Obama’s Teleprompter

In the last few weeks, Republican partisans have all started to talk about Obama’s teleprompter.

AP Photo credit Jae C. Hong

AP Photo credit Jae C. Hong

Here are three examples of the meme from the last 24 hours, and here’s some Google Trends evidence of the expansion of this trend. This, from early 2008, seems to be one of the original articles that started the meme:

…questions linger regarding Obama’s gifted speechifying. Do his speeches give us a glimpse at a very special man with a unique vision? Or are we merely witnessing a political one-trick pony? Yes, Obama can turn a phrase better and do more with a Teleprompter than any other modern era politician. But does his special skill set here actually mean anything, or is it instead the political equivalent of a dog walking on its hind legs–unusual and riveting, but not especially significant? …

Shorn of his Teleprompter, we saw a different Obama. His delivery was halting and unsure. He looked down at his obviously copious notes every few seconds throughout the speech. Unlike the typical Obama oration where the words flow with unparalleled fluidity, he stumbled over his phrasing repeatedly… The extremely articulate and passionate Obama that makes all the speeches has yet to show up at any of the debates. For such a gifted and energetic speaker, he is an oddly tongue-tied and indifferent debater.

My first thought (other than to link to some debate polling) is that this looks on its face to be an example of the Karl Rove tactic of deliberately turning your opponent’s strength into a weakness that the McCain campaign tried to use earlier this year with suggestions that “Obama is a celebrity” and “Is Obama too popular?”. I think the teleprompter talk is different, however, in that it really seems to have arisen organically among Republican partisans who watch Obama’s public addresses and are not impressed. After all, I’m not hearing this talk from Congressional Republicans or GOP leaders; it’s mostly coming from conservative bloggers and writers and often in their real time commentary on his appearances.

That suggests to me that these people really believe this stuff, that to them Obama is secretly a terrible public speaker who relies on his teleprompter to pass himself off as intelligent and competent. It’s especially striking in light of the contrast between Obama and George W. Bush. In my opinion, Bush gave surprisingly effective speeches, but it’s hard to deny that his (very rare) unscripted comments were hilariously inept. But to claim the same about Obama seems completely unbelievable: especially in comparison to Bush, how can someone possibly see Obama as a poor public speaker?

To be honest, I am mystified by this phenomenon. I mean, the explanation seems fairly obvious, and I’ve discussed it before; it’s just an example of people rationalizing ideologically inconvenient facts. In this case, I guess the fact to rationalize is that a liberal can be an effective leader. And I can even make some testable predictions about it: if people believe this teleprompter crap because of ideological self-delusion, then it should scale with Obama’s perceived progressiveness, so as Obama is seen as more liberal, there should be more conservative partisan screeching about his teleprompter, and when Obama pleases conservatives, they should instead speak more reverently about his powerful rhetoric. (This is something to check back about with Google Trends in six months or so.) But what mystifies me is the degree of delusion these people evince. (I mean, read this!) I hope I never delude myself about anything to something even approaching this degree, and I’m really saddened that a significant part of the opposition to Obama’s policies is intellectually sloppy enough to fall for this crap.

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