Go to any major Republican gathering, and you’re sure to hear some “jokes” that deserve more groans than laughs. Someone will probably mention arugula; someone is bound to complain about an imaginary “apology tour”; and a whole lot of folks are guaranteed to joke about teleprompters.
Opinions vary as to how this nonsense got started. Every modern president, from both parties, has used teleprompters, but for whatever reason, Republicans love to characterize President Obama’s use as some kind of scandal. If the goal is to push the political discourse to a third-grade level, Republicans are succeeding brilliantly.
Over the weekend, Rick Santorum decided to make matters even worse.
From the start of the 2012 presidential race, the most consistent — and popular — criticism of President Obama by the GOP candidates has not been on the economy, health care or foreign policy. It’s been on the incumbent’s use of a TelePrompter.
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.”
Santorum was probably being hyperbolic when he suggested making teleprompter use “illegal,” but I’ve seen the video and he didn’t appear to be joking around.
There are a few angles to this to keep in mind. The first is that the knock on Obama, love him or hate him, is cheap and silly. If the right’s point is to somehow suggest the president isn’t as brilliant as he seems, I’d note for context that Obama has written many of his own speeches, and heavily edits those that are written for him.
The second is that it’s impossible in the modern era to seek the presidency by just “reading someone else’s words to people.” Candidates develop stump speeches, which they memorize without the benefit of a teleprompter, in addition to doing interviews, hosting town-hall meetings, and meeting countless voters face to face. Whether or not someone uses a teleprompter at a special event is trivia. Obsessing over this is childish.
And third, it took me about 15 seconds on Google to find an example of Rick Santorum using a teleprompter during a speech last month. Would Santorum have us believe this should have been illegal, too?