Monday, March 19, 2012

Of Jokes, Chimpanzees, and Teleprompters

A while ago I thought about writing a satirical little piece about a guy during the George W. Bush administration who misunderstood jokes about Bush being some sort of monkey or chimpanzee. He was very confused. After all, Laura Bush appeared to be human, and Bush's two daughters sure looked fully human, and human-chimp crossbreeds are biologically impossible. So George W. Bush wasn't the biological father of his two children!

Why was the national media not asking questions? Why hadn't liberal bloggers picked up on this? Why did nobody care?

It never occurred to anybody to explain to him outright that Bush being a chimp was a joke. Democrats played along with it (huh huh, yeah, he's a chimp) and Republicans dismissed it as Bush-bashing. No one ever told the poor guy that he wasn't supposed to take it literally.

And that's what I feel has happened to a huge segment of the Republican party over this "Obama needs a teleprompter to speak" meme.

Okay, it's not an exact comparison. Obama really does use a teleprompter, just like a huge number of other national politicians and other public figures.

But some people in the GOP seem to have accepted it as a given that Obama is reliant on a teleprompter in ways that George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, et al. were not. They've dug up precisely as much evidence for this as Democrats did for the assertion that George W. Bush was a chimp (none, because you're not supposed to think it's literally true). But politicians have actually woven it into their stump speeches and use it as a rhetorical cudgel against him.

This may not be such a great tactic for the Republicans, since they're as teleprompter-dependent as Democrats. Recent clips of Mitt Romney speaking without a teleprompter suggest that maybe this really isn't the line of attack against Obama that Republicans ought to be making.

The notion that politicians can't speak coherently without a bevy of speechwriters and a teleprompter has a long history in American political humor. I was familiar with it long before anyone outside of Illinois knew who Barack Obama was. It's not a new thing. This particular attribute got applied a lot to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In both cases it was just one aspect of a more comprehensive insult: 'This guy doesn't have the brainpower to be president, which would be obvious if he didn't surround himself with advisors and prepared speeches'.

With Obama, though, when the teleprompter thing came about during the 2008 campaign it seemed a reaction to the uncomfortable fact that (a) Obama was much more eloquent on the stump than George W. Bush or John McCain, and (b) this eloquence was a big force behind the enthusiasm of his supporters. If you joke that Obama's only eloquent because of his teleprompter, he's not so intimidating any more. That's just basic human psychology.

I mean, you could ask the for evidence that Obama is uniquely dependent on the teleprompter. You could also ask Democrats for DNA evidence proving Dubya's simian origins. But that would just be kind of dumb.

Somebody fill me in here. What am I missing? Is there actually evidence that Obama is uniquely dependent on his teleprompter? Do Republicans actually have a smarter strategy here than I'm giving them credit for ?

(No comments that boil down to 'Republicans are dumb', please. I've already seen speculation that the teleprompter thing is basically playing to white racists who like to think that the dark-skinned guy can only say eloquent words which have been fed to him. But I'd like to see if I can sort out the meaning of the teleprompter thing while also assuming the best of people. Can it be done?)

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