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Rick Perry’s recent debate breakdown and Herman Cain’s sexual harassment debacle say a great deal about Republicans’ intellect and morality. E.J. Dionne writes in his new column, “The True Conservative Scandal”:

Conservatives need to contemplate what the Rick Perry and Herman Cain stories say about the state of their movement and the health of their creed.

Perry’s debate gaffe last week was about something more important than “brain freeze.” Memory lapses can strike anyone, and Perry probably helped his cause a bit by poking fun at himself at Saturday’s CBS News/National Journal debate and on the David Letterman show.

What really matters is the subject that sent Perry’s brain into lockdown. He was in the middle of describing sweeping changes in the federal bureaucracy closely connected to his spare vision of American government. One presumes a candidate for president ponders such proposals carefully, discusses them with advisers and understands their implications.

Forgetting an idea at the heart of your program, in other words, is not the same as forgetting a phone number, a friend’s name, a football score or the title of a recently read book.

Perry’s memory lapse showed that he wasn’t asserting anything that he is truly serious about because he is not serious about what government does, or ought not to do. For him, governing seems a casual undertaking.

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