It's an easy joke to make fun of Perry's inability to remember which three departments he'd close as President. It's clear that his campaign will likely not recover as he is polling somewhere south of "Just about anyone else" of likely Republican voters. After eight years of an intellectually incurious Texan governor driving the country and the world economy over the brink, even Republicans are wary of giving his dimmer clone an opportunity to do it again.
But what I think is more frightening is that everyone in the media is so focused on those 53 seconds of stammering that they don't ever get to what the consequences of losing those departments would mean to the country. Considering that he's not the only Republican on that panel making that noise, shall we look at the consequences of shutting down the Commerce, Energy and Education departments?
The Department of Commerce contains the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which runs our system of intellectual property. Without it, America would have no way to ensure that inventors could fully profit from their inventions, giving them little incentive to spend the time and money needed for breakthroughs. The pace of American innovation would likely take a huge hit.
Commerce also includes the Census Bureau. The accurate count of Americans that the department provides each decade lets leaders and policymakers know how to allocate resources--housing, roads, utilities--around the country. And Commerce also encompasses the National Weather Service (NWS), which issues crucial warnings about severe weather like hurricanes and floods. When state and local officials make decisions about how and when to evacuate, they're generally going off NWS information.
The Department of Energy, created during the Carter administration, protects U.S. nuclear weapons from accidents or terrorist attacks that could release dangerous radioactive material, killing thousands. Without the oversight that the Energy Department presently provides, it would be difficult to maintain a nuclear weapons program at all. The Energy Department also plays a key role in funding and promoting the civilian use of nuclear power.
As for the Department of Education--likewise created under President Carter--its role is more limited, because the U.S. education system is highly decentralized. Indeed, Perry is hardly the first conservative to pledge to abolish it. The Education Department does have a role in shaping education policy, however, by handing out funds to states that adopt its preferred reforms, and it also enforces privacy and civil rights laws in schools.
As they say, beware the unintended consequences. Can you imagine Rick Perry's America, where there is no innovation, because intellectual property is not protected any more than our nuclear weapons program? Where entire swaths of the country could be wiped out by a category 5 hurricane because our emergency services doesn't have advance notice? Where radioactive disposal is unregulated?
Catastrophe is not too strong a word for Perry's vision for our country.