There’s a lot of interesting stuff in HBO’s “Game Change,” a dramatized version of the story of the McCain campaign’s selection of Sarah Palin in 2008. But as someone who spends a lot of time sorting through the mythologies and shibboleths of both the liberal and conservative blogospheres, what most caught my attention was two references to TelePrompters.
If you’re not up to speed on why this would grab me, allow me to lay out perhaps the silliest of the tribal markers currently in vogue on the American right. It is taken as a truism by many conservatives that Barack Obama is dumb and not much of a speaker, and it’s only through the aid of a TelePrompter that he’s able to come off as so eloquent. Without the TelePrompter, he’s just a regular guy, or maybe not even that. This is part of a larger, racially driven narrative that suggests Obama only got into the universities he attended because of affirmative action, or at times that he actually didn’t go to either Columbia or Harvard. Offhand references to TelePrompters have been big laugh lines in conservative speeches for the last several years, despite the fact that every national politician since the invention of the device has used it.
What I hadn’t put together previously, was that this weird obsession might derive from some cockeyed Sarah Palin origin myth. Until “Game Change” got to Palin’s convention speech, I’d forgotten that the TelePrompter supposedly died on her halfway through, meaning she just winged it the rest of the way. I don’t buy this — the Palin portrayed earlier in the film doesn’t seem like the sort to be able to memorize her entire speech, and the Palin we saw in real life doesn’t seem like the sort to be able to string together a coherent 10-15 minutes to fill out her time slot — and Politico disputed it at the time, but a myth is a myth. Later in the film, Palin demands the opportunity to give her own concession speech and orders a campaign staffer to “load it in the TelePrompter,” and of course she and every other national Republican are frequent TelePrompter users.
Several years later, cue Rick Santorum calling for the outlawing of presidential candidates using TelePrompters. Why? “Because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.” Presumably President Santorum will have no speechwriters.