Jonathan Chait

Rubio And The Far Right

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At today's Conservative Political Action Conference, right-wing rising star Marco Rubio joked, “And the president couldn’t find anywhere to set up a teleprompter to announce new taxes." The New York Times' Adam Nagourney translates the gibe thusly:

Mr. Obama, of course, has shown that he is plenty adept at speaking with or without a teleprompter, but the ribbing speaks to a bigger point: Many conservatives here believe that Mr. Obama used his speaking abilities to sneak a big-government agenda on to a public that is in fact not really supportive of his view of the role of government.

No, that's not what he's saying. It's a common belief among the right-wing subculure from which Rubio hails that President Obama is, in truth, an idiot who only appears intelligent because he speaks constantly with the aid of a teleprompter. The notion seems to have had its greatest currency when Obama burst to the top of the Democratic primary in the winter of 2008.

This post from the blog Red State offers a typical example:

Seriously.. who is the President anyway?

The person holding the title obviously can’t speak on his own, that means someone is feeding the teleprompter and that means that person is actually President. Who is that person? I don’t remember there being a vote for Teleprompter in Chief.

Then yesterday, as proof that the man holding the title is nothing but a talking head, it takes SkyNews to break the story (oh no U.S. media would not touch this one) but even SkyNews places the blame on the infernal glass panels. “A teleprompt blunder has led to Barack Obama thanking himself in a speech at the White House in a St Patrick’s Day celebration.”

The teleprompter is so powerful, it controlled the mindless drone who reads it.

You can find more examples here ("Obama is a babbling idiot without his teleprompter"), here, here, and here.

This idea lost some of its momentum when Obama cleaned John McCain's clock in the fall debates and, again, when he did the same to House Republicans in Baltimore a couple weeks ago, but it's never completely died. It is, however, an attack that mainstream Republicans have kept their distance from, for obvious reasons. Rubio's joke is a dog whistle message to the far right.

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