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Who is vinay reddy, joe biden’s speechwriter.

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Joe Biden and his wife Jill are greeted by former President Barack Obama as they arrive for the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2021.

Joe Biden’s speechwriter is a first-generation Indian American who lives in New York and previously worked for the new commander-in-chief, reports said Wednesday. 

Vinay Reddy, who penned Biden’s inaugural speech for Wednesday’s ceremony , is currently the speechwriter on the Biden-Harris transition team and also worked as a senior adviser and speechwriter for the team’s campaign, the Hindustan Times reported . 

Previously, Reddy did stints writing speeches for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Obama-Biden re-election campaign. 

He also worked for the National Basketball Association as the vice president of strategic communications after serving as Biden’s chief speechwriter during his second term as vice president in the Obama-Biden White House, the outlet reported. 

Reddy was born and raised in Ohio, but his family comes from the Telangana Pothireddypeta village in Karimnagar, India, the outlet said. Reddy’s father, Narayana Reddy, started his life in the US in 1970 following his completion of medical school in Karimnagar. 

The speechwriter’s family is well connected in their hometown: Reddy’s grandfather Thirupathi Reddy served as the village head and the family still owns acres of land in the area, visiting regularly. 

Reddy currently lives in New York with his wife and two daughters. 

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  • Copy URL https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/behind-every-president-there-is-a-speechwriter

Behind Every President, There Is a Speechwriter

Cabinet Secretaries prowling the halls for clues, White House staffers crafting secret policy — it sounds straight out of the TV drama “The West Wing.” But it’s non-fiction, and has taken place in the run up to previous presidents’ State of the Union speeches. Ahead of President Barack Obama’s fourth State of the Union tonight, Hari Sreenivasan got a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing such a speech from two former presidential speechwriters — Michael Gerson , who worked for President George W. Bush, and Don Baer , Communications Director for the Clinton White House.

So who decides exactly what goes and what doesn’t go into the State of the Union? It depends on the administration. According to Gerson, the agenda and language are mostly conceived of in the West Wing.

“We did get some lobbying, but the nature of modern government is that the executive office of the president, the people around the president, are really very much in charge,” said Gerson. “The Cabinets are not anymore; they are not contributing language. They are consulted by the domestic policy team at the White House in the lead up to a State of the Union address, but these things are driven from within the West Wing.”

For Baer, the Cabinet Secretaries didn’t relinquish a role in the speech so easily. “We had one or two who would actually prowl the halls during the time when the speech was being written,” Baer said. “[They were] sort of knocking from door to door to see where the speech was and to try to attach themselves to see whether or not they could have an impact on it.”

One common theme? Secrecy. When drafting the first State of the Union speech for President Clinton’s second term, Baer said the president asked him to leave an open space in the speech for Social Security. “He asked me specifically, leave it blank,” Baer said. “He knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t want everyone else around the White House to know … because there were forces around who may or may not agree.”

Gerson’s best State of the Union experience involved unveiling a policy created in a secret process — Bush’s 2003 emergency plan for AIDS relief in Africa. “No one had any idea it was going to happen, it was a secret policy process that produced this, gained bipartisan support,” he said. “That was a State of the Union initiative that really could change things, and it just symbolized to me, that occasionally you can do something unexpected.”

Tune into the PBS NewsHour Tuesday night for special coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union address.

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speech writer for the president

amber macdonald and dr jill biden

How Amber Macdonald Went From Clowning to Presidential Speechwriting

After nearly seven years of writing Dr. Jill Biden’s speeches and working for the president, Macdonald reflects on how she got there.

“I always wanted to be onstage,” says the Washington, D.C., resident, who jovially admits that she loved being the center of attention. As a child, she was always involved in theater and performance, and through her parents’ church activities she managed to give her first sermon at age 12. As a 20-something in Los Angeles, where she moved after college to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, she worked as a clown and birthday party princess. “There’s nothing like walking into a room dressed as Cinderella and having 20 5-year-olds rush you and tell you that they love you. It’s a great ego boost.”

The daughter of two very religious and politically conservative parents, Macdonald moved around a lot and changed schools a bunch. She lived in New York, Indiana, Georgia, again in Indiana, Florida, and again back in Indiana, all before she graduated high school. Growing up so mobile made her very adaptable. Whenever she had to find new friends or learn her way around a new school or neighborhood, if ever that made her feel untethered, she knew she could always come back to the theater.

“Every school had a theater program,” says Macdonald. “[Moving around that much] made me very attuned to storytelling. That religious tradition of storytelling and rhetoric made a big impression on me.”

If you’re wondering how someone who grew up as a conservative Christian came to be a part of the Biden administration, to Macdonald it doesn’t feel far-fetched.

“Everybody comes to their career for different reasons,” says Macdonald, who has complicated feelings about Christianity but attends a “very liberal Episcopalian Church” every Sunday. “For me, ironically, my mom and I just don’t agree on a lot of things, and we decide what we’re willing to fight about. But the values, her values, the ones she taught me, are why I do what I do. Compassion, justice, mercy, volunteering, giving back — those Christian values that I was raised with, that’s why I do everything I do now [regardless of our] different worldview. At the end of the day, we both want similar things. And if we can find a way to talk to each other, then it becomes less contentious.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the relationship with Dr. Biden seemed to gel from the very beginning.

“When I first met Amber,” says Dr. Biden, “we immediately bonded over our shared love of poetry and literature. Since then, she has been my writing partner and collaborator. From the early days at the Biden Foundation to the 2020 campaign to the White House, she’s been with me every step of the way. She’s incredibly talented, and I’m grateful to her for her years of friendship and teamwork.”

Since she’s taking some time for herself and her family before gearing up for the 2024 presidential election, Macdonald had a rare free moment and talked to Shondaland about what it was like working in the Obama and Biden administrations, how she got started in speechwriting, and why she’s an eternal optimist even though she lives in D.C.

VALENTINA VALENTINI: So, I think the big question is: How did you transition from clowning and princess play into politics?

AMBER MACDONALD: After I had been in Los Angeles for maybe five years, I started to realize that I was not going to be famous [ laughs ]. I wanted someone to care [about] what I had to say, and how else do you do that if not as an actress, a famous person? Like, those people get listened to. But I failed at that, so I need a plan B. I had been volunteering a lot for Planned Parenthood and trying to get involved in campaigns, and eventually I got a job with the Democrats in the [San Fernando] Valley. That eventually led me to a job for a California assemblymember at the time, Bob Blumenfield. I worked as a field rep, which is, you know, the lowest job there, but I was thrilled to be in politics. But I really didn’t know what I was doing, like what my job should be — I’m not a policy person. I’m not a reporter person. So, I just didn’t know what my space there looked like. I finally began to realize how many speeches he had to be giving, and that really, speeches are just playwriting for one person.

VV: And you have a background in playwriting?

AM: In college, I majored in English and theater with an independent study in playwriting. I had written and performed a two-woman show with my best friend. And so, when it came to speechwriting, I thought, “I can do that. I know dialogue; I love writing. I can do this.” I was still writing sketches and blogs in L.A. while I was doing improv at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] and auditioning for things and working all those other crazy jobs that people do in L.A. — waitressing, bartending, I was a Merry Maid for a bit and cleaned houses. But I knew that writing was my skill that I had held on to for all these years. So, I thought I could offer to be Blumenfield’s speechwriter.

Speechwriting is a very weird path because there are not a ton of jobs in it. Most offices don’t have the budget for speechwriters besides the Senate. So, Blumenfield couldn’t hire me as a speechwriter, but I would contact him when I knew he was coming into town and ask if I could write his five minutes of remarks. He was really sweet and supportive of me and would say yes. But I remember the first five-minute speech I wrote for him — I spent all day pouring my heart into it, and he read a single line of the 600 words I had put together. It was the best moment of my life, though! That he had read a thing that I wrote, I was so excited. That was when I knew this was a path for me. I could be a writer; I could write inside this world of politics that I really am passionate about and really care about.

amber macdonald at work in washington dc

VV: It sounds like you learned a lot on the job.

AM: After making the move to D.C., which seemed like the next logical step because of the work I was doing, I interviewed with Congressman Jim McDermott from Seattle. He interviewed me as a speechwriter, I did all these writing tests, and when he gave me the job, he was like, “I can’t afford a speechwriter. So, you have to be my comms director.”

I said that I could definitely do that. And I had no idea how to do that at all. It was very much jump in the fire and figure it out. But he was such a firebrand and wanted really bold speeches. He was in Seattle and could say whatever was in his heart, and it was much less, like, political minded than D.C. usually is. He didn’t mind making people angry. It was a very fun job.

VV: Did you start working with Dr. Biden right after that?

AM: No, no. When I was with him, I was asked to interview for the deputy director of speech-writing [position] for [former] Secretary at Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, a political appointee under [former President] Obama. I was with HHS for a little while, and I worked for both Kathleen Sebelius and [her successor] Sylvia Mathews Burwell. I became Sylvia’s chief speechwriter and an adviser for her and had amazing experiences working in a cabinet and for HHS. But then I started doing some contracted speechwriting, and that’s when I met Dr. Biden. I was supposed to do just one stump speech for her, but we had a lot of chemistry and got along so well. I think she liked my writing style. So, from that point on in 2017, almost right after the administration ended, we worked together through her foundation, through the campaign, and then the White House.

VV: What is it, exactly, that you do as a presidential speechwriter? Can you pull back the curtain for us?

AM: Having worked on the Hill, having worked at HHS and the private sector and in the White House, there are different approaches, and each speechwriter is going to have a different method. Speechwriting is so much research. I think there’s this idea that it’s like The West Wing with Sam Seaborn [Rob Lowe] as a romantic version of a tortured writer in a little room pouring out poetry, which of course it can be, but it’s so much more. It’s so much research; it’s so much negotiation. Before the writing even starts, I will talk to anybody and everybody that I need to talk to to get the details — who is the audience? What is the message? Why are we doing this speech? What is the point that needs to be made, and what are the policies we need to highlight? All that groundwork needs to be laid out before I even talk to a principal. At that point, it’s “Here are my ideas on what you should talk about” or “What are your ideas? What are the stories that you want to tell? What’s the connection that you have?” Obviously, for Dr. Biden, I know her so well at this point that we had a shorthand. She’d say, “I want to tell that story of my sister.” And I’d know exactly what story she was referring to. But for a new client, a lot of my job is to listen to them and know that they have a story they’re going to give me. I want them to brain-dump on me so that I can tell them what I think is interesting, what I think we can pull from their life, what the themes are that they may not hear. My job is to find those narratives in their personal stories and to communicate that through the work they’re doing, through the policy they’re trying to advance.

Then, there’s all this negotiation that goes on. It might be what the secretary wants to say, but I need to go to their comms team and ask if they’re good with it; then I go to the policy team and ask if we’re getting it right. I always want to speak to people’s hearts to tell stories that compel people, but I still need to be characterizing some tax credit correctly. And then, we need to make sure the lawyers are good with it, or other parties involved. Depending on how big the organization [is], there are anywhere from three to 40 people on my clearance list, with dozens of people often weighing in. That negotiation process is a big part of the job and figuring out how to say something meaningful and inspirational and also true and factual and relevant to the audience. I can then end up going back and forth for a while on drafts. It’s all a very collaborative process. There have definitely been speeches where I wrote a draft and it was done, but that’s rarer.

VV: What does the collaboration with Dr. Biden look like?

AM: One of her favorite critiques was “I like this speech, but it doesn’t make me feel anything.” Not that it always happened, but when there was a speech that had the right message and the right argument and stats, it was speaking to the issues and the audience, but didn’t make her feel anything, I’d have to fix it. Because Dr. Biden always wanted to speak to people’s hearts, to appeal to their sense of love and community and humanity. That was why we worked together for so long, why we enjoy each other so much, because we both have that sense of “I don’t care how many stats you throw at me; if you don’t make me care about this thing, I’m going to walk away from this speech and forget it immediately.”

HHS is such a great example of this because you’re talking about a million acronyms that no one has heard of, phrases like “delivery system reform” and “comorbidities,” and words that everybody hates and nobody knows, and they all shut down. But what we’re talking about — what I’m writing speeches about — is so critical: health insurance. Health insurance saves people’s lives; it changes their lives. It is so difficult sometimes in D.C. to talk about these really complicated things, but they always boil down to “How am I helping my neighbor? How am I going to get this kid to school? How can this person raise a family with a life of dignity?” Those are the stories that we’re trying to tell. And I think the best speeches do that. Some people are great researchers, or they’re doctors or they’re lawyers, and they get the logic and they get the numbers; they’re economists, and that stuff is so important. But at the end of the day, if you can’t talk to my mom who loves Trump about why she needs to sign up for health care …

.css-1n3l8cl{font-family:GTWalsheim,GTWalsheim-weightbold-roboto,GTWalsheim-weightbold-local,Helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:1.625rem;font-weight:bold;line-height:1.2;margin:0rem;}@media(max-width: 48rem){.css-1n3l8cl{font-size:1.75rem;line-height:1.2;}}@media(min-width: 64rem){.css-1n3l8cl{font-size:1.875rem;line-height:1.2;}}.css-1n3l8cl b,.css-1n3l8cl strong{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;}.css-1n3l8cl em,.css-1n3l8cl i{font-style:italic;font-family:inherit;} “I am disheartened all the time by the way [both party's] dialogue is pulling further and further apart, but I’m also an eternal optimist, and I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t believe that there was a way for us to bridge those gaps.”

VV: That was going to be my next question — the politics of it. You come from a conservative, religious family and now work for the Bidens. I think to all of us outside of D.C., it looks really divided, and there are two stalwart camps, and nobody can talk to each other. But is it really like that?

AM: I am disheartened all the time by the way our dialogue is pulling further and further apart, but I’m also an eternal optimist, and I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t believe that there was a way for us to bridge those gaps. This is my small part: If I can help a super-liberal congressman from Seattle, or an incredibly brilliant tech Democrat in the HHS, or the first lady talk about these things in a way that says, “Actually, we do both want good jobs; we do both want our kids to have the same access,” and it sounds so Pollyanna, but I really do believe that most Americans want the same things. We just have these very, very different paths to get there. So, if we just sit here, and we say that all Republicans are horrible, where does that get us? I started this job because of women’s rights. I’m so passionate about abortion rights and reproductive justice, and that is an issue that I will never agree with my mother on. But we’ve had these moments where, if we talk for long enough, we can find a place where we agree. It doesn’t happen easily or often, but I know that there is a humanity and a compassion that we share. I have to believe we just have to keep trying. Democracy is a terrible system and the best system we have. So, if we want to elect more people who will do good things, we’ve got to make their case.

VV: So, if you’re a pessimist, political speechwriting might not be the job for you?

AM: Look, there are a lot of cynics in D.C., and I get that. But I have also seen the amazing capacity for hope in that city too. There are people who want power and money, but there are also a lot of people who are there because they want to make things better. And it’s not like we get paid a ton of money or have easy work hours. We’re working hard, and it can be tough out there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a party, and someone found out I worked at the White House and took that as their opportunity to tell me everything that they hate about Joe Biden. And I’ve gotten that from both the right and the left.

VV: Going from clowning, improv, and acting to being this invisible force behind powerful people, how does that sit with you?

AM: It’s funny because I did love performing; I loved improv. But there is also a safety in writing for someone else. I’ve often wondered … and I don’t want to call myself a coward, but it’s that idea of wanting someone to listen to me and becoming a speechwriter was a way to make sure I had a voice and influence in a conversation that I care about without having to be rich or famous or whatever. That was a huge revelation because I am a creative person and I’m still getting a chance to be creative in my writing. It just happens to be in the context of what someone else wants to say. But I still have an angle, a voice inside of that, and nobody knows it’s me. I do think I’m getting to a point in my career, though, where I want to be a little braver and put more out in my own name. And that is hopefully my next chapter.

VV: When you think back on your time with the Bidens, what stands out?

AM: I’m so proud of the work I’ve done. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the chance to be a part of some really important conversations. It was the most important election of our lives, and the next one will be the most important election of our lives, and they will continue to be world-changing elections, and the fact that I got to play a small part in that is so gratifying and so rewarding. Dr. Biden is such a powerful advocate and voice, and she’s such a good messenger for Joe Biden and for herself with this incredible platform. As first lady, she is doing really important stuff . First ladies often get wrongly discounted, but so many of them have done so much, and that goes for Dr. Biden too. Her work helping military families, supporting community colleges, and all of her pillars are so powerful, and they are things I care about too. I’ve seen kids who are truly struggling whose lives are going to be made better because of the work that Dr. Biden is doing.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Valentina Valentini is a London-based entertainment, travel, and food writer and is also a senior contributor to Shondaland. Elsewhere, she has written for Vanity Fair , Vulture , Variety , Thrillist , Heated , and The Washington Post . Her personal essays can be read in the Los Angeles Times and Longreads , and her tangents and general complaints can be seen on Instagram at @ByValentinaV .

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The Presidency

Translating presidential ideas into words: Speechwriters in the White House

Obama with his speechwriters

Watch the UVA Democracy Biennial

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The Biennial was originally broadcast September 24-25, 2021

About this video

May 23, 2019

John McConnell, Sarada Peri, Kyle O’Connor (moderator)

By Anna Katherine Clay

“If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this whole session, it’s that being a presidential speechwriter is exactly like you’d think it would be on the West Wing ,” grinned Kyle O’Connor,  a speechwriter for President Barack Obama, as laughter rippled through the over-capacity crowd for “Translating presidential ideas into words: Speechwriters in the White House.”

O’Connor joined Sarada Peri, another Obama speechwriter, and John McConnell, speechwriter for President George W. Bush, to share anecdotes and lessons-learned from crafting the words that presidents spoke.

“In a weird way, as speechwriters, we are not coming up with the ideas—there are much smarter people in the building who are developing those ideas,” Peri said. “But in a way, I think that these ideas don’t get crystallized until they get litigated on the page.”

McConnell talked about the week following 9/11, when Bush was scheduled to address a joint session of Congress. On the morning of September 17, McConnell and his staff learned that they had to submit a speech draft to Bush by that evening.

Around 1 p.m., they were called into the Oval Office. “‘How’s the drafting going?’” McConnell recalled Bush asking. “‘Fine, but we’re not quite there,’” McConnell remembered someone responding, as the team struggled with direction and structure.

Bush looked at each writer. “‘Americans have questions,’ he said. ‘They want to know who attacked our country. They want to know why they hate us. They want to know what’s expected of us now. They want to know if we’re at war, how we’re going to fight and win the war.’

“And from there,” McConnell said, “we had a structure for the speech itself.”

O’Connor and Peri pointed out how Obama, as a writer himself, “would write the speech better than we would ourselves, if he had the time,” Peri said. She would meet with the president and he’d start talking about what he wanted to say in the speech; then, he would offer up the format—opening, next paragraph, etc.  

“It was so irritating as a writer, because you’d been sitting in your office trying to come up with a structure for hours, and you spend ten minutes with him and he has the whole thing down,” Peri said with a smile, as the crowd laughed.

All three panelists cited the busy and divergent day of a president, moving from one event to another, very different event and still another, and how those events influenced speeches.

Peri remembered working on a speech for Obama prior to Pope Francis’s visit; the two had sent the speech back and forth several times over a few days. On the day before the Pope’s visit, Peri was called into the president’s private dining room, where he sat at the table, poring over the speech. He showed Peri that he had added a specific section about refugees; Peri later learned that Obama had been in a meeting about refugees earlier in the day, which influenced the addition.

“What was so interesting about that day was to watch the evolution of his thinking—even though there was so much going on, in those few minutes he had to focus in on this speech, and give it the thinking it needed,” Peri said.

While Bush wasn’t a writer, McConnell said, he was a scrupulous editor. “He could read an eight-page speech draft, throw it down, look at the ceiling and recite to you the outline of the speech,” McConnell said.

McConnell also talked about the importance of authenticity and the contrasting styles of direct messaging through a medium like Twitter versus the back-and-forth between a president and his speechwriting team, where “you are also authentic when you are saying what you want to say in the best way you know how to say it.”

O’Connor and Peri talked of the pressures of “being funny” for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, as well as how Obama’s presidency in particular followed the growth of social media, learning to communicate in a new way. First Lady Michelle Obama, Peri said, was “on the cutting edge of reaching audiences through social media.”

The trio also discussed process: While the Bush speechwriting team passed around paper drafts of each speech among staff in the White House, marking with pen, the Obama teams shared speech files electronically.

“Colin Powell said one time, ‘Everyone likes to grade papers,’” McConnell said, in reference to the preferred methodology at the time. The lead speechwriter’s name and phone number were also written at the bottom of the page, McConnell said, so they could be contacted about it at any time.

All three stressed the importance of learning your audience—before you begin writing.

“The audience is the world for any speech,” Peri said. Just as important, McConnell said, was capturing the president’s style and voice, remembering as you wrote: “This isn’t me talking—it’s him.”

Young Leaders Network: The Art of Presidential Speechwriting

The art of speechwriting: a conversation with presidential speechwriters  .

Campaign speeches and presidential communications have distinct goals. While stump speeches are in front of a more friendly crowd, allowing the candidate to promote his or her policy goals, presidential speeches have a wider, more diverse audience that may limit what goals the president can promote. Former presidential speechwriters on how they tackled this issue and what strategies they used to write memorable and historic speeches for former Presidents.

The John Brademas Center at New York University, as part of the 2018 Young Leaders Network series, hosted a dialogue with John P. McConnell , former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and June Shih , former speechwriter to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The pair discussed their own experiences of writing historic presidential and campaign speeches. The event was moderated by Vaughn Hillyard , Political Reporter at NBC News.

This free event was open to all Congressional interns and members of the public.

Event Photos

John P. McConnell

Vaughn Hillyard

John P. McConnell served more than ten years on the White House staff, in two administrations.  As a senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, he was part of the three-person team responsible for all of the 43 rd  President’s major addresses.

In the Bush-Cheney White House, John held the unique position of both Deputy Assistant to the President and Assistant to the Vice President.  In his career he has also worked as a principal speechwriter for Vice President Dan Quayle, 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole, and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.  

John is a former resident fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, in the John F. Kennedy School of Government.  He is a trustee of Wayland Academy and serves as chairman of the selection committee for the annual Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency.  

A lifelong political enthusiast, John was a page in the United States Senate under the sponsorship of Senator William Proxmire.  He grew up in Bayfield, Wisconsin and is a graduate of Wayland Academy, Carleton College, and Yale Law School. 

June Shih is a writer and lawyer with nearly 25 years’ experience in speechwriting, communication and public policy. She began her career as a cops and courts reporter for a Florida newspaper, but left to assist then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton with her syndicated newspaper column and speeches. In 1997, she became a Special Assistant to the President and Presidential Speechwriter, writing speeches for President Bill Clinton on a range of issues from civil rights and race relations to education and health care policy. After serving as chief speechwriter for Mrs. Clinton’s first U.S. Senate campaign in 2000, June attended law school and then practiced law in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. From 2011-2014, she served in the Obama Administration as a Senior Advisor in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, helping to shape initiatives on global women’s leadership and girls’ education. She also served as an expert on East Asian affairs and managed bilateral dialogues with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese counterparts. June is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and holds a B.A., magna cum laude, from Harvard University, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

This August, June will join the leadership team of NYU-Shanghai as Director of University Communications.

Vaughn Hillyard is an award winning journalist and Political Reporter for NBC News, notably covering the special election Senate race in Alabama between Roy Moore and Doug Jones and the entirety of the 2016 presidential campaign as an embedded reporter, from the Iowa coffee shop stops to election night at Trump HQ in New York.  Vaughn first started at NBC News in July 2013 as a Tim Russert fellow.

Vaughn began his journalism career in Arizona at AZ Fact Check, Arizona Republic, Channel 12 News and AZCentral.

Vaughn attended Arizona State University, where he received a Bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism.

The art of political speechwriting—from a former White House speechwriter

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speech writer for the president

The West Wing portrays speechwriting as a distinctive skill that requires Herculean efforts at breakneck speed. But, as the television show suggests, the position can also be particularly rewarding, affording the writer a front-row seat to history.

Alan Stone, who worked on President Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992 and then in the White House as a speechwriter from 1993 to 1995, says the real-world experience is pretty similar. “Being part of memorable moments is fairly commonplace for a White House speechwriter, if for no other reason than your physical proximity to the moments that will live in history” noted Stone. “While you are aware of what is going on you are also extremely busy, so it is not often until much later that you realize the weight of the events you are part of.”

Stone, who is currently senior consultant for Northeastern University, wrote speeches on topics ranging from economics to social justice. He even got a line in Clinton’s first inaugural address.

[Watch Stone tell this story on our Facebook page .]

How did you get a job working as a speechwriter in the White House?

I was chief speechwriter for U.S. Senator Tom Harkin during his run for the Democratic nomination in the 1992 presidential election. After Harkin lost and Clinton got the nomination, someone from Clinton’s team called Harkin and said “We are staffing up. Can you recommend some of your senior people?”

I guess my name came up. And people kept saying to me “I hear the Clinton people are going to hire you.” There was even a mention of it in a local gossip column. But I hadn’t heard anything from the Clinton campaign.

I was in Los Angeles at the time and I did something very uncharacteristic; I called the Clinton campaign, asked for David Kusnet, Clinton’s head speechwriter, and asked him what was going on. He said, “I was just about to call you, I swear. When can you get here?”

I told him I didn’t really expect a job offer right then and I’d need to think about it. He responded, “We need you here in 24 hours.” So I packed up my Puegeot 504, with my old Mac, and some clothes, got on the road, and didn’t sleep until I arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas.

[ Hear Stone tell the story of his first encounter with Clinton on our Instagram page.]

What is speechwriting on a campaign like?

The stump speech is the pack mule of every campaign. It’s mostly low art with a bit of high art thrown in. I say low art because it gets repeated in basically the same form hundreds of times in any presidential race. It contains the core message and themes of the campaign as well as proven applause lines and critiques of your opponent. That framework gets adjusted for locale and issues. So, for example, you’d mention ethanol and price supports if the speech is given to a rural group. You always acknowledge local leaders. You try hard to add some local color and humor. But the scaffolding remains the same and these make up the bulk of campaign speechifying.

Be passionate about the issues. It will really help. Leave your ego at the door—your words are meant to be read by someone else. — Alan Stone

What, then, is the “high art” version of a campaign speech?

It’s a campaign speech of significant political consequence given to a critical audience. It requires much more work and craft than a stump speech.

Bill Clinton gave such a speech at the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 11, 1992. Just as is the case today, abortion was a hot-button issue at the time. And this was the first major speech Clinton gave after he was harshly attacked on “family values” by Pat Buchanan and others at the Republican National Convention.

Clinton spoke about the influence the Catholic social mission had had on him and how deeply his plans reflected those values. He talked about how the “religious war” Buchanan sought was antithetical to the values rooted in faith that most Americans have.

The audience was very tough on him that day. There were lots of catcalls and attempts to shout him down. But he stuck to his guns and met his goals, which were to connect to this traditional Democratic constituency, to frame his opponents as not in the mainstream of traditional values, and conversely to identify core Catholic values as those animating his proposals. This speech was beautifully drafted by Kusnet.

Do you think writing in a presidential campaign has changed?

Of course. All presidential campaigning is changing and communications is no exception. While stump speeches and more major speeches are obviously still important to campaigns, and free media is still coveted, and third-party or earned media is still the gold standard, social media is now playing an enormous and growing role in every campaign.

This is not my field of expertise, but I imagine at a minimum if a campaign is not great at using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to its advantage, it is in big trouble. Likewise, if a campaign is not good at assessing its engagement, sharing and networking, and making changes on the fly, it will be at a big disadvantage.

Do you have any advice for people who are interested in political speechwriting?

Be passionate about the issues. It will really help. Leave your ego at the door—your words are meant to be read by someone else. When you hear something you like, go back and study what worked for you. And steal the good stuff—the ideas not the words—because someone else has almost certainly stolen it before you.

As I’ve said, being part of memorable moments is oddly fairly commonplace for a White House speechwriter. For example, when the Oslo Accords were signed, in 1993, I was literally working only steps away. So the most memorable moments for me were ones that stood out for more personal reasons. The night we won, sitting at a pub in Little Rock feeling overcome with equal parts pride and exhaustion; meeting Rosa Parks at a speech in Los Angeles; flying back to Washington, D.C., on my last trip on Air Force One before beginning my new career, thinking about how overwhelming the experience had been and hoping time and reflection would help me understand it more. And it has.

What is it really like working in the White House? What happens behind the scenes?

It was the hardest work I have ever done, by far. The speeches need to be perfect, yet the process that went into them was often chaotic, with changing topics, delayed prep sessions, etc. The deadlines, however—they never moved. And the volume was relentless.

Was there a specific approach you took to writing speeches? A formula? Or was every one new and different?

You have to know the themes and messages of the moment—the stump. You need to know the audience and the goals of the speech. After that, I always tried to tell a story with a spine; I always looked for new data or a new anecdote to make my point; and I always tried to be positive in the sense of forward movement and looking toward the future. Finally, I always tried to end big. That’s about it. I hope I hit my goal more than I missed it, but that is a judgment for history.

Alan J. Stone, an attorney and writer, is president of Alan J. Stone Consulting, LLC. He currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Inspire the next generation of leaders with President Kennedy's powerful legacy!

Presidential speechwriters.

TOM PUTNAM:   What better way to celebrate Presidents’ Day than at the nation’s memorial to our 35 th President and in the company of one of his most trusted advisors?  I'm Tom Putnam, the Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.  And on behalf of John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation and all of my Library and Foundation colleagues, I want to welcome you to this very special forum.  Let me begin by thanking all of you for coming, by acknowledging those watching this program on C-SPAN and listening on public radio, and by expressing appreciation to the sponsors of the Kennedy Library forums, including lead sponsor, Bank of America, Boston Capital, The Lowell Institute, the Boston Foundation, Corcoran Jennison Companies, as well as our media sponsors, The Boston Globe, WBUR, and NECN.  

As you know, today’s national holiday began first as a tribute to George Washington, then was later wedded to the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.  In more recent times, it has become popularly known as Presidents’ Day, continuing the tradition of honoring Washington and Lincoln and highlighting one of the hallmarks of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power between all those who have served in our nation’s highest office.  It is a day devoted to history, to harkening back to the famous words of Abraham Lincoln, to the mystic chords of memory, and to learning from those who have preceded us.  For just as President Kennedy instructed Theodore Sorensen to study the secret of Lincoln’s rhetoric, many recent presidential speechwriters describe how they in turn spent hours examining the speech craft of Kennedy and Sorensen.  For those budding speechwriters in today’s audience, one of Mr. Sorensen’s conclusions was that Abraham Lincoln never used two or three words where one would do, so I promise to try and make my introduction of today’s speakers brief.  [laughter] 

Theodore Sorensen served for 11 years as policy advisor, legal counsel and speechwriter to Senator and President John F. Kennedy.  He was deeply involved in such presidential decisions as the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil rights legislation, and the decision to send a man to the moon.  He is the author of numerous books, including his best-selling biography, Kennedy , and Let the Word Go Forth , a selection of the best JFK speeches.  He is also an international lawyer, lecturer and writer.

If you’ll allow me one anecdote, I once had the privilege of going through our Museum with Mr. Sorensen, his wife Gillian, who is here with us today and will be a featured speaker at our next Kennedy Library Forum, and their daughter Juliet.  After watching the renowned 1961 inaugural address, I asked Mr. Sorensen the following question.  Recalling the catechism of my youth, I speculated that some of the religious references in President Kennedy’s speeches were more Unitarian in their world view than Roman Catholic.  And I asked Mr. Sorensen, who was raised Unitarian in Lincoln, Nebraska, if that topic had ever come up in conversation with the President. It turns out it had.  He recounted to me an exchange in which President Kennedy once asked him, “So, Ted, has my Catholicism begun to rub off on you yet?”  Mr. Sorensen’s reply was, “No, I’m sorry, Mr. President.  On the contrary, it’s my Unitarianism that's finding its way into your speeches.”  [laughter] 

We're honored to have three other presidential speechwriters joining in today’s conversation who I’ll introduce chronologically.  It was exactly 40 years ago on this very holiday, Washington’s Birthday in 1967, that Raymond K. Price received the phone call that would change his life.  It was an invitation to join the campaign staff of Richard Nixon, who was considering mounting a second run for the presidency in 1968.  Over time, Mr. Price became a close friend, advisor, speechwriter, and special consultant to the President.  He was the President’s collaborator on both inaugural addresses, all of his State of the Union speeches, and President Nixon’s 1974 announcement from the Oval Office that he would resign.  Mr. Price had a distinguished career as a journalist, editor and public policy analyst and served for many years as the President of the Economic Club of New York.

Chriss Winston was the first woman to head the White House Office of Speechwriting and she was named Director of Speechwriting for President George H. W.  Bush.  She was also the Deputy Director of Communications for Bush/Quayle in 1988 and oversaw communications for the Department of Labor under President Reagan.  She’s the author of numerous books, including the forthcoming How to Raise an American in which, among other suggestions, she advises parents to bring their children to Boston to learn of this city’s rich history and to visit the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.  We’ll provide a free plug for any book that does the same for our Museum.   [laughter]   Ms. Winston is currently serving as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Ted Widmer came to the Kennedy Library six years ago when he was charged by President Clinton to survey the field of presidential libraries in preparation for the design of the Clinton Library in Arkansas.  It is no surprise that President Clinton would have charged him with this task, for not only is Mr. Widmer a historian by training, he also served from 1997 to 2001 as a foreign policy speechwriter and senior advisor to President Clinton.  He is known for the creative programs he has designed to enliven the teaching of American history and politics to diverse groups, ranging from Muslim college students living in countries that have been historically suspicious of western culture, and to underprivileged children living in our own country with limited access to libraries and history museums.  He is currently the Director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

Moderating today’s forum is one of the most recognizable and trusted voices in national journalism, Linda Wertheimer.  Currently Senior National Correspondent for National Public Radio, for 13 years she was the host of NPR’s flagship news magazine All Things Considered .  In her 30 years with NPR, she anchored dozens of nominating conventions and election nights, and has reported on countless presidential addresses.  She knows a good speech when she hears one, and we're so fortunate to have her here today to guide today’s conversation, Linda Wertheimer.  [applause] 

LINDA WERTHEIMER:   Thank you very much.  Thank you.  As perhaps you know, the format of this event will be to hear from the speechwriters, to hear some of the speeches that presidents have given, and to then have an opportunity for you all to ask questions.  So I'm going to keep my part of this very brief, since these are all people who have a way with words.  I don’t need to do very much.  So let me just begin by saying that the first clip you will hear, this is a speech that John Kennedy gave at American University.  And it was an important policy speech, because he introduced the idea of a test ban treaty and said that the United States would take the voluntary step of banning atmospheric testing. So it was a very important speech in terms of making news for people like me, but it was also a tremendously important speech because it talked about world peace, as you're just about to hear.  We have two clips that have been put together, so this is a somewhat telescoped version of the speech.

PRESIDENT KENNEDY:   I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived – yet it is the most important topic on earth, peace.  

What kind of a peace do I mean?  What kind of a peace do we seek?  Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.  Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave.  I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and build a better life for their children.  Not merely peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women. Not merely peace in our time, but peace for all time.

I speak of peace because of the new face of war.  Total war makes no sense in an age where great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces.  It makes no sense in an age where a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War.  It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and a generation yet unborn.

Today, the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to the keeping of peace.  But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles, which can only destroy and never create, is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace.  

I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational man.  I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears.  But we have no more urgent task.

For we are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that could be better devoted to combat ignorance, poverty and disease.  We are both caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter weapons.

In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race.  Agreements to this end are in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours.  And even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interests.  

So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved.  And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.  For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   President Kennedy speaking at American University.  That speech was … Let’s see, what was the date of that speech?

THEODORE SORENSEN:   June 10 th , 1963.  [laughter] 

MS. WERTHEIMER:   And Theodore Sorensen who is, I think, perhaps the best known of all the presidential speechwriters, is here with us to talk about why that speech happened the way it did and tell us about writing speeches for President Kennedy.

MR. SORENSEN:   Well, thank you Linda.  First, I want to say how honored I am to be back at the Kennedy Library, my favorite institution in the whole world, where I’ve been so often that you're going to get tired of seeing me.  But I'm going to be back next year.  And to be with you, Linda, whom I’ve been a fan for many years, as I told you during lunch.  To be with my longtime friend, Ray Price, and I was glad to meet Ted and Chriss, so this is a terrific group.  But Linda, I am not the best known presidential speechwriter.  Abraham Lincoln was the best known.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   I was going to say unless we count Abraham Lincoln, I should have said that.  [laughter] 

MR. SORENSEN:   I picked that particular speech to be shown here today, and I must say it’s the first time I’ve seen it since June 10, 1963.  I was sitting on the platform behind him at American University, and I’m rather touched to see it again and to be reminded how wonderful a human being John F. Kennedy was, how well he spoke.  But I picked that particular speech to be shown today because I'm still on a crusade that I’ve been on all my life, to try to make this a better world and nobody is more disheartened than I by what has happened to this country and its foreign policy over these last six years or so.  [applause] 

And I wanted you in the audience and those who watch this later on television to remember that America had a tradition of peace once, we were a peaceful country.  We did have a President who wasn't waging unilateral war and preemptive strikes, but who believed … I hope you’ll weigh carefully the particular words that were in those two excerpts that were shown there, because they are the very opposite of what our policy has been since 2001.  So I think it’s very, very important to get that message out.  

I like to think that that was John F. Kennedy’s best speech.  Certainly his most important speech.  I know many people think the inaugural was his best, but this was better and more important, because it said more.  In addition to the moratorium on nuclear testing in the atmosphere, Linda, which you mentioned, that speech called for a reexamination of the Cold War.  No President had ever done that.  It called for a reexamination of our relations with the Soviet Union.  No President had ever done that.  It called for a reexamination, part of which you heard, of what we mean by peace itself.  

So it was an important speech, and I had a lot to do with it, yes.  The President had gone out to Hawaii, he made a swing through some western states, and then he spoke to the American Conference of Mayors in Honolulu.  Like other young men, I had reasons to go to Hawaii, but I had to stay back and work on the speech.  I then flew out with it.  He gave his speech on June 9 th , 1963, in Hawaii, in Honolulu, and we then flew back.   I brought the draft with me.  We then flew back overnight, in those days, from Honolulu to Washington.  I went directly to the campus of the American University in Washington, unshaven.  He was President, so he went to the White House and changed his shirt and got a shower and then came before … and he had a little time before delivering the speech.

But it was still the height of the Cold War.  But the previous October, the President had led the country through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that had made a tremendous impression on him. 

And I will say it made a tremendous impression on Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev as well.  And both of them learned from that serious experience and Kennedy wanted to speak about it, and there are words in this speech that talk about the follies of war and the follies of backing your adversary into a corner.  

And on the way back, he made the decision and cleared it on the Air Force One telephone with Bob McNamara in Defense and McBundy back in the White House to add to that speech the moratorium on nuclear testing in the atmosphere, which he hoped would help bring the Soviets to the bargaining table.  And it did, and later that same summer a treaty was signed in Moscow, the first step toward arms control in the nuclear age, the limited nuclear test ban treaty.  So speeches can have consequences, they aren't just empty words, and that speech was selected because it was both his best and his most important.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   There are lots of wonderful quotes in this speech.  If I were presenting a piece, I would be very torn about which ones to use.  He said, “Our problems are manmade, and therefore they can be solved by man, and man can be as big as he wants.”

MR. SORENSEN:   Now, that's good Unitarianism.  [laughter]  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   And here's one of those parallel constructions for which Mr. Sorensen is so famous.  Talking about seeking peace, the speech says, “So let us persevere, peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable.”  And then there's a wonderful … The ending is fabulous.  But one of the things that he says in the last paragraph of the speech, which I think resonates today, is “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war.”  

Now, the next speech is another one of those speeches which just caused shivers to run right down the back of everyone who heard it, because it was such a terribly important speech.  And we have Ray Price, who had a hand in drafting it.  It was delivered by President Nixon on August 8 th , 1974.  You want to talk about the Great Occasion?

RAY PRICE:   Yeah, I chose the resignation announcement, partly because it’s significant, partly because there have been fewer of those than there have been inaugurals.  And it was quite a wrenching one to do, but I was glad to be the one doing it with him.  The part you’ll hear now is just the last concluding portion of it.  If we had more time, I would have included what came before.  What came immediately before it dealt more with the world, with what we had succeeded in doing, but what was yet left to do in making this a better world.  And that section that is before it, before this closing, very personal part, was something that was largely worked out through a series of phone calls from him to me beginning at … It was Thursday night he delivered it, beginning 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and ending at 5:07 a.m. Thursday.  That part that we did end leading, about the world, leads into this very personal conclusion.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Let’s hear it.

PRESIDENT NIXON:   For more than a quarter of a century of public life, I have shared in the turbulent history of this nation.  I have fought for what I believed.  I have tried to the best of my ability to discharge those duties and meet those responsibilities that were entrusted to me.

Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort with error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I pledge to you tonight that as long as I have a breath of light in my body, I shall continue in that spirit.  I shall continue to work for the great causes to which I have been dedicated throughout my years as a Congressman, a Senator, Vice President and President, the cause of peace not just for America, but among all nations, prosperity, justice and opportunity for all our people.  

There is one cause above all to which I have been devoted and to which I shall always be devoted for as long as I live.  

When I first took the oath of office of President 5 ½ years ago, I made this sacred commitment: “to consecrate my office, my energies, and all of the wisdom I can summon to the cause of peace among nations.”

  I have done my very best in all the days since to be true to that pledge.  As a result  of these efforts, I am confident that the world is a safer place today not only for the people of America, but for the people of all nations and that all of our children have a better chance than before of living in peace rather than dying in war.

This, more than anything, is what I hoped to achieve when I sought the Presidency.  This, more than anything, is what I hope will be my legacy to you, to our country, as I leave the Presidency.  

To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American.  In leaving it, I do so with this prayer.  May God’s grace be with you in all the days ahead.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Ray Price, early in the speech, the President said the thing that I think just was so shocking to hear, even though we knew it was coming, where he talked about the country needed him to leave, basically.  And then he said, “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency, effective at noon tomorrow.  Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour, in this office.”  I'm sure that everyone who heard that will never forget those words. This speech had an enormous emotional content, something we were not generally accustomed to hear from President Nixon.

MR. PRICE:   Well, he tried not to be emotional in his speeches.  But it had been a difficult week for him, too.  [laughter]  And he had been up and down on whether to resign or not, but figured the resignation finally was having to turn over a bunch of tapes to the court and the prosecutor, having lost the case in the Supreme Court.  And they included one which we were pretty sure would be fatal anyway, that we could have handled earlier, easily if we had known about it earlier; we could not at that point.  And that week had begun, really, a week earlier.  

I’ll tell you a little bit on the lead up to that.  On Thursday the 1 st , the speech was Thursday, August 8, 1974.  On Thursday, August 1 st , Al Haig was then the Chief of Staff, convened a meeting in his office of a few department heads and so forth, including me, and had a lot of charts and so forth, laying out the strategy for the battle in the Congress over the impeachment.  From there on, it was at a crucial point and assigning what people would do and all the patterns for reporting and reconvening and so forth.  And then we left.  And had chalkboards laying this all out … And then we left and a few of us were talking outside, and his secretary motioned to me to come in, and I came back, and he told me that was all a sham.  He wants to go on the air on Monday, he wants a speech for Monday announcing his resignation.  So I started then on Thursday, the 1 st .  And then on Friday, the next day, Friday the 2 nd , was called back over to Al’s office again, and by then we had an actual transcript of what was called the smoking gun tape, in which he had temporarily, only temporarily, but temporarily approved having the CIA try to head the FBI off in wanting an investigation.

Incidentally, just one parenthetical aside, this, which was a trigger to the resignation, was an investigation into a Mexican connection that could have run into some other things.  And so he was told in a meeting, this was a meeting with Bob Haldeman, and Haldeman is reporting to him on what he had learned, what he had been told, and he said that John Dean and John Mitchell -- Bob later told me that not Mitchell had told him this, but Dean had told him this -- that recommended asking the CIA to head the FBI off from the Mexican connection.  And he said okay.

And then two weeks later … So he made the call to the director of the FBI.  And two weeks later, the President got a call from the CIA saying they no longer had a problem with the Mexican connection.  Or, rather, he got a call from the head of the FBI saying that the CIA had told him they no longer had a problem.  So the President said, “Go ahead, do a full investigation.”  Which they did.  The only practical impact of that intervention, which ultimately brought him down, was a two week delay in interviews of two witnesses, nothing more.  But things had gotten to a point, at that point, where that was enough.

But anyway, by Friday, he had decided no, he wanted a different speech.  He still wanted to make a speech on Monday.  But instead of saying he was going to resign, he was going to explain the transcripts which he was turning over, explain the context and so forth, and pledged to fight on in the … To answer questions under oath in the well of the Senate and fight on.  I thought that was a mistake.  At this point, I thought we could not save it.  

Then I saw the transcript, and it looked to me at first glance as though it was something we could not survive.  Then Saturday, Al called.  The President wanted us to come up to Camp David on Sunday.  We did, and meanwhile I’d been working on the draft and so on, but thinking it was probably a mistake.  We did meet up there.  While up there, he changed his mind and instead of pledging to fight on or resigning, he was going to put out the transcripts with a written statement explaining what they meant and see if the reaction was as bad as we thought it was going to be.  I thought that made sense, a lot was at stake, and let’s really see what it is.

We did put out the transcripts on Monday; the reaction was what we expected.  Tuesday, I got a call from Al.  We're back on the resignation track, but still very secretly.  And so Tuesday to Thursday is when we were working on the resignation speech, back and forth.

Linda, as a parenthetical aside, we did not call ours the speechwriting section, we called it the writing and research.  And this was accurate because in Nixon’s case, most of his speeches were not written and he never used notes.  My educated guess, having only a guess but educated because I did run the writing staff, is that 19 out of 20 speeches were not written, 1 out of 20 was.  And he never used notes.  He was always more comfortable without a text than with one.  But some were, and this of course, was one of those that were.  The State of Unions were all written, the inaugurals were written, and some others where he particularly wanted a text for some special reason, but he preferred not to have one.  But anyway, so that was the background.  

But then on the night before we’d been going back and forth on it.  Then the day before, the Thursday, rather, Wednesday, we were sitting in his old executive office building office.  I had my office a couple doors down and going over it.  And he mentioned to me that the head of the, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate were both going to be coming and together with Barry Goldwater, were going to come in to see him at five.  And a lot of notes made a  couple of years ago when this story really hit about how they had come in and bearded the lion in his den and persuaded him to resign.  We discussed this at 3:00 before they came in.  He had already written in the margin of the draft we were working on what he expected them to say.

He was already working on a resignation.  But he explained to me at 3:00 that he thought it was important to hear them out so that it would be more like an impeachment and thus to less damage the future presidency.  But then we worked on through and those calls that I mention, beginning at 8:30 on Wednesday, we were talking through and then really honing it down.  And then it went on through two or three calls that evening.  As he began to get into the kind of world view, the foreign policy stakes and what we’d done, what needed to be done.  And then these continued up until about 11:00 or so.  And he mentioned he wanted to get in that man in the arena quote and to find that, and that had been located and so on.

Then finally, around 1:00, I left the office.  Well, piece to that, shortly before one, I got a call from Jerry Warren, who was the Deputy Press Secretary, but he was Acting Press Secretary, saying that he’d gotten … very cautiously, saying that he was getting some calls from reporters who were still on duty there, noticing the lights were on in my office and wondering if that meant that Nixon was planning to resign.  And Jerry said, very cautiously, I told them I don’t know, or I told them or …How should I handle it?  And I thought a second, I said, “Jerry, you can tell them you don’t know.”  This was very careful, and he understood what I was doing.  He was a man of total integrity.  I was alerting him that he shouldn’t deny it, but not giving him actual knowledge so he didn't have to affirm it. But then we went on.

And then finally I went home and about 3:45, got a call from him.  He was working more.  He was working in the Lincoln sitting room, that's up in the family quarters, which was his working area up there.  He’d been working on the end and fleshing out more about one thing after another that we’d been doing, but there was this much left to do and so on.  And it was in those calls there that 3:45, 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, he really kind of worked out the meat of that.  And then finally at 5:07, the last call, was from him saying, “Just bring it over in the morning.”  He wanted it at 8:30.  “But don’t run it by Al Haig, don’t run it by Henry Kissinger or anyone else.  Just you and me, I want this to be my speech.”

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Goodness.  For those of us who spent as many hours, weeks and days as I did covering Watergate, it’s fascinating to hear the behind the scenes moments.  We're going to move on to Chriss Winston who is, as you heard, the first woman, to head a speechwriting office.  And it was in the Bush Administration, but she has chosen, instead, to include a speech which was delivered by the Great Communicator.  Chriss?

CHRISS WINSTON:   And I'm not casting any aspersions on my boss.  I actually started out, I was going to do one of his speeches.  He did a series of speeches in Europe just before and just after the fall of the Berlin Wall that were very exciting places to be, Prague and Poland and Budapest and a number of other places that we went in eastern Europe.  So, initially, I was going to pick one of those speeches and talk about what it was like to be in these countries at that moment in time and hopefully in the Q&A, we’ll have some time to talk about that.  

But kind of in the last minute, I had a change of heart and I decided to go with Ronald Reagan’s farewell address from the Oval Office, an excerpt from that speech.  And the reason I did that was because it’s Presidents’ Day, and I started thinking about how important Presidents are as our models and have been since the beginning of our country.  Abraham Lincoln talked about the fact that as a young boy, George Washington was his hero and his model.  And I started thinking about what I’d been studying for the last couple of years, which is how do we create good citizens today in the sort of political and cultural climate in which our children are being raised.

And one of the ways we do that, I think, is to teach our children about America’s great story and our history is something that can inspire them.   So I started thinking about Presidents’ Day and that made me think, well, Ronald Reagan talked about exactly that issue in his farewell address.  It was sort of his final … He called it the warning as he left office.  And so I wanted to focus on that in part because he is such a wonderful communicator and it seemed to me to have a panel here without something from Ronald Reagan would be a glaring omission.

But also because I thought about a quote from a Czech writer who wrote that if you want to destroy a nation, destroy its memory.  And so I wanted to use this excerpt on Presidents’ Day to remind us all that our presidents are our models for our children, and heroes like John Kennedy was to me when I was a young girl at the time.  And how important it is for our children to have those kinds of models in their lives to become good citizens.  That's why I chose this excerpt.

PRESIDENT REAGAN:   Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in presidential farewells, and I’ve got one that's been on my mind for some time.  And oddly enough, it starts with one of the things I’m proudest of in the past eight years: the resurgence of national pride that I call the new patriotism.  This national feeling is good, but it won’t count for much and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.  

An informed patriotism is what we want.  And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?  Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America.  We were taught very directly what it means to be an American, and we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions.  If you didn't get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea, or the family who lost someone at Anzio.  Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school.  And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture.  The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special.  TV was like that, too, through the mid-‘60s.

But now we're about to enter the ‘90s and some things have changed.  Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children.  And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.  Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it.  We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise, and freedom is special and rare.  It’s fragile, it needs protection.  

So we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion, but what's important.  Why the pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant.  You know, four years ago on the 40 th anniversary of D Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father who had fought at Omaha Beach.  Her name was Liza Zanatta Henn and she said, “We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.”  Well, let’s help her keep her word.  If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are.  I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.  Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.  And let me offer lesson number one about America: all great change in America begins at the dinner table.  So tomorrow night in the kitchen, I hope the talking begins.  And children, if your parents hadn't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let them know and nail them on it.  That would be a very American thing to do.    

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Chriss, this is a wonderful example of President Reagan’s long conversation with the American people.  It’s not a particularly good example of Presidential speechwriting, however, because the President wrote it, according to David Gergen, he wrote it himself.  But why does it stand out for you, besides the … I mean, just in terms of the writing of a speech?

MS. WINSTON:   Well, I do think conversation is the right word.  I think his final address from the Oval Office was very much a conversational kind of speech.  The language was that way, and if you remember at the very end of the speech, he says something to the effect of all in all, we didn't do too badly, not bad at all.  And it was very Reagan in so many ways.  The language, the love of America.  He was always optimistic about America.  I think that's one of the reasons the American people always responded to him.  He was hopeful and optimistic and clearly loved his country, and that was evident in so much of what he had to say to the American people over the eight years he was in office.

The other thing that I think was so typical of him was the humor.  Ronald Reagan used humor sometimes to attack the other side, and they really wouldn’t feel it coming.  I mean, he always did it in a way that would bring a smile to the faces of sometimes even the other side.  So humor was a really great strength.

I brought the speech with me, and if I can do this without putting my glasses on, which is debatable, but I will try and read you what he said in this speech about being a great communicator.  He said, “I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference.  It was the content.  I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things.  And they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation, from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.”  And I think that really was his style.  He always attributed his success to the country he grew up in.  And he may not have wanted to take the credit, but he was, in fact, a great communicator.  So I found this a very moving speech watching it at the time.  And having reread it over the last couple of years several times, it just struck me as an appropriate speech today, when times are tough in the country again, that it might be something that we could maybe agree on.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   I very much liked listening to Ronald Reagan’s speeches, I have to say.  He ends this one talking about the shining city on the hill; he talked about it so much in his speeches.  And he says how stands the city on this winter night?  One of the things that you’d hear from him was what I think of as kind of cowboy rhetoric, talking about the Soviet Union. 

He says that he wants the closeness that the United States had, and that he had, with the new Soviet leader Gorbachev at the time, to continue.  And he says that as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner, and then he said, “If and when they don’t, first pull your punches.  If they persist, then pull the plug.  It’s still trust, but verify.  It’s still play, but cut the cards.   And watch closely, and don’t be afraid to see what you see.”  I mean, that kind of thing, I think the American people used to love.

MS. WINSTON:   I think that's one of the reasons why the current President has often been criticized for the same kind of rhetoric.  I believe cowboy has been used frequently to describe this President as well, but there are some similarities between Reagan and Bush in terms of some of the rhetoric they've used over the years.  Obviously, I think President Reagan had a real ability to communicate through a prepared text, through a speech, which is difficult to do, very difficult as a matter of fact, prepared text.  And it was interesting hearing about how many prepared texts were done with President Nixon.  It’s something we might want to talk about later, the whole technical process side of speechwriting in the White House today has become, I think in large part because of a change in how much coverage there is at the White House, Presidents today will have a fairly substantial speechwriting operation.  We had seven speechwriters in our shop and seven researchers.  And President Bush would give sometimes as many as four speeches a day.  So you can see how things have really changed substantially.  And most speeches were not written by President Bush.  

But as Linda said, David Gergen, just after we finished lunch here today, we were talking about the speech and he said that he thought that President Reagan in this case had written this one, for the most part, himself though he did have a fairly large speechwriting operation, too.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   We're going to move on to Ted Widmer, who was writing speeches in the administration of President Clinton, and as you heard, is instrumental in setting up the Clinton Library.  So the speech you have chosen was given in Ireland.

TED WIDMER:   It was given in a small town called Armagh, outside of Belfast, in Northern Ireland in September, 1998.  Before I describe it, I want to thank the Library for organizing this thoughtful panel.  It’s a great pleasure to be with my fellow speechwriters.  And I want to particularly thank Ted Sorensen, who by the way, he asked me at lunch which speeches by President Kennedy I included in an anthology I’ve just published with the Library of America,  Great American Political Speeches .  And he correctly guessed all five speeches.  [laughter]  And I believe he would have known the dates of them also.  And I want to thank Ted for a very personal reason.  His speeches were not only moving and persuasive to the American people, leading to the election of then-Senator Kennedy, but they were exciting and persuasive to many of the young volunteers in the 1960 campaign, including two college students from Massachusetts who joined the campaign, met each other and got married, and they were my parents.  So we speechwriters tend to beget more speechwriters.  [laughter] 

Well, this particular speech by President Clinton is probably not that well known to most of you, although it was an important foreign policy speech at the time.  It was his first day in Northern Ireland since brokering the Good Friday Accord, and it was a very exciting day.  We had been on a trip to Russia and then to Ireland and Northern Ireland, and you couldn’t find two more different regions of the world.  Russia was dark and cold and people were not in a very good mood at the time.  They had had a severe economic setback and we touched down in Ireland; I remember that day vividly.  It was one of those days where you fly all around the world, it seems, giving speeches at different locations.  And we left Moscow at about six in the morning and landed in Ireland.  And everywhere we went, just driving from the airport into a city, the roads were thick with enthusiastic people waving at the motorcade and it was tremendously exciting, and he gave a number of speeches.

One of my great challenges today was to pick a single Bill Clinton speech after he gave so many of them.  There are 17 volumes in the collected speeches of President Bill Clinton.  I don't think any other President comes within five or six of that number.  They were sent to me by the Clinton Library, and I remember thinking, “Would one UPS man be strong enough to carry all of these volumes?”  

But this was a magical day and a magical particular speech.  He gave it in the late afternoon.  It’s September, early September, and the light was beginning to diminish.  And we had chosen a location in this beautiful small town called Armagh.  And there was a Catholic church facing a Protestant church across the town green.  So it was a beautiful location for so many reasons.  And it was a speech outdoors, which I fear is a disappearing presidential tradition.  I loved the quote that President Nixon chose from Teddy Roosevelt, about the man in the arena.  And I think for most of the 20 th century that was something that American presidents loved to do, certainly when they were campaigning, but then after they became president.  And one thinks a little bit about JFK’s speech in Berlin, or Ronald Reagan’s speech in Berlin.  And part of the drama is it’s this man who’s the embodiment of American openness and confidence standing amidst huge throngs of foreign people who are listening very closely.  And so much of it is the body language.  And I fear for many reasons, including unavoidable reasons stemming from 9/11, but also from the great unpopularity of the Iraq war and other U.S. policies, that it will be a long time before we return to that tradition.

But on this particular day, Clinton was in full form.  He was very much the man in the arena, and he strode out to the lectern and an enormous roar came from the crowd and he gave a speech that was both beautiful with some literary allusions and deeply humane.  He said he’d wanted to come back to his hometown in Ireland, but his ancestors were so poor that no one knew what that hometown was.  And he just talked about peace, and I think that's very much related to the idea of the open air speech.  He talked about how important the peace was that the Irish people had discovered for themselves, and I think he would have phrased it that way, he had just helped bring them together.

And the end of the speech I felt was moving because he said, “Look, you're not just doing this for yourselves.  You have your own tradition.  Part of the problem has been that you haven’t always been able to look at yourselves objectively outside these two traditions.  And what is fantastic about the peace of Northern Ireland in 1998 is that all peoples indulging in similar feuds around the Earth will see this and see that peace is achievable.”  And so, he ended the speech with a long section that wasn’t about Ireland at all, but it was about what this would mean to all other peoples on Earth.  And I think that sort of contrarian approach, going a little bit beyond what is expected, can make a speech truly distinctive.  

PRESIDENT CLINTON:   We wanted to come here in person to thank you, to thank you for the peace, to thank you for strengthening the hand of everyone, everyone anywhere, who is working to make the world a little better.  When I go about to other troubled places, I talk to you as proof that peace is not an idle daydream, for your peace is real and it resonates around the world.  It echoes in the ears of people hungry for the end of strife in their own country.  

Now, when I meet Palestinians and Israelis, I can say, “Don't tell me it’s impossible, look at Northern Ireland.”  When I meet Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, I can say, “Don’t tell me it’s impossible, look at Northern Ireland.”  When I hear what the Indians and Pakistanis say about each other over their religious differences, I say, “Don’t tell me you can’t work this out.  Look at Northern Ireland.”  Centuries were put to bed and a new day has dawned.  Thank you for that gift to the world.  

And never underestimate the impact you can have on the world.  The great English poet and clergyman, John Donne, wrote those famous lines, “No man is an island.  We are all a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  Tonight, we might even say in this interconnected world, not even an island, not even a very unique island, not even Ireland, is fully an island.  On this island, Northern Ireland, is obviously connected in ways to the Republic as well as to England, Scotland and Wales.  And in ways, the Republic of Ireland is connected to them also.  All of you on this island increasingly are connected to Europe and to the rest of the world as ideas and information and people fly across the globe at record speed.

We are tied ever closer together, and we have obligations now that we cannot shirk to stand for the cause of human dignity everywhere.  To continue John Donne’s beautiful metaphor, when the bells of Armagh toll, they ring out not just to the Irish of Protestant and Catholic traditions, they ring out to people everywhere in the world who long for peace and freedom and dignity.  That is your gift.  

We Americans will do what we can to support the peace, to support economic projects, to support educational projects.  Tomorrow, the Secretary of Education will announce a cooperative effort here to help children bring peace by doing cross community civic projects.  We know we have an obligation to you because your ancestors were such a source of strength in America’s early history., because their descendents are building America’s future today.  Because of all that, we have not forgotten our debt to Ulster.  But we really owe an obligation to you because none of us are islands.  We are all now a part of the main.  

Three years ago, I pledged that if you chose peace, America would walk with you.  You made the choice, and America will honor its pledge.  Thank you for the springtime of hope you have given the world.  Thank you for reminding us of one of life’s most important lessons, that it is never too late for a new beginning.  And remember, you will be tested again and again, but a God of grace has given you a new beginning.  Now, you must make the most of it, mindful of President Kennedy’s adage that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.  Your work is the world’s work, and everywhere, in every corner, there are people who long to believe in our better selves, who want to be able to say for the rest of their lives in the face of an act of madness borne of hatred, over religious or racial or ethnic or tribal differences, they want to be able to shake their fist in defiance and say, “Do not tell me it has to be this way.  Look at Northern Ireland.”  Thank you, and God bless you.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   An extraordinarily inspirational speech.  I want to, because I want to get to the questions as quickly as possible, let me just ask you all to just talk for a few minutes about some of the technical aspects of speechwriting, and I suppose some of you will have questions of that sort as well.  I’d like to begin with Ted Sorensen whose memoir, as you heard, is going to be published, but we don’t know the name of it yet.  That I understand, in part of it, you talk about how you did what you did, how to write speeches for presidents.  Could you just share a little bit of that with us?

MR. SORENSEN:   Well, thanks for the plug.  It’s true, I’ve been working for five years on my life story, and I'm at the finish line at last.  And I expect it will be out next year, and I hope you’ll invite me back.  One of the chapters is entitled, “Speechwriting.”  And looking over the latest draft, and it’s still a draft … 

MS. WERTHEIMER:   And too long ... (inaudible)—

MR. SORENSEN:   Oh yes, I couldn’t possibly.  But I did find one excerpt that I thought I would read to you.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Great.

MR. SORENSEN:   This is what somebody else said about the Kennedy/Sorensen collaboration, and I thought you might be interested in that.  Now, these are not my views, please understand.  “You need a mind like Sorensen’s around you that's clicking and clicking all the time.  You can get a beautifully tooled speech, but at best just one sentence of it will make the difference.  It takes an intellectual to come up with a phrase that may penetrate.  Sorensen is tough, cold, not carried away by emotion, and he has the rare gift of being an intellectual who can completely sublimate his style to another individual.  And in his case, it’s the right combination. Sorensen is analytical and unemotional, so was Kennedy.  There hasn’t been such a combination of speechwriter and president since Raymond Moley and Franklin D. Roosevelt.”  

And a little bit later, “A public figure shouldn’t be just a puppet who echoes his speechmaker.  The ideas should be his, the opinions his, the words his.  It’s easy for Kennedy to get up and read Sorensen’s speeches.  But I don't think it’s responsible unless he believes in it deeply himself.”  That's Richard Nixon.  [laughter] 

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Well, that is the essential problem of being a presidential speechwriter, it does seem to me.  You know, the big question, who wrote that?  Which you always have to stand back from, deny, efface yourself from.  What is that like?  Ray Price, what was that like?

MR. PRICE:   I didn't have that problem so much.  I had been a professional writer before I joined up with Nixon, and I’d been a debater and things like that, and at times a speechwriter, as well as a parliamentary debater.  But he taught me speechwriting.  He’d been a master of the craft.  And again, as I said, my rough count was probably 19 out of 20 speeches in the White House were not written.  Most of our writing was things like the legislative messages to Congress and so forth, long written things in which we laid out what we wanted and made the argument for why and so on.  And these were delivered in written form, they're not spoken.

Nixon had a first rate mind, a very organized mind.  I was always appalled at speechwriters who would brag, as I heard a number of them do from time to time, about how they had snuck something into a president’s speech, or how they’d gotten him to say what they, the speechwriters, wanted him to say.  I felt my role, both as a writer and as head of the writing department, was to make sure that nothing got into the President’s speech that was not what he wanted to say, the way he wanted to say it.  And in the process of back and forth with him, in his case when we went back and forth on a written speech, it was usually through about six or seven or eight drafts.  But he would be using that, and we’d be editing and revising and so on.  He would be using that process as a means of refining ideas.  As you find they don’t work out on paper, you find maybe they don’t work quite right.  You get different views on it.

I did all State of the Unions with him, and every one of those worked out, coincidentally, did 14 drafts.  But these were much more complicated things and much longer.  But again, he was an organized thinker.  He himself had been a champion debater from high school on, and debating teaches you something about rhetoric and about organizing thoughts and so forth.  And he was a lawyer, and this was part of his background.  But again, he was more comfortable without.  He just felt he connected better with the audience without it, and he didn't need a text.  And he was a natural, natural speaker.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   So your habit of self effacement has completely overtaken you here. [laughter]  Chriss, among other things, you had a principal who was not the orator that President Reagan was or President Clinton was.  I remember many times reading a speech and thinking, “There's my quote,” and then he would get to it and he would stumble somewhere in the middle of the money quote. 

MS. WINSTON:   Right.  [laughter]  I remember that, too.  One of my favorites was we were in one of those eastern European trips, and I believe it was -- I have to really go back to my memory bank here -- but I think it was Hungary, we were in Hungary.  And Rubic, who did Rubic’s Cube, the man who had created Rubic’s Cube, was one of the first entrepreneurs in Hungary after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he’d been living there, he was Hungarian.  So in one of the speeches that President Bush was giving there, Mr. Rubic was going to be in the audience and we were talking about entrepreneurship and capitalism and all of these things, and we were going to use him as a good example.  When President Bush got to that section of the speech, he started talking about it, and he proceeded to call it Rubic’s Cone, which was one of those, we're just sitting there, “Well, great.”  [laughter]  And those things did happen sometimes with him.  

But I think it’s true with anyone that you write for.  One of the things that's most difficult to do is to try and learn that person’s voice, because you are reflecting not your thoughts and not your voice, but his or hers.  And President Bush, when we started to write for him, none of us had written speeches for him during the campaign.  We were in another part of the communications operation, and then we brought in some new speechwriters.  And so we had to learn that, and we had to learn it on the ground as we went along.  And one of the first things we discovered with him happened … Well, there were two things, really.  First of all, frequently when a speech draft would come back, in the margin would be the phrase that all of us came to really hate.  And it would say, “Too much rhetoric.”  Okay, that's the phrase, and it was the kiss of death.  Anything very flowery, the kind of language that speechwriters like to indulge in, he found it to be just overly dramatic or too flowery for him.  He liked very plain language.  So that was the first thing we learned.

The second thing we learned, and it happened just a few months after we were in office, and the  U.S.S. Iowa had a terrible explosion and I think over 100 sailors were killed, a terrible accident.  The President was going to speak to the memorial service.  Now, this was the first military speech that we had written, and of course it was a very difficult moment.  And so in the speech, the speechwriter, who was a very good speechwriter by the name of Mark Davis, wrote these really wonderful memorial remarks.  And he, in it, used a phrase from a poem referring to the men behind the gun.  And at one point in the speech, there was a paragraph where the President was to say something to the effect that he remembered as a young airman, Navy pilot in World War II, coming back to the ship at night after a mission — (pause on tape) -- and then we heard the President to be sniffling and kind of … And both of us were kind of, “What?”  And as the speech went on, it was clear he was becoming more and more choked up as the speech went on.   And as we got to that dramatic moment in the speech that we knew was coming, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, he’s really going to have a tough time getting through it.”  Well, he didn't have any trouble getting through it at all because he just leapfrogged right over it and dropped the paragraph out of the speech and went on, and that paragraph never saw the light of day.  And I thought Mark was going to commit suicide right there in my office.  We're both sitting there, like, “He dropped it.”  But that is what we learned -- was that President Bush, and I think this President Bush is much like his father, that they have a great difficulty talking about the military and military sacrifices.  It is something very near and dear to their heart, and we learned to write in a way that he could get through that kind of language without breaking up.  But that's what you have to do.  It’s part of the process of learning to write for someone, whatever level.

MR. PRICE:   If I could throw in a p.s. to that one, my guess would be that—President Bush, Senior., is an old friend of mine—That particular one would have been especially hard for him because as a Navy pilot in World War II, one of the most traumatic events of his life was being shot down.  He survived, and his two crewmates did not.

MS. WINSTON:   Right, and he still can’t talk about it.  He has a lot of difficulty discussing that.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   But some presidents, I keep going back to President Reagan, President Reagan, for example, could make an emotional speech in which tears would come into his eyes and then 3 ½ hours later, you know, in the next town, he would make the same emotional speech, and the tear would come into his eye.  And four hours later.  But the thing that was always just so dazzling to me was that tears would come into my eye!  You know, and I had heard that speech … 

MS. WINSTON:   Every time.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   For 11 times.  [laughter]  But he just had that capacity to cause you to share in the emotional content of the speech.  Now, I was very impressed, Ted, with your boss’s … 

MR. SORENSEN:   Which Ted?

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Other one.  [laughter]  

MR. WIDMER:   I’m always going to be the other Ted in speechdom.  [laughter] 

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Ted Widmer.  Somebody pointed out at the beginning that we had lots of people whose names begin with W and two people named Ted.  Let me just show you this.  This is Ted Widmer’s book, The Anthology of American Speeches .  And if you are interested in reading some of these speeches, it’s a very good place to go.  I’ve been reading it all morning.  One of the things that happened in the Clinton Administration, obviously, was that like the Nixon Administration, you had a very bad patch to go through and the President was not permitted to hide in the Rose Garden and never speak.  And that, it seems to me, must have been a very difficult thing to do for you, for him as well?

MR. WIDMER:   It was, but I think you could say that 1998, which was my first full year as a speechwriter, was in many ways his best year as well as his worst year, if you can say both things at the same time, which I think you can.  He achieved an enormous amount with his foreign policy and I think we tend to forget what an effective foreign policy President Bill Clinton had.  Besides Northern Ireland, he had quite an important trip to Africa, still the longest trip to Africa of any U.S. President, an important trip to China.  And throughout the year, terribly serious things were happening that he was handling effectively and his political ratings were rising.  So it was a funny year in that he was in dire political peril, but he was performing better than ever.  No foreign policy jitters whatsoever, and the American people were growing to appreciate that.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Well, one of the things I remember was the State of the Union which came just days after all the Monica Lewinski revelations.  I mean, that must have been an amazing drafting session?

MR. WIDMER:   It was.  [laughter]  I was only involved peripherally; I’d been there just a couple of months.  I was a very junior speechwriter.  But until about the day of the speech, I had a single line in it, which was based on a repair that was happening in my house at the time where my wife had said the best time to fix our roof is when the sun is shining.  And so I thought, “That's a pretty good line.”  [laughter]  That was about fixing the economy when things are— Fine tuning it when things are good, and that line survived until almost the moment of delivery, and then it was scratched at the last minute because apparently President Kennedy had said something very similar in a rather obscure place and time, and it was not a line I remembered.  I truly had just heard my wife say it.  And I was disappointed, it was my only line and it disappeared.  But then the next day …

MR. SORENSEN:   Wait until I tell you about President Kennedy and your wife.  [laughter] 

MR. WIDMER:   Fortunately, we don’t get C-SPAN, we don’t have cable, you can say anything you want.  [laughter]  The next day, President Clinton said, “You know, when I was a kid growing up in Arkansas, we had a saying.  The best time to fix your roof is when the sun is shining,” so a good line has many fathers.  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   But he really did knock that State of the Union speech out of the park.

MR. WIDMER:   It was unbelievably dramatic.  He never looked more confident than that day, and he was probably never in more peril than at that moment.  It wasn’t just that he survived.  In that same speech he saved the social security system with four strategic words, “Save social security first.”  So it was like watching Nureyev, it was just an extraordinary thing to watch.  I just watched it on TV in the White House with the other speechwriters, but it couldn’t have been more exciting.

MR. SORENSEN:   You know, I got to thinking listening to this, I think one thing you really have to understand in understanding the presidency itself, setting speechwriting aside, is that you cannot function effectively as a president unless you're very good at compartmentalizing.  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Yeah.  Okay, your turn folks.  Chriss is going to make one more comment, but you might want to start forming lines behind the microphones.  Chriss?

MS. WINSTON:   I was just going to mention a story about a line that we tried to get into a speech also, which was a speech -- this was in the run-up to the Gulf War, and the President was going to speak, I believe it was at the Defense Department to employees at the Defense

Department.  And we were doing a whole series of speeches in terms of building support for the Gulf War.  And we had decided in speechwriting, we were going to make a comparison of Saddam to Hitler.  This sounds very familiar to some of you now, I suspect.  But we thought that that was an apt description, given the … Remember at this time, it wasn't that long a period of time from when he had gassed the Kurds and so forth, and we thought this was an apt comparison and we put it in the draft of the speech and it went through the process.  And it came back, and I believe it was the NSC, the National Security Council, had Xed it out.  And I went in and I argued for it, and I said, “What's the problem?  We need … “  “No, no, this is not the kind of rhetoric we want to use.”  I said, “Okay, fine.”  So we took it out.  We went off to the Defense Department, the President got up there and gave the speech.  And when he got to that point in the speech, and though he'd never seen this line, it never even made it into the Oval Office for him to even consider doing it, he got up there and he gave the speech and halfway through the speech, lo and behold, he just ad libbed it anyway.  And, of course, speechwriting was cheering over this whole thing.  

So the next speech we had to do for the Gulf War, we thought, “All right, he’s already said it, we're golden.”  We put it back in the speech, it went through the process.  Lo and behold, NSC scratched it out again.  So even when the President says it, the bureaucracy can sometimes do you in, so I sympathize.  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Okay, let’s start over here?

AUDIENCE:   I’d like to address my opening remark to Ted Widmer.  I was fortunate enough to be in Independence, Missouri, when President Clinton -- he wasn't President then -- but he accepted the nomination of his party to run for President.  And then the next time I was in his presence was at the 50 th anniversary of D Day in Normandy.  Senator Dole was also there, and he got a much bigger response, a much bigger response from the people who were there.  President Clinton was not very popular with veterans at that point.  But when he made his speech on Omaha Beach, he closed it with the words, “They walk with a little less spring in their steps, and their ranks are growing thinner.  But we must always remember when these men were young, they saved the world.”  And my voice is cracking a little bit and that is in keeping with Linda Wertheimer’s reaction to some other speeches.

But I also hark back to President Reagan’s speech when he quoted the woman who said that they would always be grateful to the American people.  And when I go back to Europe, in Luxembourg, and in Belgium and France, and even when I meet, and I’ve been in Germany, and when people find out that I'm a D Day veteran, they—especially the Germans—they say, “Thank you for liberating my country.”  And so I'm harking back to what President Reagan quoted that woman as saying, that we will never forget what the Americans in Normandy did for us.  And since that time, I have read polls that say that they have interviewed young people, and fully onethird of them believed that the Germans were our allies in World War II.  And I'm just wondering, Linda, I mean Chriss, what has happened to history?  And why is this situation prevalent today?

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Thank you.  Chriss, you want to take a very quick … 

MS. WINSTON:   I’ll try and make this really short, and by using an example.  In working on the book that I’ve been working on for the last couple of years, at one point I sat down and read my son’s 11 th grade American history textbook, all 1,000 pages and some of it.  And this will give you an example.  Part of the problem, I think, with the teaching of American history today is how the textbook authors decide what subjects to tackle and how much space they're going to get.  And so let me just give you an example, and I think this will say it all.  

I looked at his book and I started counting words.  And there was a section called The Disco Generation, and it got 214 words.  And Steven Spielberg got his own section, and that was 381 words.  Nicaragua, Iran Contra, but a lot on the history of Nicaragua, got over 1,000 words.  And Neil Armstrong and the moon landing got a whopping 78 words, which I think is shocking.  And I actually thought very seriously today of using President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University, which is one of my favorite speeches, because I think that the space program is one of America’s most wonderful and inspiring stories for our children.  There's no downside, it’s courageous, it embodies all of our values and spirits and has brought so much new science and technology to the world.  And yet, American history today all but ignores it.

And so I would just use that example to tell you that's part of the problem.  And I would suggest that people read their child’s textbooks.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Let’s try to keep this to relatively concise questions, yes?

AUDIENCE:   Absolutely.  My question is for Ted No. 1, and I believe that President Kennedy’s favorite orator, from my understanding, was Sir Winston Churchill.  And so my question is, in your workings with President Kennedy, how much was Churchill referenced, his speeches or his actions or deeds?  And could you possibly give an example?

MR. SORENSEN:   The answer to everything you just said is yes.  President Kennedy admired Winston Churchill, both as a public figure and as an orator.  And I believe you will find references to Churchill in Kennedy’s speeches and in his off the cuff remarks, such as press conferences.  And I have to tell you that I read a lot of Churchill in my role in helping Kennedy on some of the things that he said and wrote.  And I have often, when I occasionally lecture to students on speechwriting, invoke Churchill as the example of what -- Who was it?  I guess Tom Putnam in the introduction here today cited as being one of my principles, which is don’t use any unnecessary words of which the best example is Winston Churchill after the fall of France.  He began his report to the British people over radio with what, it’s about seven words.  “The news from France is very bad.”  Says it all.  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   I was just checking—I'm not fast enough here—I was checking the index to see if I could find one.  Yes?

AUDIENCE:   Yes, hi.  I listened to a lot of President Kennedy’s speeches personally,and also downstairs a number of times.  And I’ve always wondered the source of two words that he uses repeatedly, and that's “let us.”  And I wondered if there was a history to how that started and if he used it a lot before he was President, or just this part of his way of saying things when he became President?

MR. SORENSEN:   I have to say I’ve never thought about that before, and I don't know the answer.  I learned from the master that when you don’t know the answer, don’t give one.  [laughter]  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Yes?

AUDIENCE:   Mr.  Sorensen, it’s an honor to speak to you.  My question is related to something you said earlier.  You referred to the American University speech as being President Kennedy reexamining attitudes about the Cold War, including his own attitudes.  And that made me think of the passage in the inaugural address, which obviously came first, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to insure the survival and the success of liberty.”  And that quote is obviously magnificent oratory, but it has been criticized, unjustly in my view, but criticized nonetheless as maybe raising the bar a little too high.  And do you think that in the later speech, the American University speech, President Kennedy was reexamining some of the things he’d said about the Cold War.  

MR. SORENSEN:   That's a very thoughtful question.  I have to say that he had the same help on the inaugural as he had on the American University speech.  [laughter]  And so no, I don't think it was a reexamination.  And I'm glad you said that he is unjustly criticized for those words in the inaugural because people who single out those words and focus on it as a Cold War rhetoric forget the rest of the speech in which he said—back to the lady’s question—“Let us, let both sides, join.”  Meaning east and west, Soviets and Americans.  “Let us together join in exploring the heavens and the stars.  Let us enjoin in pushing back the desert.  Let us explore the ocean depths, and let us fight the …“  I don’t remember it exactly.  “Fight the common enemies of disease, poverty, tyranny and war itself.”  No American President had ever said that before.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Here's another one.  “Let us reexamine our attitude toward the Cold War.”  This is from the American University speech.  Yes?

AUDIENCE:   This is directed primarily to Mr. Sorensen, but the other … 

MS. WERTHEIMER:   We’ve got to broaden out here.

AUDIENCE:   When did it become apparent that in working with John Kennedy that you two were of a mind, or more significantly, of a voice together, and that your writings pretty much represented his voice, or captured his thoughts and the rhetoric captured the way he preferred to communicate them?

MR. SORENSEN:   First, I have to say this is all in my book and you’ll have to buy it.  [laughter] 

AUDIENCE:   And I happily will.

MR. SORENSEN:   But I would say that our compatibility was not apparent until the afternoon of the first day we met.  [laughter]  I had worked for him almost a year before he asked me to help on speeches.  And interestingly enough, here in Boston, the reason was—I still remember him coming into my office adjoining his, or actually a waiting room in between—He came into my office and he said, “I have to give three speeches, I believe all in Boston, on St. Patrick’s Day.  How about helping?”  I’m a Unitarian from Lincoln, Nebraska, where we never observed St. Patrick’s Day, but I thought it’d be an interesting challenge.  And I turned out three speeches for St. Patrick’s Day, and he loved them, and I never got rid of the job for the next ten years.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Ted, the other Ted, let me just ask you to speak to the, as Chriss already has, about finding the voice of your principal?

MR. WIDMER:   Well, you just read his speeches.  I came well into his Presidency, I came in in ’97, and you begin by just reading.  And then you learn a lot from your fellow speechwriters.  We were similar numbers, we were up to nine or ten, I think, in Clinton. We had two staffs, by the way.  We had a foreign policy staff inside the NSC, which I was part of, and then a domestic staff.  And so it’s imitative.  You're just trying to get that voice, and for me, the best coaches were my fellow speechwriters at first.  But then after a certain amount of time, it becomes more natural.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   I remember on a couple of occasions when I was standing right behind President Reagan because I was in the tight pool, I saw him change his speech while he was giving it, into a locution that was more comfortable for him.  You know, it’s just something that, I guess, they just get good at it after they do it for a while.  Over here?

AUDIENCE:   My name is Alison Shapiro, I work at the Kennedy School and I'm a public speaking and speechwriting consultant.  My question is I’d like to hear from any of our distinguished speechwriters about the unique relationship between our speechwriter and a principal, and how that manifests itself on a presidential level, especially given the large number of speechwriters who are involved in writing a speech?

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Shall we start with Ted Sorensen?

MR. SORENSEN:   Occasionally, since I left the White House, I have been asked by others if I would write speeches for them, which I have for the most part not done.  And I have tried to explain to them that for ultimately 11 years, I was with John F. Kennedy day and night.  I knew what he thought and what he said on almost every subject.  Between the convention of 1956 and the convention of 1960, we traveled to all 50 states together.  We ate together, we lived together, we formed a bond that unless you have that kind of bond, you don't have the same relationship.  And with a stranger calling me up on the phone asking me to write a speech for him, it’s not going to be in his voice the way I was able to help JFK with words that he was comfortable with.

But I would add one other important fact at the presidential level, as you suggest.  We've heard quite a bit today about speechwriting and research departments.  We didn't have a speechwriting and research department in the Kennedy White House.  Occasionally, and on some important occasions, Arthur Schlesinger would help.  He was our resident historian.  During the first ten months of the presidency, as during the Presidential campaign, that is the post convention campaign, Dick Goodwin was a very good speechwriter who made a lot of contributions.  But the speechwriting department was essentially John F. Kennedy and me.  

And I had the advantage of being counsel to the President, special counsel to the President and policy advisor, as mentioned by Tom in his introduction, so that I was able to take part in the policy decisions, and the great speeches are communicating great decisions.  And I would listen to the evidence being presented to the President and watch his reaction.  I could tell what impressed him, what ideas, what themes, what thoughts, even what words or what data made a difference to him.  And then walk down the hall to my office and put it together in the form of a draft speech.  That is so much easier than being across the street at the executive office building, in a speechwriting and research department with six or nine other people and getting a phone call from the Chief of Staff, “The President wants a speech on agriculture. Who wants to write the speech on agriculture?”  Thank goodness I didn't have to do that.  And I sympathize with Chriss and the fact that the clearance process sometimes interfered with good lines, except on State of the Union messages and on the Cuban Missile Crisis speech, which was a totally different story.  I didn't have a clearance process.  My drafts went to John F. Kennedy.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Would anybody else like to add something?  Chriss?

MS. WINSTON:   Only, you know, the phrase good old days comes to mind because it would have been wonderful to have that kind of a relationship.  I think maybe a couple of things changed over time.  One was the demands of the numbers of speeches that presidents gave.  I know I was working on a book and I called Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidential Library to get a five or six month schedule, a particular time to look at his speeches, to see where he’d given speeches.  And in that five month period, he gave four speeches, which was staggering to me.  I just assumed presidents gave lots of speeches, they didn't.

I think that's one change that is different.  And I also think the intense media scrutiny of speeches, now there's so much.  There's just so much more media out there to cover speeches; I think sort of intensifies that.  But, you know, I agree with everything Ted said.  The ideal is the kind of relationship that he had with President Kennedy.  I mean, you can always do a better job if you're very close to the principal you're writing for.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   I'm going to move on because we can really only take, I think, one more question.  We have planes to catch here, people are about to leave.

AUDIENCE:   To those of you who’ve done both, which is more challenging and which more enjoyable: writing for the presidential candidate or writing for the man in the Oval Office?

MS. WERTHEIMER:   That's a good question.  Ted, do you want to start?

MR. WIDMER:   I haven’t written for a campaigner, I only wrote for President Clinton.  The first speech I ever wrote was for President Clinton, and I haven’t written any after.  So I can’t compare.

MS. WINSTON:   No, I was on the campaign but I had other responsibilities on the campaign.

MR. PRICE:   I’m not sure how to answer.  In the ’68 campaign, I was part of—His key writer, and I did a lot of speeches there, although a lot of these—We did our policy things in ’68 campaign on radio.  We didn't use television, we used radio.  That worked much better.  It was cheaper, and—[laughter]  No, quite seriously, we could buy half an hour of radio for 2,000 bucks, and also we wouldn't preempt “I Love Lucy.”  And we got anywhere from half a million to two million people actually sitting and listening to what was said.

And so for serious policy things, we used radio.  That's more cerebral than television is.  But in terms of satisfaction, I'm going to suggest a different thing.  The first presidential campaign is an exciting thing in itself.  The second campaign is less exciting.  The presidency is very demanding, the campaigns are very demanding.  And my guess it would be more, not so much more one to the other as within each one, was more or less.  

MS. WERTHEIMER:   Mr. Sorensen?

MR. SORENSEN:   There's a total difference, vast difference, between writing speeches for the presidential candidate and writing speeches for the president of the United States.  First of all, the campaign, I warn those of you who want to be a speechwriter, is the most exhausting ordeal of your life.  The candidate gets a little sleep at night, but the speechwriter doesn’t.  That's when he has to work.  

Second, the speeches themselves are much easier to write.  When a crisis arises during the campaign, the candidate can give a speech raising the right question, pointing with alarm, demanding an investigation.  That's no good when you're president of the United States.  You're in charge, you have to come up with the answer.  And every word the president utters is fraught with implication.  If it’s in foreign policy, the president’s words become the policy.  Not in domestic, because Congress has to authorize it and appropriate the money for it.  But in foreign policy, every word is policy.  Moreover, as president, you are simultaneously addressing many different and inconsistent audiences.  Your supporters and your opponents at home, Congress, the allies, the adversaries abroad, every one of them is going to look and listen to that speech very differently, and all of that has to be weighed.  So it’s much tougher for the president.

MS. WERTHEIMER:   I think that this is it for us.  And thank you all so much.  My apologies to the people who are still waiting in line, but we have a group that has to leave.  Thank you all so much.  [applause] 

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Explained: Who were the minds behind US President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech?

The Office of Speechwriting is a presidential department in the White House, responsible for researching and writing the President’s speeches.

speech writer for the president

On Wednesday, new US President Joe Biden will deliver his inaugural address laying out the agenda for his administration. The speechwriting team helping him shape the draft is led by an Indian-American, Vinay Reddy, who was speechwriter for the Biden-Harris campaign and previously served as chief speechwriter when Biden was Vice President in Barack Obama’s second term.

What it’s about

speech writer for the president

The inaugural address has been a tradition since George Washington became the first President on April 30, 1789. In his first inaugural address, he referred to the “sacred fire of liberty” and a “new and free government”. For his second term in 1793, Washington’s speech of 135 words remains the shortest ever. William Henry Harrison’s speech in 1841 was the longest at 8,455 words; it lasted two hours.

The White House Historical Association notes that inaugural speeches set the tone for the incoming administration. While sometimes they are intended to persuade, at other times Presidents have chosen to speak “directly to the nation’s concerns”. In 1961, John F Kennedy made a call for public service during his inaugural address when he said, “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Biden takes over during what is being described as one of the tensest moments in American history. Commentators have compared the moment to 1933 when F D Roosevelt took oath during the Great Depression (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he said), and to 1861, during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln appealed to his “dissatisfied fellow countrymen” to not be enemies but friends.

Speechwriter’s role

Festive offer

In a discussion session in 2019 on “translating presidential ideas into words”, Sarada Peri, one of Obama’s speechwriters, said the “audience is the world of any speech”, while her speechwriting colleague Kyle O’Connor said it was important to capture the President’s “style and voice”.

Another speechwriter, referred to as Obama’s “mind reader”, is Jon Favreau, who was just 27 when he helped shape the 2009 inaugural address in which Obama, in an echo of Kennedy half a century earlier, called for a “new era of responsibility” urging Americans to recognise “that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

A temporary exhibit organised by the John F Kennedy Library and Museum in 2009 notes that some of his instructions to his speechwriter in 1961, Ted Sorensen, included to “avoid pessimism and partisanship,” and to “read the other presidential inaugurals”.

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Biden’s speechwriters

The content of Biden’s inaugural address is being overseen by Mike Donilon, who has been his long-time adviser, along with presidential historian and biographer Jon Meacham who is also helping shape the draft. During his first remarks as President-elect, Biden spoke about the need to “rebuild the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation…”. An article in The New York Times notes that Biden’s reliance on a historian is in sharp contrast to Donald Trump ’s “lack of interest” in the past.

Reddy, an alumnus of the Ohio State University College of Law, is Biden’s director of speechwriting. Reddy earned his bachelor’s degree from Miami University and double-majored in political science and philosophy. According to a report in Telangana Today, Reddy was born and brought up in the US; his family hails from the village of Pothireddypeta in Telangana.

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speech writer for the president

Presidential Speechwriters

Former presidential speechwriters for Presidents Nixon through Obama took part in an annual conference for professional speechwriters. The s… read more

Former presidential speechwriters for Presidents Nixon through Obama took part in an annual conference for professional speechwriters. The shared their experiences working for their respective offices. They also discussed the changing media landscape over the years and the pros and cons of communicating the president’s message over several platforms, specifically with the rise of social media. The speechwriters also discussed the current Trump administration’s messaging and communication style and focused on how his tweets had shifted and shaped his presidency. close

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speech writer for the president

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  • Professional Speechwriters Association Professional Speechwriters Association

Airing Details

  • Nov 25, 2017 | 9:16pm EST | C-SPAN 1
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On the literary merits of presidential writing

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“Good God,” scratched Harry Truman in pencil on the manuscript of a soon-to-be-ex-ghostwriter of his Memoirs , “what crap.” Theodore Roosevelt, miserably immersed in his Autobiography , wrote de profundis to his daughter: “I am working with heated unintelligence ... I fairly loathe it now.” John Adams found prose composition physically distressing, “almost like a blow on the elbow or the knee.” Dwight Eisenhower, brooding over the proofs of his memoirs with a panel of editors, said, “I suppose I’m going to have to go along with these split infinitives.” (“They’re your split infinitives,” an editor reminded him.) Andrew Jackson’s first ghostwriter was shot in the back in the middle of Charleston; his second died suddenly a few months later. The tale of Ted Sorensen, meanwhile, who wrote most (all?) of John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage , is a minor epic of fealty and self-erasure.

Books by presidents ... it’s a vexed and miscellaneous genre. The heavy buttocks of history sit upon it. Literature rarely has anything to do with it. So credit to Craig Fehrman for the compendiousness, readability, and general exuberance of his Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote. The books themselves he sorts briskly into “campaign books” (those written before the author takes office) and “legacy books” (those written after). Plenty of campaign books, of course, are written by nonpresidents. Rand Paul’s superbly titled but little loved Government Bullies , for example: “a book,” Fehrman tells us, “that lazily plagiarized five consecutive pages from a think tank.” (I like that “lazily”; a little more alertness in the plagiarism and there would have been, in a book like this, no problem.) They tend to be rush jobs, and can have a kind of trashy zest. To Herman Cain it was suggested that his entire presidential campaign was nothing but an advanced form of hype for his book. “If you know Herman Cain,” he rejoined, “you know nothing is further from the truth. And if you don’t believe me, I invite you to get a copy of my new book, This Is Herman Cain! ”

The legacy book, however—lumpy, gassy, the leaden address to posterity—is the exclusive preserve of the big boys: the presidents. Fehrman is lively in his judgments: “deadening and defensive” (Lyndon B. Johnson’s The Vantage Point ), “rushed and unruly” (Bill Clinton’s My Life ). The staleness of the presidential memoir, he submits, is baked in: “When writing their legacy books, too many presidents try to cover everything and, worse, to justify everything.” That’s the uniqueness of these books, perhaps: Thick with the stodge of government, they also manage a quavering, unstable note of righteousness.

Most presidents have a degree of verbal facility. Some are surprisingly eloquent. The silver tongue of Calvin Coolidge, for example, is hardly a proverb, but listen to this: “Wages won’t satisfy, be they ever so large. Nor houses; nor lands; nor coupons, though they fall thick as the leaves of autumn. Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole.” (That’s from a 1914 speech that would provide his campaign book, Have Faith in Massachusetts , with its title.) Theodore Roosevelt was a prolific author. JFK’s desire to be seen as a literary figure, in a literary context, was matched only by his reluctance to produce, by himself, any actual literature. ( Profiles in Courage was Sorensen’s work, and Kennedy’s first book, Why England Slept , was—Fehrman explains—extensively rewritten by The New York Times ’ Arthur Krock.) But my impression, having flea-hopped around in this area, is that the White House has harbored only three authentically muddy-eyed and pained-by-subjectivity writers : John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama.

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant contain their moments of literary splendor, indeed they do. “Better troops never went upon a battle-field than many of these, officers and men, afterwards proved themselves to be, who fled panic-stricken at the first whistle of bullets and shell at Shiloh.” An amazing sentence: The backward-facing syntax, like time-lapse photography in reverse, micro-mechanically reviews the process by which the raw and terrified Union recruits at the battle of Shiloh became seasoned soldiers. Grant could be succinct and monumental at the same time: “Disencumber yourself of your [supply] trains,” ran an order that he gave to General John A. McClernand at Champion’s Hill, “select an eligible position, and feel the enemy.” I can’t put Grant on my list of writers, though, because he was driven to writing by circumstance, and took it up in a soldierly way. Bankruptcy gave him the spur; Personal Memoirs began as a series of military reminiscences, sold for some quick cash to the magazine The Century . An almost simultaneous diagnosis of terminal throat cancer provided an appalling deadline. Also, having won the Civil War, he had better stories than most presidents.

John Quincy Adams, by contrast, wanted very badly to be a poet. The sixth president pined, even in office, for a parallel poetic existence, one in which his yeoman’s verses had helped found a literary tradition for his rude young country. “I want the voice of honest praise / To follow me behind / And to be thought in future days / The friend of human kind.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson loved that poem, “The Wants of Man.”) To be, as he put it, “at once a man of business and a man of rhyme”— wouldn’t that be an American dream? Lincoln, meanwhile, having as a teenager pored over, memorized, and metabolized the monologues from Shakespeare’s plays collected in a primer called Lessons in Elocution , developed an ability to impress his words upon the mind of a reader or listener with an authentic, metal-on-metal Shakespearean clang. Here he is in March 1832, in southern Illinois’s Sangamo Journal , writing publicly for the first time and making the case for himself as a candidate for the state legislature: “I was born and have ever remained in the most humble walks of life. I have no wealthy or popular relations to recommend me ... If the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.” He sounds like Richard III. Obama’s Dreams From My Father was another kind of dramatic speech: storytelling, acutely self-aware, riding the edge of a taut, cool anger.

Few thrills, it must be said, attend the presidential book pile. Much interest, but few thrills. Nonetheless, as Author in Chief proceeds, covering the epochs at a comfortable chronological clip—Washington to Monroe ... Adams to Grant ... Hayes to Roosevelt—a strange Friday the 13th –style tension begins to build. Your scalp starts to itch. What’s going to happen, after all this thoughtful middle-to-highbrowism, when we arrive at the feast of illiteracy that is Trumptown 2020? What happens when we get to now ? Does the book have a built-in whoopee cushion? Will a big red boxing glove on a spring pop out and punch the reader in the nose?

As it happens, Fehrman stops dead after Obama—toes tingling, as it were, on the rim of the abyss. The man recently hailed by a White House spokesman as “a best-selling author and deeply gifted orator who packs arenas and has a meticulous and carefully honed method for writing his speeches” is barely featured. So let us attempt to place him in this lineage of presidential authorship. There’s The Art of the Deal , since repudiated by its haggard-with-remorse ghostwriter, and the other blaring pseudobooks: Never Give Up , Think Big , and so on, all the way to 2015’s Crippled America .

And then there’s the book that Trump is writing, right now, in bloops and blurts and squiggles of sleepless id-energy, onto the American ether: his Twitter feed. It comes off the top of his head, a verbal precipitate in pellet format. It has no history. From time to time it serves as a portal, or a chute, to a roiling netherworld of paranoia and malign fiction. Exclamation points, relentlessly overused, give it a weird comic brio. It’s unserious, like the man himself, while flirting continually with catastrophic real-world consequences. The classic Trumpian mind-wrecker, in other words: weightless and crushing, frivolous and disastrous at the same time. Each new tweet burns a library, blots a memory, wrecks an archive, fries a synapse. Posterity—if there is one—will marvel. And the after-Trump republic—if there is one—will no doubt be looking, with some desperation, for a return to presidential dullness. To fat, pedantic memoirs by worried men. We’ll want it then, this healing, heavily paginated monotony.

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List of Topics

SfC Home > Writing > Speech Writing >

  • Presidential Speech Writers

by Ron Kurtus (3 March 2013)

The United States President gives a number of important speeches throughout the year. Even if he was a capable speech writer, the president may not have the time available to write his own speeches. Thus, most presidents have at least one speech writer to help formulate an upcoming speech.

There's a typical method used by the presidential speech writers . It is uncertain whether all presidents used speech writers, but I included a list of the most recent writers.

Questions you may have include:

  • What is the typical method used to write the speech?
  • What is a list of presidential speech writers?
  • What are some facts on the writers?

This lesson will answer those questions.

Typical method used

Typically, the method used is that the president wants to express a specific subject to an audience at an event. The speech writer that makes an outline of proposed speech, and the president reviews it to make sure main points are covered. Then the speech writer puts the speech together, improved wording, and gives it to the president. Some changes may be made before the speech finally given.

Presidents and their speech writers

Following is a list of recent presidents and their head speech writers:

Warren G. Harding

  • Judson T. Welliver is considered the first official presidential speechwriter.

John F. Kennedy

  • Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
  • Theodore "Ted" Sorenson
  • Richard N. Goodwin

Lyndon B. Johnson.

Richard m. nixon.

  • Pat Buchanan
  • William Safire

Jimmy Carter

  • James Fallows
  • Chris Matthews

Ronald Reagan

  • Peggy Noonan

George H. W. Bush

  • Christopher Buckley
  • Michael Johns

Bill Clinton

  • Michael Waldman

George W. Bush

  • Charlie Fern
  • Michael Gerson
  • William McGurn
  • Marc Thiessen

Barack Obama

  • Jon Favreau

Facts on writers

Indications are that Alexander Hamilton had written speeches for President George Washington.

Apparently, Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address himself. The story is that he outlined the speech on an envelope.

Although, some presidents have only one speech writer listed, in most cases there is a staff of writers reporting to the head writer.

Since the United States President gives a number of important speeches throughout the year, most presidents have at least one speech writer to help formulate an upcoming speech. The typical method used by the presidential speech writers, includes outlining and checking with the president on the content before the speech is given.

Use all the resources you can

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Speech Writing Resources

(Notice: The School for Champions may earn commissions from book purchases)

speech writer for the president

Students and researchers

The Web address of this page is: www.school-for-champions.com/speechwriting/ presidential_speech_writers.htm

Please include it as a link on your website or as a reference in your report, document, or thesis.

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Where are you now?

School for Champions

Speech Writing topics Presidential Speech Writers

Speech Writing topics

  • Basics of Speech Writing

Preparations

  • Preparations Before Writing a Speech
  • -- Consider Occasion for Speech
  • -- Analyze Audience
  • -- Select Topic of Speech
  • -- State Purpose of Speech
  • ---- Persuasive Speech
  • ---- Informative Speech
  • ---- Entertaining Speech

Writing speech

  • Developing the Speech
  • -- Gather Material
  • -- Outline Speech
  • ---- Three Parts of a Speech
  • ---- Write Introduction to Speech
  • ---- Writing Body of Speech
  • ---- Writing Conclusion of Speech
  • -- Improve Wording

Types of speeches

  • Writing a Persuasive Speech
  • Writing an Informative Speech
  • Writing an Entertaining Speech

Miscellaneous

  • Computer Aid for Writing a Short Speech
  • Speech Writing Survey Results
  • Public Speaking
  • Famous Speeches
  • Writing Methods
  • Technical Writing

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‘This matter is now closed’: Biden addresses special counsel report with House Democrats

LEESBURG, Va. — Speaking to a gathering of House Democrats, President Joe Biden addressed a special counsel’s decision not to charge him for his handling of classified documents, declaring that “this matter is now closed.”

“I was pleased to see they reached the conclusion I knew all along they would: There were no charges brought in this case,” Biden said at the House Democrats’ annual policy retreat at the Lansdowne Resort in northern Virginia.

“This matter is now closed. I will continue to do what I’ve always done: stay focused on my job,” he said.

The president’s remarks to a ballroom full of House Democratic lawmakers and staffers came less than two hours after special counsel Robert Hur released a much-anticipated report on his investigation into Biden’s handling of classified material. While Hur did not charge Biden, his report stated that Biden’s practices “present serious risks to national security” and that Biden portrayed himself as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”

Addressing Democrats, Biden said that the probe spanned more than 40 years, dating back to when he became a senator: “I was a kid. I was a kid 29 years old.” And he said he was interviewed by Hur’s team during a stressful period, shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel .

“The special counsel acknowledged I cooperated completely. I did not throw up any roadblocks. I sought no delays. In fact, I was so determined to get special counsel what they needed,” Biden told the room. “I went forward with a five-hour in-person interview over the two days of October the 9th — 8th and 9th — last year, even though Israel had just been attacked by Hamas on the 7th.”

“I was in the middle of handling an international crisis. But I was especially pleased to see the special counsel made clear the stark differences between this case and Donald Trump,” who is facing dozens of charges in an unrelated classified documents case.

Pivoting from the Hur report to the stakes of the 2024 election, Biden rallied Democrats as they seek to win just a handful of seats needed to reclaim control of the House majority this fall. He praised them for staying united this week to defeat the GOP impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and the GOP’s Israel-only aid package that did not include money for Ukraine, Taiwan or the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“All of this just shows that when we’re united, we can beat House Republicans in their cynical political games,” Biden said.

Senate GOP leaders, meanwhile, walked away from a bipartisan asylum and border deal this week that they had helped negotiate, giving Democrats an opening to go on offense on a usually vexing campaign issue.

“The events of this week have once again established that there’s a clear contrast between House Democrats and our extreme MAGA Republican counterparts,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said at the retreat. “House Democrats will continue to choose commonsense solutions to solving problems on behalf of hardworking American families. House Republicans continue to choose chaos.”

With the Hur report highlighting the 81-year-old Biden’s memory lapses, the president sought Thursday to assuage nagging concerns about his advanced age, fitness for office and lackluster poll numbers that risk dragging down congressional Democrats.

During campaign events Wednesday, Biden twice mentioned the late German Chancellor Helmut Kohl rather than former Chancellor Angela Merkel while recounting a 2021 conversation. It marked the second time this week Biden had recalled speaking with a European leader who had died years earlier.

And during his televised opening remarks to Democrats Thursday, Biden again made two minor gaffes. “I said I'm gonna be a president for everybody, whether you live in a red state or a green state," Biden said, rather than "red or blue" state. And instead of saying Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case, Biden appeared to say "Roe v. Word."

But after those public remarks, Biden held a closed-door question-and-answer period with Democratic lawmakers that received positive reviews.

“He did so well in this discussion with members,” Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., a top GOP target this fall, told NBC News. “He’s very sharp, no memory issues, and his only stumbling is when he trips over words consistent with his lifelong speech impediment.”

The House Democrats’ campaign chief this cycle, Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, said some Democrats facing tough races, known as frontliners , may campaign with Biden while others may not.

“So we expect that candidates are going to run campaigns based on what they think is right for their district. … Each of these districts is very different,” DelBene said.

Asked about whether he’s concerned that young and Black voters are souring on Biden, one of Biden’s closest allies rejected the notion.

“When I talk to those young people, they are all in for Joe Biden. And I keep hearing that he’s lost the youth vote. I keep hearing he’s lost the Black vote. South Carolina increased Black participation in their primary by 30%. And Joe Biden came out with 96% of the vote,” Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., told reporters at the issues conference.

“The proof is in the pudding,” added the longtime South Carolina congressman, who is 83 years old.

After Republican leaders abandoned the Senate border deal this week, the Biden administration signaled it’s considering taking executive action to halt record illegal migration across the southern border, U.S. officials told NBC News.

speech writer for the president

Scott Wong is a senior congressional reporter for NBC News.

Rebecca is a producer and off-air reporter covering Congress for NBC News, managing coverage of the House.

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Statement from President Joe   Biden on Today’s Deadly Gun   Violence

The Super Bowl is the most unifying event in America. Nothing brings more of us together. And the celebration of a Super Bowl win is a moment that brings a joy that can’t be matched to the winning team and their supporters. For this joy to be turned to tragedy today in Kansas City cuts deep in the American soul.

Today’s events should move us, shock us, shame us into acting. What are we waiting for? What else do we need to see? How many more families need to be torn apart?

It is time to act. That’s where I stand. And I ask the country to stand with me. To make your voice heard in Congress so we finally act to ban assault weapons, to limit high-capacity magazines, strengthen background checks, keep guns out of the hands of those who have no business owning them or handling them.

We know what we have to do, we just need the courage to do it.

Today, on a day that marks six years since the Parkland shooting, we learned that three police officers were shot in the line of duty in Washington, DC and another school shooting took place at Benjamin Mays High School in Atlanta.  Yesterday marked one year since the shooting at Michigan State University. We’ve now had more mass shootings in 2024 than there have been days in the year.

The epidemic of gun violence is ripping apart families and communities every day. Some make the news. Much of it doesn’t. But all of it is unacceptable. We have to decide who we are as a country. For me, we’re a country where people should have the right to go to school, to go to church, to walk the street — and to attend a Super Bowl celebration — without fear of losing your life to gun violence.

Jill and I pray for those killed and injured today in Kansas City, and for our country to find the resolve to end this senseless epidemic of gun violence tearing us at the seams.

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The 16 Most Powerful Presidential Speeches in American History

Posted: February 18, 2024 | Last updated: February 18, 2024

<p>Despite facing defeat in his re-election bid, Republican Bush left a significant mark during his presidency. He played a pivotal role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He orchestrated a military intervention to expel Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Bush endorsed his son’s successful 2000 presidential campaign through various public engagements. In a notable display of bipartisan collaboration, he partnered with his former rival Bill Clinton in 2005 to establish the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, raising over $100 million for hurricane victims in Louisiana. However, in 2017, Bush faced allegations of sexual harassment, vehemently denying any wrongdoing. The passing of George H. W. Bush in 2018 marked the conclusion of a consequential era in American politics.</p>

Presidential speeches often leave an indelible mark for their memorable phrases and as historical records, reflecting the zeitgeist of their era. These orations unfold in times of crises or challenges, yet they possess the power to inspire and uplift. Remarkably, brevity characterizes many iconic speeches, challenging the notion that impactful communication requires extensive verbosity. Lincoln’s renowned Gettysburg Address, lasting just over two minutes, exemplifies this conciseness. The potency of great speeches lies not in word quantity but in the precision and resonance of well-chosen expressions from dynamic speakers.

<p>“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”</p><p>Delivered on March 4, 1865, amid the concluding throes of the Civil War, President Lincoln’s second inaugural address marked a reflective pause. As the specter of reconstruction cast its shadow between the North and South, Lincoln contemplated the losses suffered and the potential gains ahead. Surprisingly concise, the address comprised a mere 700 words, requiring a brief five minutes for delivery. This straightforward reflection encapsulated Lincoln’s measured perspective on the nation’s journey during a pivotal historical moment.</p>

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Delivered on March 4, 1865, amid the concluding throes of the Civil War, President Lincoln’s second inaugural address marked a reflective pause. As the specter of reconstruction cast its shadow between the North and South, Lincoln contemplated the losses suffered and the potential gains ahead. Surprisingly concise, the address comprised a mere 700 words, requiring a brief five minutes for delivery. This straightforward reflection encapsulated Lincoln’s measured perspective on the nation’s journey during a pivotal historical moment.

<p>“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”</p><p>During an event marking Berlin’s 750th anniversary, President Reagan delivered a speech that garnered limited attention in the American press but faced criticism from Communist media outlets for its perceived inflammatory nature. Reagan’s staff had differing opinions on the speech’s tone and disarmament message. However, a pivotal phrase in the middle of the speech emerged as a rallying cry for Reagan’s last year in office, leaving a lasting impact despite initial controversy.</p>

Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate Speech

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

During an event marking Berlin’s 750th anniversary, President Reagan delivered a speech that garnered limited attention in the American press but faced criticism from Communist media outlets for its perceived inflammatory nature. Reagan’s staff had differing opinions on the speech’s tone and disarmament message. However, a pivotal phrase in the middle of the speech emerged as a rallying cry for Reagan’s last year in office, leaving a lasting impact despite initial controversy.

<p>“With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”</p><p>After his first term, President Washington initially penned a farewell address to the American people. Still, it opted for a second term due to the nation’s precarious state. Originally published in the American Daily Advertiser, the address circulated in papers and pamphlets nationwide. Interestingly, Washington never verbally delivered the address as a speech. The intricacies of this renowned farewell speech are further explored in detail by the <a href="https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/washington-farewell">Office of the Historian</a>, shedding light on its historical significance and the unique circumstances surrounding its creation.</p>

Washington’s Farewell Address

“With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”

After his first term, President Washington initially penned a farewell address to the American people. Still, it opted for a second term due to the nation’s precarious state. Originally published in the American Daily Advertiser, the address circulated in papers and pamphlets nationwide. Interestingly, Washington never verbally delivered the address as a speech. The intricacies of this renowned farewell speech are further explored in detail by the Office of the Historian , shedding light on its historical significance and the unique circumstances surrounding its creation.

<p><span>President Franklin Roosevelt used this Act during World War II to deport those considered enemies of America. These were people from Italy, Germany, and Japan. Trump’s use of the law for immigration enforcement is very different from how previous presidents have used it. This has led to debates over its relevance and constitutional legality.</span></p>

FDR’s Infamy Speech

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”

Addressing a Joint Session of Congress the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt’s speech aimed to portray America as a victim of an underhanded assault rather than a participant in a complex geopolitical conflict. The speech conveyed that isolationism was no longer tenable, spanning only seven minutes. Within an hour, the United States declared war on Japan. For a more in-depth exploration of FDR’s “Day of Infamy” Speech, the National Archives provides additional insights.

<p>“[W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”</p><p>Five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln delivered his renowned speech during the dedication of the military cemetery on the site. Curiously, no definitive final copy exists, as the five surviving manuscripts feature slight variations in word choices. Remarkably succinct, the speech comprised merely 10 sentences and spanned a concise two-and-a-half minutes during delivery. This brevity underscores the historical impact of Lincoln’s words, illustrating that potency can transcend verbosity in presidential oratory.</p>

The Gettysburg Address

“[W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, President Lincoln delivered his renowned speech during the dedication of the military cemetery on the site. Curiously, no definitive final copy exists, as the five surviving manuscripts feature slight variations in word choices. Remarkably succinct, the speech comprised merely 10 sentences and spanned a concise two-and-a-half minutes during delivery. This brevity underscores the historical impact of Lincoln’s words, illustrating that potency can transcend verbosity in presidential oratory.

<p>“There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life.”</p><p>As the inaugural president to actively engage with the press, Roosevelt revolutionized communication by holding conferences and incorporating the Press Secretary into his cabinet. In his April 1906 address, the progressive leader expressed solidarity with investigative journalists, exposing the injustices and exploitation rampant in America’s fast-industrializing society. Through this, he popularized the term “muckraker,” acknowledging the crucial role of journalists in uncovering societal challenges and fostering a sense of accountability.</p>

Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man with the Muck-Rake” Speech

“There are in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil man, whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, business, or social life.”

As the inaugural president to actively engage with the press, Roosevelt revolutionized communication by holding conferences and incorporating the Press Secretary into his cabinet. In his April 1906 address, the progressive leader expressed solidarity with investigative journalists, exposing the injustices and exploitation rampant in America’s fast-industrializing society. Through this, he popularized the term “muckraker,” acknowledging the crucial role of journalists in uncovering societal challenges and fostering a sense of accountability.

<p>“Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.”</p><p>Delivered a few months before the Republican nominating convention, Lincoln’s address at New York City’s Cooper Union is considered a pivotal factor in securing his nomination victory. Among Lincoln’s lengthier speeches, it extensively articulated his perspectives on the predominant issues of the era – slavery and secession. With a compelling and lucid presentation, he skillfully aligned his views with those of the Founding Fathers, leaving an indelible mark on the political landscape.</p>

Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech

“Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.”

Delivered a few months before the Republican nominating convention, Lincoln’s address at New York City’s Cooper Union is considered a pivotal factor in securing his nomination victory. Among Lincoln’s lengthier speeches, it extensively articulated his perspectives on the predominant issues of the era – slavery and secession. With a compelling and lucid presentation, he skillfully aligned his views with those of the Founding Fathers, leaving an indelible mark on the political landscape.

George W. Bush’s Post 9/11 Speech

“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, President Bush delivered a concise yet impactful message to a nation grappling with shock. As the perpetrators remained unidentified, Bush underscored the unwavering strength of the American spirit, urging citizens to stand firm and resist succumbing to fear about the uncertainties ahead. UVA Today explains further into the speech by President Bush.

<p>“…even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”</p><p>In a pivotal moment on March 15, 1965, President Johnson stood before a joint session of Congress, advocating for the Voting Rights Act and condemning the violent attacks on marchers in Selma, Alabama. Despite initial skepticism about Johnson’s commitment to civil rights due to his past positions, the sincerity of his advocacy became undeniable after the powerful and earnest speech.</p>

Johnson’s “We Shall Overcome” Speech

“…even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

In a pivotal moment on March 15, 1965, President Johnson stood before a joint session of Congress, advocating for the Voting Rights Act and condemning the violent attacks on marchers in Selma, Alabama. Despite initial skepticism about Johnson’s commitment to civil rights due to his past positions, the sincerity of his advocacy became undeniable after the powerful and earnest speech.

<p>“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”</p><p>In May 1961, President Kennedy initially voiced the United States’s goal to send a man to the Moon. However, it wasn’t until his September speech the following year, delivered before a massive audience at Rice University, that the concept genuinely struck a chord with the American people. In this address, Kennedy successfully generated enthusiasm for investing billions of dollars in a venture without assured success. Further insights into Kennedy’s space race speech are explored in <a href="https://www.astronomy.com/space-exploration/we-choose-to-go-to-the-moon-remembering-jfks-rice-university-speech/">Astronomy’s</a> article.</p>

Kennedy’s “We Choose to Go to the Moon” Speech

“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

In May 1961, President Kennedy initially voiced the United States’s goal to send a man to the Moon. However, it wasn’t until his September speech the following year, delivered before a massive audience at Rice University, that the concept genuinely struck a chord with the American people. In this address, Kennedy successfully generated enthusiasm for investing billions of dollars in a venture without assured success. Further insights into Kennedy’s space race speech are explored in Astronomy’s article.

<p>“Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East. We must take immediate and resolute action.”</p><p>In a significant address to a Joint Session of Congress on March 12, 1947, President Truman outlined the pressing crises in Greece and the Turkish Straits. Truman emphasized the United States’ commitment to containing the spread of Communism in these regions, introducing the influential “Domino Theory.” He underscored the interconnectedness of these nations, warning that the fall of one could lead to the fall of another, highlighting the perilous global landscape and the potential consequences of inaction. This speech is often cited as the inception of the Cold War era, shaping U.S. foreign policy for the ensuing four decades.</p>

“Truman Doctrine” Speech

“Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East. We must take immediate and resolute action.”

In a significant address to a Joint Session of Congress on March 12, 1947, President Truman outlined the pressing crises in Greece and the Turkish Straits. Truman emphasized the United States’ commitment to containing the spread of Communism in these regions, introducing the influential “Domino Theory.” He underscored the interconnectedness of these nations, warning that the fall of one could lead to the fall of another, highlighting the perilous global landscape and the potential consequences of inaction. This speech is often cited as the inception of the Cold War era, shaping U.S. foreign policy for the ensuing four decades.

<p>“I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself?”</p><p>Upon assuming office, Thomas Jefferson faced a contentious beginning marked by the Electoral College tie with Aaron Burr. The resolution unfolded in the House of Representatives, culminating in Jefferson’s triumph. In a pivotal moment for the developing nation, he emphasized the imperative of discovering common ground between the polarized political factions shaping American governance during the turbulent period of 1800.</p>

Jefferson’s First Inaugural

“I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself?”

Upon assuming office, Thomas Jefferson faced a contentious beginning marked by the Electoral College tie with Aaron Burr. The resolution unfolded in the House of Representatives, culminating in Jefferson’s triumph. In a pivotal moment for the developing nation, he emphasized the imperative of discovering common ground between the polarized political factions shaping American governance during the turbulent period of 1800.

<p>“[Disarmament] is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”</p><p>Addressing a nation preparing for war in 1941, Roosevelt emphasized the profound stakes of the Second World War. Often referred to as the “Four Freedoms Speech,” Roosevelt championed freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Although met with criticism from anti-war factions, the speech later became a concise representation of the motivations behind the United States’ involvement in the conflict.</p>

FDR’s 1941 State of the Union

“[Disarmament] is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

Addressing a nation preparing for war in 1941, Roosevelt emphasized the profound stakes of the Second World War. Often referred to as the “Four Freedoms Speech,” Roosevelt championed freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Although met with criticism from anti-war factions, the speech later became a concise representation of the motivations behind the United States’ involvement in the conflict.

<p>“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”</p><p>After securing a decisive win against Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt seized the moment to present a relatively concise speech lasting around 20 minutes to instill reassurance within the nation. The address gained renown for its positive and hopeful tone, even amidst the formidable challenges of the ongoing Great Depression.</p>

FDR’s First Inaugural Address

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

After securing a decisive win against Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt seized the moment to present a relatively concise speech lasting around 20 minutes to instill reassurance within the nation. The address gained renown for its positive and hopeful tone, even amidst the formidable challenges of the ongoing Great Depression.

<p>“As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”</p><p>Upon concluding his presidency in January 1961, President Eisenhower issued a cautionary note regarding the expanding power of the defense industry. He alerted the American public to the potential dangers of the significant increase in defense spending and arms production, foreseeing a threat to our liberty. Coined by Eisenhower, the term “military-industrial complex” has since become a commonplace expression highlighting the complex relationship between the military and defense contractors.</p>

Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

“As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Upon concluding his presidency in January 1961, President Eisenhower issued a cautionary note regarding the expanding power of the defense industry. He alerted the American public to the potential dangers of the significant increase in defense spending and arms production, foreseeing a threat to our liberty. Coined by Eisenhower, the term “military-industrial complex” has since become a commonplace expression highlighting the complex relationship between the military and defense contractors.

<p>“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”</p><p>President Kennedy delivered one of the briefest on record in his sole inaugural address, comprising fewer than 1,400 words and lasting a mere 13 minutes and 42 seconds. Despite its brevity, the address captured the imminent landscape of social change, economic prosperity, and political turbulence that Kennedy was set to navigate. This concise yet comprehensive articulation underscored the gravity of the era’s challenges and Kennedy’s preparedness for the multifaceted responsibilities ahead.</p>

Kennedy’s Inaugural Address

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

President Kennedy delivered one of the briefest on record in his sole inaugural address, comprising fewer than 1,400 words and lasting a mere 13 minutes and 42 seconds. Despite its brevity, the address captured the imminent landscape of social change, economic prosperity, and political turbulence that Kennedy was set to navigate. This concise yet comprehensive articulation underscored the gravity of the era’s challenges and Kennedy’s preparedness for the multifaceted responsibilities ahead.

<p><a href="https://becausemomsays.com/american-head-scratchers-18-european-traditions-that-leave-americans-perplexed/"><strong>18 EUROPEAN PRACTICES THAT BAFFLE AMERICANS</strong></a></p><p><a href="https://becausemomsays.com/festive-frustrations-american-celebrations-that-seem-like-a-total-waste/"><strong>FESTIVE FRUSTRATIONS – 15 AMERICAN CELEBRATIONS THAT SEEM LIKE A TOTAL WASTE</strong></a></p>

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MIT Office of the President

  • Writing & Speeches

Video transcript: Actions related to a student organization

View the video.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Before the start of this semester, in a letter to the whole community and one directly to students, we were very clear   about the rules of the road regarding campus demonstrations. These rules exist to ensure that we can make ample room for free expression – while also allowing everyone to pursue their work and lives here, safely and unimpeded.

Last night, members of the CAA – the Coalition Against Apartheid – once again conducted a demonstration on campus without going through the normal permission processes that apply to every student group at MIT.

Therefore, the CAA’s executive officers received a letter today from Vice Chancellor Suzy Nelson immediately suspending the CAA’s privileges as a recognized student organization. An official complaint has also been filed with the COD. 

This interim action means, among other things, that the group

  • is not allowed to reserve any space on campus for any purpose
  • is not allowed to use MIT facilities
  • will not receive standard funding of student groups
  • and will not be permitted to organize any further protests or demonstrations anywhere on our campus.

The suspension will remain in force until the Committee on Discipline makes a formal determination – our usual process in such cases. Individual cases referred to the COD will also come with interim restrictions.

I want to be clear that suspending the CAA is not related to the content of their speech. I fully support the right of everyone on our campus to express their views. 

However, we have clear, reasonable “time, place and manner” policies in place – for a good reason! The point of these policies is to make sure that members of the MIT community can work, learn and do their research on campus without disruption. We also need to keep the community safe – and we can’t do that without enough advance notice to organize staff and police resources. That’s why we have the rules.

We all know that universities have been the site of protest movements at many times in history.  But when students don’t respect the rules, we have to take steps to ensure the safety and smooth functioning of the campus community.

#          #          #

Now, just a closing word – returning to something I’ve raised repeatedly regarding how we treat each other.

I’m sure by now that almost everyone in our community has heard me emphasize that there is a difference between what we can say – that is, what we have a right to say – and what we should say.

I understand that many of you feel that what you should say in this moment is in fact a passionate expression of your political views about the causes you believe in. 

However, I hope that all of us can find a way to express our political views with a basic sense of respect and empathy for other members of our community.

It is, for example, legitimate to criticize the policies of any government, including the current government of Israel – as indeed many Israelis do. But as members of one community, we shouldn’t feel it’s OK to vilify and shun Israeli and Jewish members of our community. 

Equally, we shouldn’t feel it’s OK to vilify everyone who advocates for the Palestinian people as “supporting Hamas.” 

And we definitely shouldn’t feel it’s OK to single out other members of our community because of where they’re from or what they believe – and tell them that they’re “not welcome” on our campus. And of course, we do not tolerate threats to physical safety.

I have very high expectations for anyone privileged to be part of this community. In a time of exceptional turmoil and polarization, I don’t see how we can do the important work of MIT if we can’t find a way to speak to what’s important to us without damaging the fabric of our community.  We must find a way to live and work together.

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COMMENTS

  1. White House Director of Speechwriting

    The White House Director of Speechwriting is a role within the Executive Office of the President of the United States. The officeholder serves as senior advisor and chief speechwriter to the president of the United States. They are also responsible for managing the Office of Speechwriting within the Office of Communications. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

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  10. Young Leaders Network: The Art of Presidential Speechwriting

    The John Brademas Center at New York University, as part of the 2018 Young Leaders Network series, hosted a dialogue with John P. McConnell, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and June Shih, former speechwriter to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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  13. Speechwriter

    U.S. President Barack Obama and aides Carol Browner, David Axelrod, and Jon Favreau working on a speech in June 2010. A speechwriter is a person who is hired to prepare and write speeches that will be delivered by another person. Speechwriters are employed by many senior-level elected officials and executives in the government and private sectors.

  14. PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITERS

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  18. White House Announces Additional Staff

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    Which U.S. Presidents Were the Greatest Writers? - The Atlantic Books Three Authentic Writers Have Occupied the Oval Office On the literary merits of presidential writing By James Parker...

  21. Presidential Speech Writers

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  25. Vinay Reddy

    Vinay Reddy is an American speechwriter and political advisor serving as the White House director of speechwriting. Reddy was chief speechwriter to Joe Biden during his second term as vice president. After the Obama administration, Reddy worked as vice president of strategic communications for the National Basketball Association.

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    June 1, 1955 (age 68) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. Political party. Republican. Education. Bucknell University ( BA) Sciences Po ( MA) Bently Thomas "Ben" Elliott is an American writer who served as President Ronald Reagan 's director of speechwriting from 1982 to 1986. In this capacity he directed better known speechwriters like Peggy ...