The Echo Chamber

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A regular emailer writes in with a theory about why Republicans allowed their Q&A with President Obama to be televised live:

I am surprised there is so much joking around about Obama creaming the GOP caucus on national TV today. I am not surprised, of course, by the jokes themselves — I am surprised that some of the underlying context is missing. Has everyone forgotten that, since the presidential campaign, the Fox News and congressional Republicans’ line on Obama has been that he looks like a great orator in front of the teleprompter but is completely naked when taken off-script. It is with this in mind that we have to look at today’s invitation — they wanted Obama on their home turf with their script and they thought they could humiliate him on national TV. They expected him to fumble and fail. In a sense, it was not dissimilar from the Democrats’ campaign in Massachusetts.

This sounds plausible. Obama does use a teleprompter a lot, and conservatives have been drinking their own Kool-Aid for so long that they ended up believing their own puerile mockery about it being a crutch for a narcissistic, empty suit of a president. I guess that’s the downside of living in the Drudge/Fox/Rush echo chamber.

The funny thing, though, is that if you watch the Q&A with your eyes (and ears) open, it’s pretty obvious why Obama uses a teleprompter. It’s not that he doesn’t have the answers. He demonstrated today that he knows his stuff cold. But he does grasp for words sometimes, hesitating for extended periods and then coming up with some real clunkers. For example:

I raise that because we’re not going to be able to do anything about any of these entitlements if what we do is characterized, whatever proposals are put out there, as, well, you know, that’s — the other party is being irresponsible; the other party is trying to hurt our senior citizens; that the other party is doing X, Y, Z.

“The other party is doing X, Y, Z” is not going to go down in history as great oratory. Obviously Obama and his communications team are aware that he’s prone to this kind of thing sometimes, and they’d just as soon avoid it. Thus the teleprompter.

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