During his presidency in 1987, Ronald Reagan was asked how he reacted to Mikhail Gorbachev's offer to cut aid to the Sandanistas. He glanced at an index card and said, "This is a subject we are going to be discussing for quite some time." *
By now, most Americans have seen Sarah Palin's palm notes for her address/Q&A at the National Tea Party Convention.
Energy. Tax cut. Budget literally cut. Lift American spirit.
Look, I understand written prompts; I used many when giving speeches and presentations. And all I needed most of the time were a few keywords. That's something probably everyone, let alone a prospective presidential candidate, has done. What sets Palin's case apart from the pack are these points:
1) These are embarrassing words to need to remember. Just like with Reagan's recited call for future discussion, the sheer banality of the cheat sheets makes their need all the more deplorable. Her notes are the equivalent of cribbing on a calculus test with a times table.
2) She is, so to speak, a potential president. After sixth grade, writing notes on your hand is just sad. Even if you chalk it up to nervousness, there are lots of better, more discreet ways to hide such: cards, papers, practice, etc. Most people making public speeches have the same problem, but they are capable of hiding it in a more professional way.
But at the very least, at the very least, if you're going to scrawl on your hand, at least put it where you can consult it without STARING AT THE PALM OF YOUR HAND. You're seen by many as the torch-bearer of a party and philosophy already hit by a reputation for incoherence and idiocy — there's no virtue in furthering that image.
3) Apparently, there are some topics for which she needs no prompting. It's telling that Palin needs keywords for the budget, taxes, energy and the American spirit, but is at her most spontaneous and (relatively) articulate when bashing Obama and mocking his supporters. She's also comfortable with, "Drill! Drill! Drill!" It was said that George W. Bush could get very loquacious and on-track behind closed doors when talking about war, Saddam Hussein or tax cuts. I might stammer over the specifics of business models, but ask me about the New Orleans Saints and I won't pause for breath for 10 minutes. Why? Because that's what I'm most passionate about. Same thing with them, but scarier.
Of course, this incident has reignited the ever-smoldering embers of False Outrage among conservatives, who once again defend Palin by dissing Barack Obama. The empty suit-slash-dangerous socialist needs a Teleprompter to say anything, you hypocrites! Teleprompter. Teleprompter. Teleprompter. Blah blah blah.
We've been through this. Every president uses a Teleprompter. When you're making a speech, it helps. Obama even writes many of his own speeches. Granted, he does often pause and say "uh" when speaking off-the-cuff, like all of us, but he's still smart and cerebral. If anything, I'd argue that Sarah Palin really needs a Teleprompter. Maybe she thought using one would make her look dumb in the eyes of her extremely compartmentalized supporters, which is why she resorted to her palm pilot in the first place...
Can you imagine what the uproar would be if an American singer needed to crib the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from their hand during a big game? Oh, wait, look 41 seconds into this video!
Now anybody can slap their forehead to that!
* Source: The Clothes Have No Emperor by Paul Slansky. p.223