So much for President Spock. Last week, Rich Lowry wrote, “When John Kerry calls you out of touch, you must be so far out of touch that you need to call Mazlan Othman, the U.N.’s designated liaison to space aliens, to re-establish contact with Planet Earth.” Add to that list Walter Mondale, the cool aloof technocratic 1984 Democratic presidential candidate whose campaign, like Kerry’s, also failed due to being completely out of the touch with the American people. During his interview today with Wolf Blitzer on the public access cable channel known as CNN, Mondale had this to say:
MONDALE: He’s got to connect with the American people. He’s got to — the American people have to feel that the president senses the suffering they’re going through and wants to be a part of the solution. He’s got a lot of strength, but that key — connectivity, that ability to — that — to transmit the fact that he feels for people, I think, is something he needs to work on. I notice he’s doing more of these backyard events where he gets in close with a small group of people. And I think that’s part of — of what he should do.
BLITZER: He’s not showing — he’s not feeling people’s pain the way Bill Clinton was capable of feeling pain.
BLITZER: The empathy — empathy factor. Well, why is that? Why do you think he’s not capable, at least so far, of really doing that?
MONDALE: Well, I’ve seen places when he’s done it. The Milwaukee speech, I thought was — was terrific. I think some of these backyard events are terrific. But I — but I think he — he’s very bright — as a matter of fact, brilliant. And I think he tends to — and he uses these idiot boards to read speeches in television and I think he loses the connection that he needs emotionally with American voters.
BLITZER: You — you’re talking about the teleprompters that he always has…
MONDALE: Yes, right.
BLITZER: — when he’s delivering a formal speech…
BLITZER: — and he’s reading it, basically, from the teleprompter.
BLITZER: You don’t think that works, is that what you’re saying?
MONDALE: Yes, I think that — you know, if you’re looking at the teleprompter, you’re here, you’re here, you’re here and you’re — your audience is right there. And I think he needs to do more of that.
BLITZER: A fair point. There’s certainly an angry atmosphere across the country right now. The Tea Party movement clearly is gaining strength. What — in your opinion, is causing this anger?
MONDALE: Oh, I think people are terribly frustrated. I think they don’t see big issues being resolved. A lot of people are hurting. Unemployed — lose — in danger of losing their homes and all the rest. And they — it shows up, in part, with the Tea Party, which is really a protest movement, in my opinion.
BLITZER: How worried are you about this protest movement?
MONDALE: You know, I — this idea of protesting, of having third parties, is an old American experience. It’s entirely appropriate. These things flare up when the nation is having problems. What I don’t like is the kind of rigid polarized harsh rhetoric — my way or the highway approach. I — I don’t think we’ll ever solve our problems by shouting at each other.
Well, other than the Tea Party isn’t a true Third Party — at least for now — and that Demonizer-in-Chief Obama is no stranger to rigid polarized harsh rhetoric himself, that’s surprisingly spot-on, at least for Mondale.
But while Obama’s supporters have dismissed conservative mockery of the device by pointing to the president’s ability to operate fluently without it, Mondale suggests that it’s a real and symbolic element of his difficulty, at times, connecting.
UPDATE: Mondale will be introducing Vice President Joe Biden at a rally for Mark Dayton tomorrow in St. Paul, Minnesota. Teleprompters will be present, a source said.
Update: Video added. Of course, the problem isn’t the prompter per se — lots of politicians use them, as does virtually anybody shooting a video. (At the moment, I’m rather partial to the Ikan PT-1000 myself.) But for the president, it’s how omnipresent they seem, and how virtually all of his worst moments — certainly his most telling Kinsleyesque gaffes — occur when he starts to improvise.
And for Mondale, in a way, discussing the prompter is almost as big of a rhetorical crutch as it is for Obama’s seemingly constant use of them. It facilitates a discussion about the president’s aloofness, without asking the real questions: maybe he doesn’t care about the American people very much; maybe he doesn’t care how destructive his policies have been to the American economy, and maybe the presidency was just another line on his C.V.
Related: At Big Government, a look at Big Prompter, complete with video: “World’s Largest Teleprompter Used at ‘One Nation’ Rally”