Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Reclaiming the Public Narrative: or why stupid things said for craven poltical game need to be called out for what they are

Let’s pretend I’m a sports analyst on TV. If I made fun of Albert Pujols for using a baseball bat to crush a fastball, you would laugh at me—calling my argument patently absurd. If I made fun of Drew Brees for winning the Super Bowl by throwing a football, you would not only look at me funny, but my own cache would evaporate instantaneously. In either scenario, would I be considered fit for sports commentary? Should I expect to be taken seriously? Wouldn’t the obvious obliviousness be exposed and called out? Isn’t it proper for journalists to decry public statements that are patently absurd?

So why is it that the former sportscaster Sarah Palin’s persistent attacks on Pres. Barrack Obama’s use of a TelePrompTer aren’t treated to such similar condescension? The facts of the matter are obvious:
  • Virtually every televised public speech uses this device. So, in other words, it is used by everyone, in politics or not.
  • Every president has used it for years. This includes all of them. Did I mention that there are no exceptions?
  • Every candidate in recent memory has used it on the campaign trail—again, no exceptions, including every presidential and vice presidential candidate in 2008.
  • Every sportscaster or newscaster uses a TelePrompTer to report the news.
In the current climate, it is easy to make this conversation a personal one. It is easy to take this away from the BIG facts in favor of the small ones. In the above description, I didn’t say as candidates, Misters Obama, McCain, Biden, and Mrs. Palin each used a TelePrompTer. I didn’t call her a hypocrite (even though I will gladly do so now) for attacking Obama for doing something that she herself does and will do in the future. But the very facts of the matter is that it isn’t an either/or; it isn’t a he-does-this and she-does-that scenario. It is an everybody-does-this/how-can-there-be-an-issue sort-of-thing. Everybody uses a TelePrompTer because it is the logical tool for enhancing the effectiveness of speeches. It is a cynical person who seems to therefore be suggesting that if Mr. Obama speaks well and uses one than she should therefore speak poorly and not use one. That’s her argument…if it were really about logic.

I doubt that Mrs. Palin does this out of logic or out of a sincere attempt to change the way politics are done. It is an attempt to make fun of the President and impugn his character. Making fun of something so trivial is Gutter Politics 101—because its obviousness means that comment is often left unsaid. Defending Mr. Obama’s use of the device rightly seems defensive while attempts to point out Mrs. Palin’s similar use of the device can clearly be used to construct an “they’re out to get me” schema. There is no political solution to this callous political strategy, but there is a clearly necessary historic solution—to laugh at her. Just as we would laugh at a sportscaster for suggesting a baseball bat is a stupid tool for the game of baseball, shouldn’t we collectively laugh at the suggestion that a TelePrompTer is the wrong tool for giving a speech? Isn’t the suggestion plain enough that we can all see the inanity of it?