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October 7, 2012

Column: Obama misses his teleprompter, clings to Orwell-speak

Like every other armchair critic – and reportedly there are 55 million of us, which makes us “the 18 percent” (of the total U.S. population) – I have a few takeaways from the first presidential debate:

The winner, but ...: Mitt Romney won. Even the moderate left, far left and extreme left conceded that much.

But winning the debate does not make Romney the favorite. My guess is that he did well enough to get the attention of voters who are truly undecided, but it is going to take two more outstanding debate performances plus a flawless final campaign month to make the sale.

The teleprompter: This is a much bigger deal than anyone is saying. Virtually every pundit agreed that Romney was on his game and Obama was not. The president, they said, looked distracted, petulant, disengaged, tired, bored at times, confused, nervous, passive, meandering and weak.

He lacked passion. He lacked aggression.

But very few – among them lefty comedian Bill Maher and right-leaning columnist Charles Hurt in the Washington Times – said much about Obama working without a teleprompter.

Maher sounded more mystified than angry, and Hurt delivered what has become the standard Republican jibe at Obama, which is that the president is lost without a script.

I agree that he was lost but disagree with the implication that this means the president just isn’t as smart as he wants us all to think he is.

Smart is not the problem; Obama is brilliant. The problem is that even smart people, when they speak in public under a consistent set of circumstances, get used to it. When those circumstances change, it throws them off.

This may not be an exact parallel, but I’ve been trying to teach myself to “write” with voice-recognition software. I’m improving slowly, but I’m still lousy. That is because I’ve been thinking through my fingers, on a keyboard, for all of my professional life. It throws me off to think differently.

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