The blogosphere is afire with the controversy over Sarah Palin‘s palm. Photos and video of her from the recent Tea Party event showed quite clearly that she had written her talking points for her interview on her hand. Naturally, some folks on the left take this as yet more evidence of her general incompetence. Equally naturally, some folks on the right have blamed the liberal media and have rushed to her defense. I will endeavor to put the matter in perspective and draw some reasonable conclusions about the matter.
In her defense, relying on prompts and notes is all part of public speaking. As she has pointed out, Obama uses a teleprompter. So do most politicians who have access to them. When I teach, I make use of my own notes. When folks make business presentations they typically have notes or PowerPoint slides to refresh their memory and keep them on topic. While the fact that it is commonly done does not prove that it is acceptable, it does show that it would seem to be unfair to single Palin out for criticism.
That said, there are some grounds for legitimate criticism about her use of the cheat. First, there is the matter of when such notes should be used and what their use shows. It is reasonable to use notes when presenting a complex or long speech because it is rather challenging to keep that sort of information just in your mind. For example, I present lectures that are 50 minutes on up to two and a half hours about philosophy. While I do know the material, I need to make sure that I cover everything and hence using notes is reasonable. However, if I had to use notes to recall very basic and simple points, I probably should not be teaching. Likewise, if Palin cannot keep track of her most basic talking points (especially when she already knows the questions), then that seems to be grounds for concern.
Second, there is the nature of her approach. Writing notes on your skin doesn’t seem very professional. Also, she should have been aware that people would notice the writing-after all, she was waving her hand about and clearly looking at it. It seems rather odd that she would go to the trouble of writing notes in her palm to be secretive (after all, she could have just used a note card) and then just wave her hand around. Did she forget what was on her hand so quickly? Did she not know that it would show up very clearly? In any case, the event made her seem a bit silly and unprepared.
Third, there is the fact that she has criticized Obama about using a teleprompter and the fact that the Tea Party movement has a main point against scripted politicians. Presumably Palin was trying to look unscripted by hiding her script on her palm. Naturally, the fact that she does what she criticizes does not invalidate her criticism (that would be a fallacy). But, of course, it is poor tactics do do what you criticize in others and to go against a talking point of the movement you want to appeal to.
I have considered that perhaps Palin is more clever than folks give her credit for. After all, she has risen from relative obscurity to great success. While it is tempting to dismiss her as the political equivalent of Paris Hilton (being famous for being famous) perhaps this is a mistake. Her hand notes made the news in a big way and got her national media coverage. Also, when the media folks and the liberal bloggers take shots at her, this seems to merely make her base love her even more.