“Accidents,” “Oops,” and Rick Perry 2016

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From the moment Perry announced that he would be seeking the presidency again in 2016, we’ve known that his acceptable margin of error is slimmer than that of any other candidate. Other candidates can misspeak and then release clarifications after the fact. Rick Perry, though, has an entire nation awaiting another “oops.” 

On Friday, Perry came very close to “oopsing” his way out of the race, more than eight months before the Iowa Caucuses. In an interview on NewsMax TV, Perry used the word “accident” to describe the murder of nine African Americans in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a man who claimed that he was there “to shoot black people.” 

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry characterized the recent shooting in Charleston as an “accident” during an interview on Friday, accusing President Obama of using the massacre, which claimed nine lives, as a pretext for pushing a gun control agenda.

“This is the MO of this administration anytime there is an accident like this,” Perry said during an appearance on Newsmax TV. The former Texas governor said the president “doesn’t like guns,” so “he uses every opportunity” to tighten restrictions on gun ownership. Video of the appearance was posted on YouTube by Right Wing Watch.

A Perry campaign spokesperson quickly clarified that the former governor intended to say the word “incident.” That’s certainly a plausible claim. It’s impossible to believe that Perry actually thinks that the shooter killed nine people by “accident.” And seizing on that word—while a satisfying gotcha for people who wanted to laugh at another “oops” moment—misses some things about what Perry is doing in that interview that deserve our attention more.

Two days after nine people were brutally murdered in their own church for being black is a weird time for Perry to go after Obama on his support for gun control. Perry can differ sharply from the president on guns, and he can make that a central part of his campaign. But was now really the right time for that? Even if Perry meant “incident,” that doesn’t make the rest of his sentence well-considered. 

By Saturday, Perry had course-corrected: rather than simply stressing that he had misspoken, Perry used unequivocal language to condemn the incident. He repeatedly used the word “hate crime” to describe what happened, calling it “clear” and “heinous.” Those are the right words to use.

But it’s also worth pointing out that phrases like “hate crime,” “mass murder,” “racist killing spree,” and “terrorist attack” don’t sound anything like the word “accident.” It’s easy to mix up “incident” and “accident,” because they’re both hedging words that avoid characterizing the shooting in Charleston as what it actually was. 

In other words, Perry’s flub came about, in part, because he sought to downplay what happened in Charleston in order to attack Obama. You don’t hear sentences like “This is the MO of this administration anytime there is a mass murder like this,” because if you’re talking about something with the gravity of a mass murder that happened two days earlier, it sounds downright petty to go after a political opponent the way that Perry did.

Other candidates can risk that, because they can afford the occasional unforced error. But Rick Perry can not. The entire country looks at the things that Perry says through the harshest possible lens, so ambiguity does him no favors—there is an endless supply of pundits, commentators, comedians, and talk show hosts who are only too delighted to assume, whenever his precise meaning is unclear, that he intended to say the dumbest possible thing. 

Perry’s not a dumb man, and he can run on a platform that includes “If only there were more guns in churches, this wouldn’t have happened” if he chooses. It might even win him some support. But he needs to say exactly what he means going forward because right or wrong, he can’t afford an accident like saying the word “accident.” 

(Photograph by AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

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  • Buddy Priest

    And the accident in McKinney tx. …..oooops, I meant to say the riot!

  • Jed

    does perry actually have any supporters at this point? you could ask the same question about half the field, i realize, but still i find myself wondering – who actually wants this guy to win? his campaign seems to be generating a collective yawn, even among the local mouth-breathers, er, faithful.

    • 6660splendidday

      “who actually wants this guy to win” Obviously you don’t know what Rick Perry is capable of doing for his Doners. Get informed. I could tell you all about this evil man but it would take the rest of the summer and I do not have the time. Suffice it to say Perry gave companies millions of dollars (some of which were on the Forbes list of ten wealthiest) to move to Texas because “they would create jobs” The companies not only did not “create jobs” they didn’t even move to Texas. Who do you think is responsible for Public Schools being destroyed because ALEC said to do that? Republicans redistricting and voting illegalities that work so well for them? It was Rick Perry who created the quagmire in Texas and filled it with Evangelical Christians that cause so much hate and other troubles?

      • Jed

        yes, and in all these respects, he is the same as his 20 closest competitors, no? these same donors will get all this and more whichever one gets elected, right (especially if it is a republican, though not exclusively*).

        so again, why perry?

        * still awaiting my bernie! merch in the mail.

        • 6660splendidday

          I have lived a long life during which most of that has been spent in Texas. During all this time we had both Republicans and Democrats running our state government. Never have I witnessed such a breakdown in ethics as I have since Rick Perry became Governor. Such in your face arrogance has made me frustrated and very angry.
          The fact that Rick Perry uses his faith to further his corrupt ways
          is just more evidence that he is an evil man. He thinks as long as he
          LOVES JESUS somehow, he is absolved from his corruption. That, I take as a personal affront. If Rick Perry was a Democrat I would feel the same way and say the same thing. Enough already! I detest these Faux Christians who use Jesus Christ like some kind of a belt buckle. Like something to show-off.

          • Jed

            i don’t disagree with anything you are saying. but step outside texas, where perry is a familiar target for us texans. many of his republican opponents for the nomination are governors just like him, and many of them have done the same things while in office in their states.

            do i find rick perry morally reprehensible, an abomination against american values, and on and on? yes. is he in this respect any different than the other two dozen republican candidates? not that i can see. will anyone benefit from his nomination (or election) who would not benefit in almost exactly the same way by the election of any of these other clowns? not that i can see.

            so how is he different? who will miss him when he is gone? that is what i am asking. you don’t need to tell me he is a bad guy, i get it. tell me who supports him, and why they prefer him over any of the other bad guys (some of whom are vastly more electable)?

          • 6660splendidday

            OK…Once upon a time back around 2005 I thought Dan Patrick was unelectable. Much to my dismay I found out he not only was electable but that he would be our Lt. Governor. That shook me to the core. I am not as confident about those things these days. As to who will miss Rick Perry.? That will have to wait for another day. Some of them died in the last four years so my long list will be a bit shorter.For instance, Bob Perry, I am not so sure his heirs are as enamored with Rick Perry as Bob was. (Perry Homes Construction)

  • spanklee

    My husband was an NRA member until he kept receiving all the b.s. Obama wants your guns material in the mail 3 times a week. Believing in the right to bear arms is a great thing! But believing lies is an ignorant one. And to believe Obama is taking away your guns with absolutely NO proof of it, is ignorant. Stop making all Texans look ignorant, Rick!

    • David A

      They want to believe Obama wants to take the guns and any mention of taking the guns out of the hands of the crazies will always be met with Obama wants to take your guns guys.

  • Jeff_Barge

    A stork walks into a bar after just having layers of oil removed from his feathers by human volunteers using Dawn. (Just the worst day ever!) Immediately, an ostrich sitting at the end of the bar sidles down the bar to offer condolences with the stork. They have a few too many drinks, mostly (Remy Martin) and go home with each other…and yada yada yada, that’s where babies come from.

  • http://eaglesforamerica.com jeffbwillis

    Are we that narrow? I can’t believe anyone is so focused on such trivial things!

  • gamma_ray

    But Perry IS a dumb man. Nobody in their right mind would go straight for the political angle only a few days after a shooting. Only those who have nothing to lose, like the NRA, can speak so brazenly. Instead, Perry, who is speaking with the sole reason of gaining public support, chooses to go for the jugular, Obama.

    He’s at the plate and he’s fumbling again. He’s an antsy kid who has a microphone. I can hear the flop sweat.

    • David A

      Mentioning Obama in anything is always a way to fund raise even if it all lies and misinformation.

  • Jeff_Barge

    A pelican walks into a bar after having layers of oil removed from his feathers by human volunteers using Dawn. Immediately, an ostrich sitting at the end of the bar sidled down the bar to offer condolences with the pelican. They had a few too many drinks and went home with each other…

    …and yada yada yada, that’s where babies come from.

  • ConCrap

    Obama has not tighten or added one gun restriction, in fact the ability to take your guns into national parks was added while he is President. Typical, Republican made up stuff. Obama, if you saw his press conference, has pretty well given up knowing who holds both houses in Washington DC, he is only hopeful the American people will one day demand action. So rest assured right wing gun lovers, Obama won’t and can’t take them. Only when a healthy majority get fed up enough, then you have to worry. It’s going to take more senseless deaths, happy?

  • rwyckoff

    Well no, actually, Rick Perry IS a “dumb man”. That’s all.