You'll have to forgive the pundit world of late. Political wonks are all in a collective breath-holding moment, as we all sit nervously awaiting the first presidential debate of the season. We tell each other that it's going to be a big event -- possibly the biggest -- in the race for the White House, whether we actually believe this to be true or not. But because we're all waiting for the main event, there is actually time to sit back and examine how Republicans are proving that one of their own put-downs of President Obama was laughable nonsense from the very get-go. I speak (without notes, to be snarky) of "TelePrompTer Obama" -- the caricature that stated that Barack Obama was nothing more than a good speech-giver, and absolutely could not function speaking in public without the crutch of a prepared speech scrolling past his eyes.
This caricature began approximately the day Obama took office, and has been used scathingly by Republicans over the past four years. Obama was nothing more than a puppet, Republicans sneered, tied by the strings of his TelePrompTer, and unable to form a coherent thought or sentence on his own.
This was all ridiculous nonsense, of course, but that didn't stop the Republican Party from having a field day with it. Politicians have been using these devices since the time they were invented -- yes, even Republican politicians such as (say it softly) Ronald Wilson Reagan. The whole slur made about as much sense in the modern world as denouncing a politician for speaking into a microphone. TelePrompTers are hardly "new-fangled" devices, to put it another way. They've been around and been used for decades (although, as we've noted before, the media still has a major problem with the odd capitalization in the brand name, much the same way they got confused over "Etch A Sketch" and "Chick-fil-A" of late... but I digress).
Republicans had all kinds of fun building their caricature of President Obama as somehow lost without his TelePrompTer crutch, for years. Until this past weekend. Watching the Sunday political chatfests on television meant listening to Republican after Republican extol to the skies President Obama's ability as a standalone debater. Obama was masterful, Obama was best talking off-the-cuff, Obama was one of the greatest political speakers of our time. This was coming from Republicans, mind you.
It's all part of a game, of course, which both sides play. The name of this game is "Lower the Media's Expectations." Surrogates flood the airwaves right before a big debate talking up their opponent's debating abilities. This sets the bar very high for the opponent, and sets it as low as possible for your guy or gal. Here is Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, playing this game on Fox News Sunday yesterday:
"Look, President Obama is a very -- he's a very gifted speaker. The man's been on the national stage for many years. He's an experienced debater. He's done these kinds of debates before. This is Mitt's first time on this kind of a stage."
But by doing so, Ryan exposes not only his own doublethink on the issue, but the Republican Party's larger idiocy in perpetuating this "empty chair" caricature of President Obama's speaking abilities. Paul Ryan's own hypocrisy is easy to see, since he regularly cracks TelePrompTer jokes out on the campaign trail. The punchline of the joke remains the same: Obama is so pathetic that he needs a TelePrompTer, but Ryan is so gosh-darned manly that he is able to speak without one. What gives the lie to this hogwash is that not only Mitt Romney, but also virtually every Republican who spoke at the party's recent national convention used this supposed tool of the Devil. Somehow America is expected to believe that TelePrompTers are laughable and proof of ignorance only when used by Democrats (and by one Democrat in particular). The most amusing irony appears when some hapless Republican cracks an Obama TelePrompTer joke while themselves reading from the device which they are mocking.
It would have been nice if any of the Sunday show moderators (who always style themselves "journalists," often with very little to back this assertation up) had pounced this weekend on the Republicans' doublethink. By pumping up Obama's debating skills as high as they could get away with, Republicans were, in essence, admitting that the whole TelePrompTer slam was, at heart, not only wrong but downright silly. So why was the "irony radar" of these well-paid and well-coiffed "journalists" seemingly broken? This was an entirely predictable event, since surrogates always play the expectations game right before a big debate. It wasn't too hard to see this coming.
To put this another way, I would have paid good money to see someone ask: "How can you sit here and tell me Obama is a great debater, when you've been mocking him for four years as a man who is incapable of speaking without a TelePrompTer? Were you lying to us then, or are you lying to us now?"
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