Monday, May 09, 2011


NBC Nightly News featured a story this evening about a collection of index cards found among Ronald Reagan's effects. The cards include several dozen on which Reagan jotted down jokes -- mostly cornball Borscht Belt-style jokes -- which he would work into his speeches. Stuff like this (click to enlarge):

To hear right-wingers tell it, Ronald Reagan was a giant among men, while Barack Obama is a pathetic pretender to greatness who can't even talk without a teleprompter. Never mind that we just heard him eloquently discuss the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in a lengthy (and teleprompter-free) 60 Minutes interview. By contrast, the guy who's supposed to be his superior, at least according to the right, spent a great deal of his time carefully jotting down the corniest of jokes. This, we're told by the right, is the deed of a great man, a brilliant man.

And even Douglas Brinkley -- the historian who's compiled the joke cards and other Reagan jottings into a new book, which will be published tomorrow -- has apparently fallen for the notion that Reagan belonged to a teleprompter-free age. In the NBC story, he says (though he may be referring to Reagan's pre-presidential days):

In speeches it wasn't done back then where you had the teleprompters like you do today,so these note cards are Reagan's security blanket if you like.

I don't know what Brinkley's talking about. There are quite a few news photos of Reagan using a teleprompter as president. An AP article in 1982 about a Reagan speech was headlined "President's Teleprompter Is a Hit at U.N." And then there was this, from UPI in 1984:

Shiny Name Tags a Problem

SAN ANTONIO, July 6 -- An official at the Texas State Bar convention asked members to remove their name tags before President Reagan arrived today, saying the Secret Service had made the request "for technical reasons." A White House spokesman later said the request came from the White House Communications Agency, which handles lighting and sound equipment for the President. The laminated name tags were reflecting into the Teleprompter, the device from which Mr. Reagan reads his speeches.

Nevertheless, he is now regarded a brilliant man from a literate, pre-teleprompter era, in part because he printed schlocky jokes on cards by hand, neatly.

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