Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rick Santorum’s Teleprompter Tantrum

Last week he complained childishly that the rules should be changed to favor spontaneity:

“See, I’ve always believed that when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter, because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.”

Teleprompters are older than Mr. Santorum. Their first political use was sixty years ago - by Herbert Hoover at the 1952 Republican Convention. (If you’d like to see how they once looked, search on Google Books for an article about “How a Teleprompter Works” in the July 1960 issue of Popular Science magazine on pages 104 and 105).

In the March 14th episode of his comedy satire TV show The Colbert Report (5 minutes from the beginning) Stephen Colbert took Santorum’s complaint to an absurd conclusion:

“Now, Rick Santorum is resonating with voters because of his authenticity. He always speaks off the cuff, which is why his sweaters don’t have sleeves. And Santorum believes authenticity should be legally mandated. [plays video clip of Santorum’s statement].

Yes, it should be illegal. Voters cannot trust candidates who have somebody else’s words in their mouths. That’s why no ventriloquist’s dummy has been nominated since the dark days of Charlie McCarthyism.

But we cannot, I believe we cannot, stop at teleprompters. I reject all pre-wrtitten words.That’s why I’m against reading books. I mean, books are a lie. When I read the words it makes thought sounds in my head like I’m thinking them.”  

Mr. Santorum would like us to return to a simpler time, but how far back would that be? I looked up what the first Catholic presidential nominee, Alfred E. Smith, had to say about public speaking in the really old days. Mr Smith was a former governor of New York who ran as a Democrat in the 1928 election. In a May 24, 1930 Saturday Evening Post article on "Spellbinding" he talked about unamplified speeches lit only by kerosene torches:

“...outdoor speaking in those days required a man to be in vigorous health and to have a good voice, or else he lasted only about five minutes on the platform, when the patience of the listening mob would be completely exhausted, and they usually started crying out for somebody else and kept up until they got him.

Nevertheless, it was a great training school for young men. It may have had its faults. It may have been crude, but it certainly was not without virtue. To my own knowledge, many young men who distinguished themselves in their later years began their early campaign speaking in the open air. The one great thing about it was that the young man starting out did not feel that he had to be an orator. There is quite a difference between coming out in front of the footlights and climbing upon the back of a truck. Maybe it is the possession of the knowledge that the truck affords a quicker get-away if you are not making a hit.”  

Mr. Smith lost the 1928 presidential election by a landslide - to the Republican candidate, Herbert Hoover.

The crying baby image was adapted from an 1884 Puck magazine cover.

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