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With All the Real Concerns One Could Raise About President Obama, Why Is There So Much Focus on a Teleprompter?

February 7, 2010

Of all the legitimate complaints one could have of President Obama (such as his stand on abortion, contraception, American exceptionalism with its use of the military to enforce the desires of the United States, his placing of a US missile shield into Romania , et. al.), one of the most popular criticisms launched against him is that he uses a teleprompter. I’ve never understood this. What exactly is so wrong with this?

I’ve tried to think this through. Is the problem not the teleprompter itself but what it tells us about American politics in general? That is, it proves beyond a doubt that much of the political scene is an illusion? That politicians don’t always write their own speeches? That what is seen as debate is anything but a debate? I can understand those who are naive enough to believe in some sort of “pure” politics could be upset with this; but what about others? Is it because, like Mulder, they want to believe, but with the use of such tools, it becomes impossible? I do not know. Can someone explain it to me?

But one thing I do know. If you are going to rally against teleprompters and complain that the President uses them, don’t get yourself caught red (er– black) handed with your own crib notes. And make sure if you are, they aren’t written on the palm of your hand like some sort of high school cheat.

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34 Comments
  1. Liam permalink
    February 7, 2010 7:32 am

    The trope as used against Obama appears to be intended to traffic in the idea that his articulateness (which counters racist stereotypes) is faked. No one seems to discuss that his predecessor appeared inarticulate (which was apparently faked in the sense of deliberately cultivated) even while using teleprompters.

    • February 7, 2010 8:31 am

      Liam

      I read a report, not sure where, nor am I sure how accurate it was, that Obama had to be trained to use teleprompters because of they are the norm in politics, and initially he had difficulty with them. If people wanted to focus on the teleprompter in politics and see it as a danger, and move beyond Obama, and look to the whole of the situation, I could actually find that kind of talk interesting. It could get into some sort of analysis of communication, hyper-reality, reality, and similulation of reality ala Baudrillard.

      But, as you note, there seems to be something with the criticism of Obama. I am not sure if it is because he goes against racial stereotype however; if it is, it says something disturbing about modern society. But I would agree that for some, this probably is the issue. But for the others? I’m not so sure. I think Tom points out a part of it — people couldn’t figure out something of substance to criticize, so they had to find something immaterial to attack. But that just points to the whole unreality of the debate.

  2. tom in ohio permalink
    February 7, 2010 8:17 am

    Poeople who don’t like Obama could not find much during the campaign thatwould stick. They saw him as a big government statist, but othe people said “Nahhh1.” So they focuesd on something really sily like the teleprompter.

    Now we know he is a big government statist and people are sayign “Oh I see.” Less need to be silly.

    • February 7, 2010 8:27 am

      Tom

      Let’s assume he is a “big government statist.” What exactly does that mean? Why is it a bad? Let’s not just follow ideologies. Are you consistent with your comment? Are you an anarchist who wants no government whatsoever? Are you into the removal of the military because it is the biggest part of the government and its greatest means of force to keep the state under control? What exactly is it you are after and how does your response relate to Catholic Social Doctrine?

      I can agree with the idealism of the anarchists; like Tolkien, I appreciate a real low-government society like the Shire. But like Tolkien, I realize the real world needs something else. And that often includes a strong central government.

  3. February 7, 2010 8:39 am

    With All the Real Concerns One Could Raise About President Obama, Why Is There So Much Focus on a Teleprompter?

    Simple: those with that focus do not have real political concerns. Politics for them has nothing to do with reality, nothing to do with justice or freedom or order. Power, if anything, is their concern.

  4. Navy Vet permalink
    February 7, 2010 9:45 am

    My opinion on this matter is very simple:

    The Democrats have assured people that Obama was the smartest candidate to come along in years. A common insult for anyone’s opposition is to call them stupid. For example, George Bush – stupid, Al Gore – smart, Ronald Reagan – stupid, Bill Clinton – smart, Dan Quayle – stupid, John Kerry – smart. You see a trend.

    By saying that Obama cannot speak without the teleprompter and makes hilarious gaffes is an easy way to point out that he is not the smartest man to ever sit in the White House. If he needs a teleprompter to talk to a group of school children, what does that say about his extemporaneous speaking? The curious have to search for them, but his many public gaffes while reading from the prompter are available, and some are quite humorous.

    Obama critics sense that he is not excessively burdened with self-doubt. By attacking one of his strengths, public oratory, it can put a chink in his armor. No one likes to be thought of as an excellent reader instead of an excellent speaker.

    It really is a petty form of sticking it to someone, but great fun because the true Obama faithful are quite zealous in their beliefs. The ability to skewer Obama on both his intellect and his oratory is delicious on many levels for his critics.

  5. February 7, 2010 10:04 am

    This on a blog that just published a look back at a single cop pulling a fun at a snowball fight over a month ago…

    I agree with Navy Vet — it is not a substantial criticism, but for those opposed to the president’s agenda, it punctures the myth that he is some kind of genius who is head and shoulders above George W. Bush.

    It’s also a bit of turnabout — some liberals speculated that George W. Bush was actually illiterate (http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mikes-letter/an-open-letter-to-governor-bush) due to his malapropisms and reliance on aids for public speaking. That President Obama is also reliant on these aids takes some of the air out of this criticism.

  6. David Nickol permalink
    February 7, 2010 10:26 am

    If he needs a teleprompter to talk to a group of school children, what does that say about his extemporaneous speaking? . . . . The ability to skewer Obama on both his intellect and his oratory is delicious on many levels for his critics.

    Navy Vet,

    You may find it delicious, but it is also false. Obama had a discussion with the sixth graders, and then used a podium and a teleprompter to make a short speech to the media.

    I think the criticism over the use of the teleprompter is an example of the prevailing attitude in some quarters that whatever you can do to tear a public figure down (especially if you are a Republican and he is a Democrat) is “fair.” Truth is not all that important.

  7. February 7, 2010 10:46 am

    John

    I’m not sure how your response helps deal with this post. So you didn’t like what another post on Vox Nova said. What does that have to do with the question of teleprompters and Sarah Palin’s hypocritical crib notes?

    The fact that someone uses a teleprompter says nothing of their intelligence. Which again brings me to the question: what is the real reason for the constant discussion of teleprompters? What about a teleprompter leads to great ire?

  8. February 7, 2010 10:46 am

    “For example, George Bush – stupid, Al Gore – smart, Ronald Reagan – stupid, Bill Clinton – smart, Dan Quayle – stupid, John Kerry – smart. You see a trend.”

    Everything is relative. With that in mind, what you have presented here is accurately descriptive. The good news for those feeling a consternation similar to yours can be summed up in the concept “birds of a feather.” Relative stupidity is not necessarily a quality that is predictive of political failure.

  9. February 7, 2010 10:59 am

    John McG–
    On a level fundamental to the obvious cosmetic differences between Bush and Obama (i.e., Obama just SEEMS to be smarter), we have the fact that George W. Bush came into the world–and thence into the world of politics–enjoying every possible advantage. He rose to the presidency almost as if by birthright. He was certainly not the most gifted Republican politician of his generation; but he did know all the right people. His performance as POTUS was (as predicted by his earlier efforts as a businessman, perhaps) not stellar.
    By contrast, Obama came into this world with many obvious disadvantages. First, he was not rich. He was the son of an abandoned mother. He was of mixed race, neither fish nor fowl. That which he has achieved in life he has achieved–at each step along the way–by proving his ability to those evaluating his performance. He won the presidency–starting as an virtual unknown–by defeating Hillary Clinton–thought to have had a lock on it–in the Democratic primary. Obama went on from there to defeat a war hero and long-time U.S. senator in the general election.
    Forgive me, then, if I’m impressed.

  10. Pinky permalink
    February 7, 2010 11:51 am

    In politics, you can never tell what image is going to stick in people’s minds. If you could crack that code, you’d win every race. In this case, I think it’s easy to understand how the teleprompter symbolizes Barack Obama to those who aren’t impressed by him. A teleprompter produces pretty words out of nothing. It has no substance to it. It doesn’t actually think; it projects rote sayings crafted by others. That’s the way a good number of people see President Obama.

  11. February 7, 2010 12:14 pm

    Kyle’s comment contains the truth. It’s the same reason someone like Sarah Palin could be considered a “political” candidate by some people: they’re not really interested in politics.

  12. February 7, 2010 12:23 pm

    It’s very simple. The whole noise machine allied with the Republican party and the associated pseudo-conservative movement derives its energy from the reduction of politics to a sense of personal outrage – Czars! Socialists! Ayers! Flag pins! Indoctrination of children! Birth certificate! Its a necessary ruse because – as Obama showed clearly when he addressed the Republican retreat – these people are incapable of interacting in the realm of ideas, in the realm of reason.

  13. Ronald King permalink
    February 7, 2010 12:54 pm

    If I know people out there hate me and I have to face that hatred everyday I am going to use a telepromptor also for clarity.
    However, when I now think about the reality of that hate I may be facing within the political reality of power struggles and knowing that political power is a compensation for not knowing the mystical Love of God then I must now change my approach.
    I must remove the telepromptors and speak from the Love of God that brought me to this position of political stature and see that this is more than being a president, this is God’s way of showing everyone that His Love can do anything. From this reality comes the awareness that I(Obama) would not be here if it were not for God’s Love. My(Obama) mother was alone with me and I could have been dead…so on and so on. Every talent given is a gift from God. Instead of being a burden to my mother I was God’s Gift to her so that other mothers would see that I want there babies to be born into a world that will welcome them and protect them from the “culture of death”.
    That is without a telepromptor. That would apply to past and future presidents.

  14. phosphorious permalink
    February 7, 2010 12:55 pm

    Navyvet is right: it’s payback for Bush.

    The country was glad to see the last of Bush, and there was real enthusiasm for Obama.

    I assume that every criticism of Obama (beyond substantial policy gripes, of which there are very few coming from the right) are based on the desire to “avenge” Bush’s honor.

    Bush was inarticulate? Obama needs a teleprompter. Bush mixed politicis and religion to an unhealthy degree? Well, Obama’s people “worship” him. Bush was a “divider”? Obama refuses to listen to the GOP.

    And on and on.

    Every single “criticism” leveled at Obam from the right can be traced back to something bad that was said about Bush.

    Conservatives are children.

  15. David Nickol permalink
    February 7, 2010 2:39 pm

    I must remove the telepromptors and speak from the Love of God that brought me to this position of political stature and see that this is more than being a president, this is God’s way of showing everyone that His Love can do anything.

    Ronald,

    Obama uses a teleprompter for prepared remarks. If he didn’t read them from a teleprompter, he would read them from a paper script. You seem to be saying that all presidents should “wing it.” Lincoln may have written the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, but he nevertheless wrote it in advance of delivering it.

  16. February 7, 2010 2:58 pm

    “Every single “criticism” leveled at Obam from the right can be traced back to something bad that was said about Bush.

    Conservatives are children.”

    Oh Please. The GOP is not on the upswing because of teleprompters or people talking birth certificates or because Obama mispronounced Corpsman

    As to the Teleprompter stuff this is nothing new. It would be strange besides I guess George Washington to find President where some sort of humor and symbol is not linked by the opposition

    The use of this humor is to rattle the other side and all this has a long tradition.

    Conservatives have used this because they were told a thousands times tht Obama is the greatest Orator every and every speech seemed to have been of great skill and such.

    So it is harmless fun.

    Not everything can be deep policy wonk stuff in politics

    Obama and the teleprompter is as linked as

    Bush and His speech
    Regan and a falling alseep
    Bush I sort of eleite Status (How does that scanner work)
    Carter and Peanuts and attacking bunnies
    Gerald Ford being a Klutz and so on

    • February 7, 2010 3:07 pm

      Conservatives have used this because they were told a thousands times tht Obama is the greatest Orator every and every speech seemed to have been of great skill and such.

      It has nothing to do with conservatives, indeed, so-called conservatives are very liberal indeed. More importantly, how does the use of a teleprompter make someone not a good orator? One could say it makes one a better one because it uses the best technique possible.

  17. Ronald King permalink
    February 7, 2010 3:14 pm

    David, I say wing it. Policies can be read but love must be winged. It must be free association. For example, “To those who hate me, I can understand why. To those who love me, I know you desperation. To those who are indifferent, I must prove my worth. To those who are suffering, I will do everything in my power to convince those who hate me and those who are indifferent to me to give up more to help you and so will I.”
    I say wing it.

  18. phosphorious permalink
    February 7, 2010 3:15 pm

    “So it is harmless fun”

    True enough, presidents get labeled with tags that stick.

    And I agree that “Obama uses a teleprompter!” is harmless, especially when compared to “Obama is a socialist!” or “Obama isn’t a citizen!” or “Obama is a baby-killer!” or “Obama is an arrogant elitist who hates you!”. . .

  19. Rodak permalink
    February 7, 2010 5:40 pm

    This is such a non-issue. The purpose of a teleprompter is to allow a person to read a prepared speech while keeping his gaze aimed at his audience. It’s about eye contact, and nothing else. It allows the speaker to deliver his oration without constantly having to look down at a paper text sitting on the lectern.
    People are talking as though they believe that Obama’s oratory comes packaged in the teleprompter, written by Satan, and is then robotically delivered by Obama, sight unseen. Please, allow a little reality to seep into the discourse.

  20. Steve permalink
    February 8, 2010 8:59 am

    these people are incapable of interacting in the realm of ideas, in the realm of reason.

    This is one reason why petty criticism is leveled against Obama. Not because the statement above itself it true, but because it gets the fringe whipped up in a frenzy – and sometimes gets them to make themselves look silly by making such simplistic comments in reaction.

  21. Steve permalink
    February 8, 2010 9:18 am

    In reality, the reason why this kind of criticism is leveled is because it bothers Obama fans. It’s fun. Kinda like when people make fun of sports figures. I can imagine the scene this morning in front of countess water coolers…

    Saints Fan: “Manning is such a choker.”

    Colts fan: “Are you kidding? You can’t say that just because he made one mistake last night. Look at his rec….

    Saints fan: “Cough, hack… What did you say? cough, cough… I couldn’t… cough, hack… hear you… cough cough…. over the choking….”

    The better reaction is to agree and laugh it off. A defensive posture only encourages the critics.

  22. Zak permalink
    February 8, 2010 11:19 am

    Henry,
    When you were putting together your list of the horrible things Obama has done, why is putting missile interceptors in Romania so high? All they do is shield Europe from Iranian missile attacks, and unlike the Poland-based interceptors they can’t be seen as provocative towards Russia. They aren’t offensive weapons. All they can do is shoot down other missiles. One could argue that having stronger defenses can inspire a more aggressive foreign policy, but it seems pretty unlikely that missile defenses in Europe would be the gamechanger that would let Obama decide to attack Iran.

  23. Pinky permalink
    February 8, 2010 11:55 am

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve never found Obama to be particularly well-spoken. It’s not his ideas, either. In words and delivery, he sounds like a dumb person who’s pretending to be smart. Joe Biden’s a much better speaker: both genuinely casual and genuinely impassioned. His style has its risks, obviously, but of the four candidates in 2008, he was the best speaker by far.

  24. February 8, 2010 1:33 pm

    In words and delivery, he sounds like a dumb person who’s pretending to be smart. Joe Biden’s a much better speaker: both genuinely casual and genuinely impassioned.

    I agree with you about Biden. I don’t think Obama is “dumb,” but I do think a dumb person pretending to be smart is better than a dumb businessman pretending to be a dumb cowboy.

  25. phosphorious permalink
    February 8, 2010 2:12 pm

    What strikes me about Obama is how normal he sounds. Smart, but normal.

    Bush’s mannerisms annoyed the hell out of me. It was like watching someone’s really bad impersonation of a cowboy.

    Annoying.

  26. Christine permalink
    February 8, 2010 6:04 pm

    Gee whiz people.

    I just thought that if we got rid of the teleprompters, he would STOP FINDING EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE HIS WAY ONTO MY TELEVISION!!!

    Really. I just want him to stop using every moment of my time to verbally cut down one of his political opponents while using the bully pulpit of the Office of President and his teleprompters.

    Obama + Teleprompters = fingerwagging and name calling to get his way.

    Obama – Telepropmters = one more night without him on my TV!!!

    I hope that this doesn’t mean we have to cut Ms. Palin’s hands off to get her to stop taking my TV time. Granted, she can’t call conferences and make the world stop because she isn’t the president.

    When she becomes president, I will complain about ridding her of her teleprompters as well :)

  27. phosphorious permalink
    February 8, 2010 7:08 pm

    Obama + Teleprompters = fingerwagging and name calling to get his way.

    I suppose I am just setting myself up as “not being able to take a gentle ribbing of my messiah” but. . .

    Could you give me an example of his “finger wagging and namecalling”?

  28. February 8, 2010 8:07 pm

    When she becomes president, I will complain about ridding her of her teleprompters as well :)

    If people’s lives weren’t on the line, I would welcome a Palin presidency if only for the humor and because it would mean the exponential acceleration of the end of the united states of america.

  29. February 10, 2010 8:35 am

    Michael–
    I don’t think that we need a Palin presidency to bring about those g-forces. Regardless of who is “anchoring the national telethon,” it’s all downhill from here.
    That said, the Palin delivery is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I don’t think I can take much more, even though she provides the comics with bales of good material.
    I frankly don’t know whom, at this point in my dwindling capacity for stoicism and patience, I CAN abide any longer. Maybe it’s me?

  30. February 12, 2010 4:10 pm

    Rodak: I agree, we are seeing the end. Palin will not cause it, but merely contribute to it.

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