Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A POTUS without a TOTUS 

A different political and media era, of course, but there was a Democratic president who could answer questions at press conferences without a teleprompter and with brevity and genuine humor.

The press -- back when printed media was important, indeed, perhaps more important that electronic media -- liked him, but was not completely in the tank for him.

UPDATE: Since the WHCD, I assumed this was safe ground to kid about (since the POTUS made fun of the teleprompter joke in a self-deprecating way). Also, even NBC has recently run a piece on the teleprompter "issue" (below).

I have little doubt that in an intimate setting, President Obama is quite charismatic and personable. I have not been in such a setting, but a number of my close friends had breakfast with the candidate more than a year ago, and found him very engaging, and I trust their judgment. President Kennedy grew up politically in a era when TV was not much of a factor -- indeed, the Kennedy-Nixon debates are often cited as a turning point in the importance of the new medium in national politics -- so his informal manner was not as consciously directed toward that medium.

In terms or raw scholastic achievement, President Obama almost certainly has it over JFK, for what that is worth. Based on polling data (joked about near the end of the JFK video above) President Obama is also personally much more popular during this first year of his presidency than JFK was at any point during his presidency, so whatever the POTUS is doing seems to be working for him. He has his own style, which does not include short, funny answers at press conferences, but perhaps some of that is a reflection of the times.

I wonder, though, if you took an informal poll of liberal Democrats in their 70s and 80s who were old enough to remember JFK as a political figure and voted for him, and also voted for President Obama, and asked them who they think is the better extemporaneous political speaker, what would be the responses?

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By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Tue Jun 09, 03:40:00 PM:

Have you ever spoken to Barack Obama? Or been at an event were he's interacting with the audience? Just asking. lol  

By Blogger Sydney Brillo Duodenum, at Tue Jun 09, 04:12:00 PM:

Mr. Chambers, are you implying that there has been some event at which Mr. Obama "killed" the audience with his brevity, wit and all around savoir faire and that this occurance went unreported by the current generation of doting and admiring press? I think it's our turn to "lol."  

By Anonymous trip, at Tue Jun 09, 04:23:00 PM:

I wasn't aware Obama used a teleprompter and more or less than anyone else. Does this relate to some incident? If not, it sounds like much ado about nothing.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Jun 09, 04:31:00 PM:

"Or been at an event were he's interacting with the audience?"

The last time he was allowed to do that (without planted questions and scripted answers) he said he wanted to 'spread the wealth around.' So they don't let him do that anymore.

But I have seen video of him when he loses his place on the teleprompter or it malfunctions; he turns into a stuttering idiot.


You no longer have to be personally persuasive or eloquent to be a successful politician in our society. You have people and gadgets for that. Instead, it seems that you just have to have the right personal characteristics to fit the national mood of the time.  

By Blogger victoria, at Tue Jun 09, 04:52:00 PM:

Trust me, obama doesn't use the teleprompter more or less than anyone else. it is the nit picky right wing press, that cannot let any of their lies stick, who have to attack him for something. Better a reader off a teleprompter than an idiot whose off the cuff comments caused us all to go, "Huh?".  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 09, 05:51:00 PM:

As Dawnfire said, Obama can't work without planted questions and scripted answers. This seems to be even more true that he's President and accountable. I wouldn't be surprised if he and Axelrod map out his story arcs even a few weeks in advance.

There was one reporter that asked a hard question about the budget several weeks ago -- I doubt he's been allowed to ask a question since.

This doesn't mean Obama's dumb -- it does mean his ideas don't stand to reason -- and he knows it.

Bush was often scripted too.

Link, over  

By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Tue Jun 09, 06:28:00 PM:

Victoria :
Better a reader off a teleprompter than an idiot whose off the cuff comments caused us all to go, "Huh?"

Here is an off the cuff comment that causes knowledgeable persons to go,"Huh?

"But we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling — if everybody was just inflating their tires? And getting regular tune-ups? You’d actually save just as much!"
Courtesy of Barack Obama.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue Jun 09, 07:24:00 PM:

E81: "I assumed this was safe ground to kid about ..."

Stop pulling your punches as a blogger, E81. It makes you less interesting to read.


I remember JFK. I met him during the 1960 campaign. I was 15 years old at the time. He gave me a PT-109 tiepin.

JFK fully understood the importance of theater in politics. He also had talents like Sorensen, Salinger, and Schlesinger on his team to help him polish his messages.

Obama seems prissy to me. He needs to work on his body language.

P.S. Trash POTUS, TOTUS, WHCD, etc. Your overseas readers didn't get decoding rings in Kellogg's cereal boxes.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Tue Jun 09, 08:51:00 PM:


Do you still have the tiepin?

Thanks for all of the advice. It is easy to fall into bad habits, especially lazy ones regarding acronyms. I shall type faster and more completely.

I agree with your comment regarding theater, and I think the literal interpretation of that word is relevant, as in, gowing up more on Broadway and less in Studio B with 3 cameras. Kennedy was not self-conscious or exhaustively practiced or polished about being good on television, although he almost certainly was the first telegenic president. There was a natural spontaneity about his delivery, which is apparent in the sequence of clips above. He was like a Tony award winner who could make a seamless tranisition to the hot medium of television. There is the often told tale (in political science classes, anyway) that people who listened to the Kennedy-Nixon debates on the radio thought Nixon had won, and those who watched on television thought Kennedy had won.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Tue Jun 09, 09:34:00 PM:

I gave the tiepin to one of my (grown) kids, E81.


Remember, JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was a big shot in the movie business. He made a lot of money refinancing and reorganizing Hollywood studios.

And then there was JFK's pal Frank Sinatra, brother-in-law Peter Lawford, and the Rat Pack ...

Yes, JFK knew more than a little about show business.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 09, 11:02:00 PM:

Daddie Kennedy once spent half the year shtupping Gloria Swanson -- there is no modern parallel to Gloria -- she's one of a kind.

It's all gone done downhill after Ava Gardner, for me at least. JFK/RFK had to settle for Marilyn. I'm classisist... at least in some things.

Link, over  

By Blogger Escort81, at Wed Jun 10, 12:09:00 AM:

"settle for Marilyn"??

Link, you are a man of very high standards.

Monica (and Ashley, for that matter, although it's just a governor with her) is so vastly inferior to Marilyn Monroe that I cannot even think of a reasonable and analogous comparison.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed Jun 10, 03:45:00 AM:

"Daddie Kennedy once spent half the year shtupping Gloria Swanson -- there is no modern parallel to Gloria -- she's one of a kind."

Two words - Sunset Boulevard.

"I'm still big, it's the movies that got small"

And we can segue into Marilyn Monroe here - Billy Wilder, who directed "Sunset Boulevard", later made "Some Like It Hot" featuring Marilyn, pursued by Tony Curtis in drag.  

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