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The teleprompter president

By Jack Ward
web posted March 16, 2009

There is no question that President Obama is an accomplished orator. As a candidate for president he inspired millions, thrilled young ladies and even sent chills up the legs of seasoned pundits. He was even compared to past great orators like Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. But are his oratory skills overblown?

Ever year Hollywood gives Oscars to the most accomplished actors. These actors pretend to be someone else. A mild mannered actor may play the part of a vicious killer. The actors read a script and their actions are controlled by a director. The script may be the product of several writers and the director wants the actor to recite the script accurately to portray the character. No serious person equates the actor to the character.

Barack Obama and teleprompter during his campaign for the Democratic nominationObama's oratory skills have often been compared with other great orators like Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Lincoln was noted for the famous Lincoln - Douglas debates. These debates would last for hours and Lincoln didn't have the benefit of speech writers. Debaters back then depended upon their knowledge of the subject.         

More than a hundred years after the Lincoln – Douglas debates technology provided the speech giver a valuable aid. The modern teleprompter came into use in the 1980's. The teleprompter is the mostly transparent glass panels that you see on the left and right of lectern.  The text of the speech is projected on the panels so the speech giver can read the text while it appears that they are looking at the audience.

I don't recall if Ronald Reagan used a teleprompter or not. Since the technology was available I would expect that he did use it on some occasions. But Reagan was giving speeches in the early 1960's without a teleprompter, making radio commentary, and was writing most of his material before he ran for president. When he became president he did utilize speech writers but he was deeply involved in the final product.    

Bill Clinton did use a teleprompter but he was quite comfortable without one. In one prepared speech the teleprompter malfunctioned. After a brief pause Clinton continued without it and returned to the prepare text when the malfunction was corrected. So it was apparent that Clinton was well informed on the any of the topics he addressed.    

President Obama hasn't demonstrated any of these skills. Obama has difficulty speaking extemporaneously and appears totally dependent on the teleprompter. Without the teleprompter he appears to be less confident and at a loss for words. Even when he was making a very simple six minute introduction of his Health and Human Services nominee he needed a teleprompter. A primary complaint is that he doesn't make eye contact with the camera, he reads from the left teleprompter, then the right, throughout the entire speech. He is constantly reading and never makes eye contact with the American people.

Throughout the country there are hundreds of radio talk show hosts. Each host talks live on the air for a couple of hours on a variety of topics without a script or teleprompter. None of these hosts have been identified as having superior intellect, but during the presidential campaign we were repeatedly told that Obama had superior intellect. The public has never been privy to Obama's academic transcripts or read anything he wrote as editor of the Harvard Law Review. Also there has been considerable debate if Obama really wrote his two books or were they ghost written for him. 

Obama has done little to dispel these questions. His dependence on a teleprompter and his poor performance when speaking without one makes you wonder if he is just reading a script like an academy award winning actor.  So the question remains, is he as advertised or is he just reading a script? And if he is just reading the script, who is behind the curtain directing the performance? ESR

© 2009 Jack Ward

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