Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum took the TelePrompter criticism to a whole new level over the weekend by declaring that “when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a TelePrompter,” adding: “Because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.”Ah, the TelePrompter attack. Good ol' Prompty. Ol' Relia-bull.
All right, so let's review. Every candidate in the race uses a TelePrompter. Every national figure who gives a national speech has, I suspect, used a TelePrompter when available. Every modern president has used TelePrompters. Ronald Reagan himself, patron saint of modern conservatism, he of the speeches that supposedly moved history, the man of steely gaze and steelier hair, relied heavily on TelePrompters to say that stuff he said. Some of the attacks on TelePrompters from the current Republican field have been uttered from behind TelePrompters. We know all that, right? Of course. So do they.
The TelePrompter attack is basically a way of calling someone dumb. Now, Rick Santorum may or may not be smart enough to realize that, before the days of the TelePrompter, people used to read speeches from these little things called notes—I hear tell that such arcane things still go on, in the bowels of the House and Senate, though I presume the ex-senator never noticed such things. Most of the great speeches of history were, well, written down (and Rick Santorum, it should be noted, did not deliver any of them). The TelePrompter is just a way to do the same thing while keeping your face towards the television cameras, right?
I have to say, none of the debate performances by Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Mitt-Tron has impressed me as to their off-prompter skills. We've heard Obama in debates before, too. So I'm a bit intrigued by Rick's suggestion here. Let's say we banned TelePrompters. If we're going to get to the true spirit of what Rick Santorum wants to see, extemporaneous speaking, we'd have to ban notes as well. How would that play out?
Well, it might have done an even better job at revealing George W. Bush as a barely literate man-child, so that'd be a plus. It would have devastated the Reagan legacy: Everything Reagan was, he owed to the public persona crafted by his pre-written speeches. So there's definitely some upsides there. On the downsides, much of the job of president is to convey information tersely and (cough) hopefully accurately to the public, so having that done professionally isn't exactly a bad thing. You wouldn't hire a plumber who showed up without a wrench, saying "my grandpappy before me used his teeth, and I'll die doing the same."
But mostly I'm intrigued by the thought of politicians defending themselves extemporaneously or near-extemporaneously, and you know what? We're getting that now, in the debates. We'll be getting that again later in the year between Obama and whoever (Mitt) the Republicans pick as their eventual (Mitt) candidate. We don't have to speculate as to how it will look, because we'll be getting a front row seat soon enough. Place your bets, Rick, place your bets.