I've done it. I've figured it out.
I now know why the Republicans are so obsessed with President Obama insisting on using a teleprompter. All I had to do was rewatch this classic Will Ferrell sketch on SNL, called "Wake Up And Smile."
The secret of Obama's teleprompter problem is revealed after the jump.
For those of you who don't remember the skit or don't want to watch the video in full, here is a brief synopsis: A normal morning talk show, hosted by Ferrell and Nancy Walls (with the weather report by David Alan Grier), goes terribly wrong when the teleprompter malfunctions. Besides not knowing what they're supposed to say, they then quickly forget each other's names and they start rambling in jumbled, incoherent sentences. Mortal panic sets in, and everything devolves into chaos on the set, resulting in a bloody climax around the 5:18 mark where Ferrell rips off Grier's head and then eats it.
We can all agree that no matter how hilarious or ridiculous the sketch is, reality can be equally if not more hilarious and ridiculous. The right wing has been desperately searching for any number of hilarious and ridiculous tactics on which to demonize Obama, and they've now come up with.....a teleprompter. Yeah. The GOP's new meme du jour about why President Obama is a radical, socialist, crazy president is a friggin' TELEPROMPTER.
Oh, where do I begin on this nonsense? Let's start with the hypocrisy of it all. I don't recall the GOP getting up in Sarah Palin's grill for using a teleprompter at the RNC last August (the teleprompter that Redstate really had thought malfunctioned, but didn't). Nor do I recall Rush Limbaugh blasting Palin for her teleprompter-less interview with Katie Couric. Those who've been quick to demonize Obama for using a teleprompter are also pretty quick to forget some of those more awesome teleprompter-less press conferences and question-and-answer sessions with George Bush, like this one, this one, and these ones. Nope, Bush and Palin have a down-home folksy charm when they don't use teleprompters and that just means they have good ol' conservative American values!
What's even more ridiculous is that there had to have been a meeting between Republican strategists to discuss "Teleprompter-Gate" as a "strategy." Hell, maybe even Michael Steele was there. Here's what it might have sounded like:
GOP STRATEGIST #1: The President says "um" when he speaks without a teleprompter a lot more often than when he speaks with it. We've got him now!
GOP STRATEGIST #2: Brilliant! Get CNN on the line! We'll hammer him on this!
MICHAEL STEELE: Hey wait, guys, shouldn't we be focusing on getting our message out to urban, suburban hip-hop settings?
GOP STRATEGIST #1: Shut up, Steele! Don't ruin this for us, or we'll get Rush on the phone and have you grovel to him on live-air. AGAIN.
STEELE: Okay, alright, alright. I apologize. The teleprompter thing will be off the hook.
And here's where it struck me. After watching that SNL sketch again, I discovered that the hypocrisy and the planning of this dumb message by the right wing isn't the most absurd aspect of it at all. Here's the dirty little secret about Obama's teleprompter "problem":
The wingnuts of the world are excoriating Obama's use of the teleprompter because they fear it will lead to mass carnage.
They are now living in fear that Obama's teleprompter will break, which will cause him to forget how to speak English clearly, which will cause him to spread mass panic on TV, which will of course lead to Obama's ritualistic decapitation of the first GOP congressman to challenge Obama's "Order of the Hand." They're also terribly horrified that a broken teleprompter will cause Obama to advise the American people to tackle the economic crisis by running over the poor people who have swords with their red cars, as Will Ferrell's character suggests.
Yeah, I know that skit is meant to be funny and morbidly absurd. But the morbidly absurd has been something of a forte for the right wing for quite some time now. And when they start relying on the image of a teleprompter to help shape their message, I think that they're not just the Party of No, or the Party of No Ideas.....they're the Party of HUH? Of course, you'd think that the press would cut this nonsense out, but sadly, both the A.P.'s Ron Fournier and MSNBC's David Gregory brought up the teleprompter meme last night as though it had merit. What else can we expect from our great mainstream media?
Because I could not do this rant the justice that other, more eloquent writers could, I leave you with the wise words of James Fallows, Anonymous Liberal, and Jim Newell, as well as a nice smackdown on all this BS from David Letterman.
People don't naturally speak in parsed and polished sentences, even eloquent people. When we are listening to what we know is spontaneous rather than scripted speech, we listen in a different way -- we listen past grammatical glitches, repetitions, and other things that would be "flaws" on a printed page or in a formal oration. If you don't believe me, look back for any extemporized performance that was judged to be riveting by audiences in real time. (A campaign rally, a TV interview, a debate, the closing argument in a trial.) If you then read a word-by-word transcript, it will look like a mess.
The important point with Obama is that the content, command of fact and concept, and overall intelligence of his extemporized answers matched that of the scripted presentation. That could not have been so if he were teleprompter-dependent. For example: by the end of his term, George W. Bush had become quite effective in delivering a formal speech. His interview- and press conference performance if anything deteriorated through his time in office.
So this is what passes for "analysis" now at the A.P.? No wonder the newspaper industry is dying. It's apparently hugely significant that Obama used a teleprompter to deliver his opening remarks (which were several minutes long). I'm not sure what Fournier thinks is so unusual about that. Do presidents typically memorize speeches? Read them off cue cards? If so, can he cite a single example of this? And given that Obama gave an hour long press conference in which he gave long substantive answers to questions that were not pre-screened, how is it even remotely relevant that he delivered his opening remarks with the assistance of a teleprompter? How big a "crutch" can it really be?
The truth is, Fournier is a hack. The only reason to use the word "teleprompter" five times in a 100 word write-up of a presidential press conference is in order to push a meme, a meme that just happens to be popular right now on right wing blogs. As usual, Fournier's agenda is transparent.
You know what other kinds of politicians "bring" teleprompters — slung under their arms, we might assume — to news conferences? All of them, because you see they all have these things called "speechwriters." It’s a little known fact, sure, but sometimes the remarks politicians give at events are already... pre-written! And then they "read" them to the public either from a teleprompter, or from sheets of paper, or note cards, who cares, all they have to do is read them authoritatively.
It seems that Ron Fournier and many others have forgotten the basic format of every single presidential press conference ever, which is for the President to read a prepared statement for 5 minutes or so and then take questions. Would they be happier if Obama spent five hours of his workday trying to memorize his remarks?
Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo