Here, in Virginia, Barack Obama was recently obliged to speak without the assistance of his teleprompter.
Dean Barnett examines the unenhanced candidate’s performance and finds an unenhanced message.
It was.. interesting to see Obama climb to the stage at Virginia’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday night. As he strode to the podium, Obama clutched in his hands a pile of 3 by 5 index cards. The index cards meant only one thing–no Teleprompter.
Shorn of his Teleprompter, we saw a different Obama. His delivery was halting and unsure. He looked down at his obviously copious notes every few seconds throughout the speech. Unlike the typical Obama oration where the words flow with unparalleled fluidity, he stumbled over his phrasing repeatedly.
The prepared text for his remarks, as released on his website, sounded a lot like a typical Obama speech. All the Obama dramatis personae that we’ve come to know so well were there–the hapless family that had to put a “for sale” sign on its front lawn, the factory forced to shutter its doors and, of course, the mother who declares bankruptcy because “she cannot pay her child’s medical bills.”
The tone was also vintage Obama. The prepared text reached out to all Americans, including (gasp!) Republicans. It also evidenced Obama’s signature lack of anger. While his colleagues have happily demagogued complex issues and demonized the Bush administration, Obama always has taken pains to strike a loftier tone.
But Saturday night’s stem-winder turned out quite differently from the typical Obama speech. With no Teleprompter signaling the prepared text, Obama failed to deliver the speech in his characteristically flawless fashion. He had to rely on notes. And his memory. And he improvised.
The results weren’t just interesting because they revealed Obama as a markedly inferior speaker without the Teleprompter. Obama’s supporters have had ample notice that the scripted Obama is far more effective than the spontaneous one. The extremely articulate and passionate Obama that makes all the speeches has yet to show up at any of the debates. For such a gifted and energetic speaker, he is an oddly tongue-tied and indifferent debater.
What was especially noteworthy about his Virginia speech were the diversions Obama took from the prepared text. Because of Obama’s improvised moments, this speech was different than the usual fare he offers. We didn’t get the normal dosages of post-partisanship or even “elevation.” Virtually every time Obama deviated from the text, he expressed the partisan anger that has so poisoned the Democratic party. His spontaneous comments eschewed the conciliatory and optimistic tone that has made the Obama campaign such a phenomenon. It looked like the spirit of John Edwards or Howard Dean had possessed Obama every time he vamped. While Paul Krugman probably loved it, this different Obama was a far less attractive one.
At one point, Obama launched an improvised jeremiad against the current administration that took special note of the recent revelation that he and Dick Cheney are distant relations:
“Now I understand some of the excitement doesn’t have to do with me. I know that whatever else happens whatever twists and turns this campaign may take, when you go into that polling place next November, the name George Bush won’t be
on the ballot and that makes everybody pretty cheerful. Everyone’s happy about that. The name of my cousin Dick Cheney won’t be on the ballot. That was embarrassing when that news came out. When they do these genealogical surveys, you want to be related to somebody cool. So, but, his name went be on the ballot.
“Each of us running for the Democratic nomination agrees on one thing that the other party does not–that the next president must end the disastrous policies of George W. Bush. No more Scooter Libby Justice! No more Brownie incompetence! No more Karl Rove politics.”…
Looking past the missed opportunity regarding the vice president, how many times has Obama deliberately pushed angry-left hot buttons like Scooter Libby and Karl Rove? Obama has run looking to the future, and thus hasn’t felt it necessary to dwell on the purported horrors that the Bush administration has visited upon the nation. This tack has made him look above the fray.
Other improvised moments also contradicted the generally lofty tone of the Obama campaign. At one, point when addressing what we have to do for the economy, Obama ad-libbed, “The insurance and the drug companies aren’t going to give up their profits easily . . . Exxon Mobil made $11 billion this past quarter.” This is the kind of empty class warfare shtick that earned John Edwards an early exit from the race. What’s more, it displayed the kind of simplistic sloganeering that Obama had previously eschewed. …
What makes Obama’s Jefferson-Jackson speech especially relevant is where he went when he went off script. The unifying Obama who has impressed so many people during this campaign season vanished, replaced by just another angry liberal railing against George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Exxon Mobil, and other long standing Democratic piÃ±atas.