopes for Perry. But it's evidently not his time. One shudders to think of something like this happening in a late-October 2012 debate with President Obama.