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Teleprompter Derangement Syndrome

Oh ye of the teleprompter derangement syndrome.  You who love to ridicule the president for his reliance on teleprompters...implying that it means he's not really much of a speaker...or doesn't really believe what he says...or that he's not actually all that bright...or whatever it is that you think makes it worthy of ridicule.  First of all, go back and read Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson's article from last March about Obama and his teleprompter (link).  It's not as if Gerson doesn't write some rich stuff (a Bush speechwriter criticizing a president for not sufficiently owning up to his mistakes? please!: link), but I thought he was right on with his analysis back in March and still do.  An excerpt:

This derision is based on the belief that the teleprompter exaggerates the gap between image and reality -- that it involves a kind of deception. It is true that there is often a distinction between a president on and off his script. With a teleprompter, Obama can be ambitiously eloquent; without it, he tends to be soberly professorial. Ronald Reagan with a script was masterful; during news conferences he caused much wincing and cringing. It is the rare politician, such as Tony Blair, who speaks off the cuff in beautifully crafted paragraphs.

But it is a mistake to argue that the uncrafted is somehow more authentic. Those writers and commentators who prefer the unscripted, who use "rhetoric" as an epithet, who see the teleprompter as a linguistic push-up bra, do not understand the nature of presidential leadership or the importance of writing to the process of thought.

Governing is a craft, not merely a talent. It involves the careful sorting of ideas and priorities. And the discipline of writing -- expressing ideas clearly and putting them in proper order -- is essential to governing. For this reason, the greatest leaders have taken great pains with rhetoric. Lincoln continually edited and revised his speeches. Churchill practiced to the point of memorization. Such leaders would not have been improved by being "unplugged." When it comes to rhetoric, winging it is often shoddy and self-indulgent -- practiced by politicians who hear Mozart in their own voices while others perceive random cymbals and kazoos. Leaders who prefer to speak from the top of their heads are not more authentic, they are often more shallow -- not more "real," but more undisciplined.

Now watch the video below.  Obama spoke at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore today and then spent over an hour in a Q&A session with the House Republicans.  You'll notice that teleprompter technology has come a long way since Obama took office.  These days they are apparently invisible and able to respond to impromptu questions within seconds with knowledge and insight.

Oh no he didn't.  That must have been a fluke (just like the BA from Columbia and graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law were).   I know he didn't just show (again) that he's able to talk intelligently and extensively about policy with or without a teleprompter.  Anyway, here is the speech that preceded the Q&A:


Is this really worthy of a post on your most admirable blog? It's like you've hunted down the left cornerback and blocked him off the field. But the play is a sweep around the right side. Do you really think questions about his intelligence are at the core of the opposition to his adminstration? That by somehow pointing this out, that his critics will fall silent or look foolish? I have found attention given to the teleprompter to be humerous, but never at the heart of why many are concerned. Sure, you might find a YouTube video by Rush or Beck where they've tried to make a point about the teleprompter. But I can assure you that's not at the heart of why many of us do not trust this man. One of the most common themes I've seen in comments about his speaking ability is that he has a way speaking that leads people from quite opposing viewpoints think that he agrees with them. He is quite an eloquent speaker with or without the teleprompter. But that has never been a reliable indicator on whether or not people should follow someone. Quite the contrary. He has a silver tongue which makes him all the more dangerous in my mind. And I really don't care how intelligent he is. There are some very highly educated people whom I wouldn't entrust to chair a planning committee for the bingo game at the senior citizens center. High intelligence in and of itself is not dangerous. In fact, it's quite necessary in many situations. But in too many cases in public service it's accompanied by a hubris that down right dangerous.

I'm not implying that teleprompter use is at the heart of opposition to Obama.

I realize you're not implying that. But you did assert that his detractors who comment on the teleprompter are implying -
* he's not really much of a speaker
* doesn't really believe what he says
* he's not actually all that bright
* whatever it is that you think makes it worthy of ridicule
My point is that you seem to be addressing a paper tiger. The core of teleprompter commentary is simple humor. I just don't think the more sinister explanations you propose are truly at the heart of why people write and post commentary about the teleprompter. We get it. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law. But the teleprompter stuff is still funny.

I know a lot of people strongly oppose the current administration, it's policies and it's direction. But none of the ones I know (personally at least) question the President's speaking ability, sincerity, or intelligence.

Some of the ones I know (and even am related to) do.

Oh, and it's never a good sign when you have to point to someone's academic record in their defense.

Looking for and finding common ground between groups with opposing views is a quality that I appreciate in a leader. It baffles me that this quality can be seen as dangerous and untrustworthy.

I agree those are good qualities in a leader. I don't think too many people would find this quality as being dangerous or untrustworthy.

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