On President Bush’s Teleprompter

Why doesn’t this surprise me?

President Bush’s speeches spell out words phoentically on the teleprompter.

The President’s phonetic pronunciation teleprompt was embarrassingly revealed when a marked-up draft of Mr Bush’s speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday briefly popped up on the UN website.

The White House was left scrambling to explain the special guidance the President gets for major speeches.

It included phonetic spellings for French President Nicolas Sarkozy (sar-KO-zee) and Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe (moo-GAH-bee).

He was also prompted to pronounce Kyrgyzstan ‘KEYR-geez-stan’, Mauritania ‘moor-EH-tain-ee-a’ and the Zimbabwe’s capital Harare ‘hah-RAR-ray.’

Yes, I can think of a dozen, legitimate reasons why someone would need phoentic spellings. The obvious one is that the President hadn’t practiced his speech. He’s a busy man, easily distracted. A little extra help isn’t completely beyond the pale.

Yet, I can’t help but nurse reasons that question the President’s intelligence. Because it seems like it’s of a piece with every other tic and oddity we’ve seen in his speech patterns, in his dyslexicon.

But it’s worse than that, even. If the President can’t grasp a name as a name, then how can he have any understanding of it? He has no investment of the word — it’s merely sounds to him. Syllables. Strung together, they mean something to someone else, but do they mean anything to him? That’s what I find most disturbing about this — how can he understand or empathize, if he has nothing to hold onto? How can Mauritania be a real place to him, if the word itself is gibberish in his mind?

That’s worrisome.

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