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Guest view: Gov. Perdue’s gaffe

Most members of Congress care more about getting themselves re-elected than about doing the people’s work. They even play politics with disaster relief. It would be better for the country if they’d focus on getting the job done and forget about the next election.

As we interpret her remarks to a rotary club in Cary, that’s what Gov. Bev Perdue meant to say. But the words that actually came out of her mouth gave some listeners a different impression: “I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years, just tell them we won’t hold it against them whatever decisions they make. Just let them help this country recover.”

The story quickly went national: North Carolina governor calls for stopping elections. Critics from the right attacked the Democrat. Rush Limbaugh said Adolf Hitler would approve of her views. Americans for Limited Government urged the state Legislature to impeach her. Republicans pounced at the chance to make Perdue suffer politically as she gears up for her own re-election campaign.

The governor, not surprisingly, seemed mystified at all the attention. She said her statement was intended to be sarcastic. But she picked a hard way to learn that the country doesn’t get sarcasm these days, when words are taken at face value, often out of context, and gaffes are magnified a million times over.

Reactions depend on partisan loyalties. Misstatements by Republicans Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann “prove” their inadequacies to Democrats, while Republicans see an awkward answer by Perdue as evidence of evil intent.

“But honest to goodness,” Perdue protested, “who would think something like that would be said seriously? It’s ridiculous to have this kind of discussion about it.”

Of course it is. Suspending congressional elections isn’t up for debate. It can’t happen. No one is suggesting it.

Yet, it’s not ridiculous to address what’s happening to the level of political discourse in our country. Why do so many people grab hold of a silly quip and ignore the underlying concern, which is the inability of our elected representatives to agree on solutions to big problems? …

Perdue would have been better off sticking to that pattern rather than rambling through an inarticulate response to a question. Now she’s been turned into a figure of widespread scorn — at least until a new target presents itself. In today’s political environment, it won’t take long.

– from the News & Record of Greensboro

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