Skip to main content

tv   The Presidency Presidential Speechwriters  CSPAN  May 6, 2022 5:26pm-6:28pm EDT

5:26 pm
house speech writers talk about the process of turning a president's policies and politics into a speech. this was from the presidential ideas festival. it is about an hour. >> we appreciate you coming, i know there are a few other panels going at the same time. thank you for picking this one. we will make it worth your while, for those of you in the wrong place, this is the one on speech writing. today we are really lucky, my name is --
5:27 pm
connor and i am a former speechwriter. we are really happy to have a former -- another person who worked for president clinton was supposed to be here, had a conflict come up in d. c. we will tell you many stories as we can remember from him. we have heard a few. my hope is to use about half of this time to talk about the questions that i have for these two.we will spend other half taking any questions that you have. if there is one thing i hope you take away from this whole session it is that being a presidential speechwriter is exactly what you would think it would be like on the west wing. that is it. i am kidding, it is much more like veep. since this is the presidential ideas festival, i will start off with a question for these two on the relationship about ideas and speeches. sometimes what starts off as an idea ends up in a speech, sometimes the speech writing process starts before they have the idea. just curious, what do you think? what would you share about that process and how an idea becomes a speech? >> i think, in a weird way,
5:28 pm
speechwriters, we are not coming up with the ideas. there are much smarter people in the building who are developing the ideas. in a way, i think that these ideas kind of get, they do not get crystallized until they get litigated on the page. a lot of speechwriting ends up being a process job, where you are managing the various interests of different policy staff. they all have different equities and different interests and want different ideas and you are helping them shape how you will vet that process. in that process a lot of ideas, i have found, especially with bigger policies have been made through the speechwriting process. we are not making the decisions but they are happening on your page. in our white house with president obama, a speech might get assigned to us. a speech on, say, a new trade policy, the first thing we would do is go
5:29 pm
talk to the folks who were involved in that trade policy. get their input until we know what was going to be said. then go to the drafting process. the process helped crystalize with the ideal is going to be. >> working for george w. bush was a unique experience in the sense that, he had, when i worked for him he was governor of texas. he had gotten elected to that position on a reform agenda, four things he wanted to do for the state of texas. it was a policy driven campaign. when i joined the bush operation he was a full-fledged presidential candidate and that was also a campaign on issues. it was a very disciplined process with him. you had your policy team, the speechwriting team would be given the policy. it was our job to turn it into a nice, presentable and persuadable speech. it was a very good policy operation and when the president got up to give a
5:30 pm
speech on whatever it was he was proposing, it represented what he really wanted to say about it and also represented a very disciplined process that had been underway for some weeks or months prior to the event itself. it is also the case that working with george w. bush we found ourselves in many ways, a crisis of presidency. things kept happening. of course, the ultimate was the 9/11 experience and the monday after 9/11, the president made the decision he was going to address the joint session of congress. more precisely, he was probably going to address the joint session of congress but he wanted to see a speech draft before he made his final decision. so, it was our job to -- do a speech for the president that monday. he asked that he be given the entire
5:31 pm
speech that day. the assignment came that morning. as much as we protested it was made clear to us that we had to get it done. we got to work, it was not as if we were lacking for subject matter, or material. we knew exactly what we needed to write about. but, we did need some policy direction, which we received. mike -- talked to condie rice that morning. then, at about 1:00 that afternoon we get called over to the oval office to see the president. we had seen him quite a bit since the attacks the previous tuesday. but we had not seen him since we have gotten this assignment, obviously, we were brought in and he asked how the drafting was going. i am sure mike, speaking for the group, said it is going fine mister president but we are not quite there. and he looked at us, he said americans have questions. they want to know who attacked our country, they want to know why they hate us, they want to
5:32 pm
know what is expected of us now, and they want to know if we are in a war how we are going to fight and win the war. and from there we had a structure for the speech itself. people can go back and look at that speech to congress the following thursday, the president went through those questions, and, because, i have always thought because he gave us that basic construct in the beginning we were able to finish the draft that day. we did not have a conclusion ready, he allowed us to move that over into tuesday. >> sarah, you talk about how president obama would give you a framework for a speech like
5:33 pm
that, he is a lawyer. he would always give me point 1, 1a, 1b. >> literally, 1a, 1b. i think it is interesting about president obama, he himself as a writer and if he had time he would probably write the speeches better than we would himself. the commander-in-chief does not have time to write speeches. what would happen is you would go in the oval office and sit down with him, he would just start riffing. and then, maybe seven minutes and he would say, okay, okay so here is what i am thinking. one, and then he would start and give you your opening. one, two, and he would give you the next paragraph.1a, he would go back and give you that. he would walk you through the outline. it was so irritating as a writer because you had been sitting in your office trying to come up with a structure for hours, and you could spend ten minutes with him and he has the whole thing done. it was both inspiring and incredibly annoying. he was really good at this. that was also interesting is i think one of the challenges of being a president, really elected leaders in general, i worked for a senator for years and saw this same
5:34 pm
dynamic. which is that you are going from a very different event two very different event in the course of a very busy day. so, he might be talking and having a meeting with me about the national prayer breakfast speech. but right before that he was in a situation room talking about china with people who are may more important than i am. and then after that he is going to a ceremony with the girl scouts. the day is so fragmented and your mind has to very quickly shift. for a whole host of reasons, president obama as a lawyely writer and someone, like president bush, who is extremely disciplined was able to shift. we were working on the remarks when pope francis came to visit the united states, and when the pope as the head of the state, of the vatican, we did a proper state arrival. it was a very early morning speech, they do
5:35 pm
the state arrivals on the south lawn starting a seven or eight in the morning, quite early. i had been working on a speech and handed then a draft a couple of days earlier, and then our white house the process was that the draft, the chief speech writer would edit it and then it would go around the building too many people for their input and edits. this included lawyers, fact checkers, our white house had fact checkers. [laughs] >> so did john's. >> good ones, yes. >> good ones, policy people, they would offer their input which we would then incorporate. eventually the draft would go to the president. we had probably spoken to him beforehand about the speech but then it would go through the process and go back to him. i had sent it into him a couple of nights earlier and i got it back. only one word was crossed out. and i thought, this cannot be right, the president loved pope francis, he felt very strongly was excited about this arrival. i could not imagine that he had no edits. of course, i get a
5:36 pm
call from the president secretary the morning before the speech and she says, he was not done editing and he wants you up here. i go up to the oval office and he is sitting behind the desk, and his very neat handwriting he is making edits. he says come on in. i do a very bad obama impression. he says i was not quite done, i really want to blow out this section where we talk about pope francis's emphasis on the least of these. those who are most in need. that really ties to my own faith and i want to focus on that. it was not to be a long speech but he wanted to blow that out a little bit. he said go work on this, send me a draft, i will look at it over lunch. i go back to my office, i work on it i get another call around lunchtime. i am summoned back as i go into the oval office. i do not see him, and his secretary says no he is
5:37 pm
having lunch in his private dining room, go back there. i have never been back there. so, i am both terrified and trying to take and everything that is on the walls as i make this to two-second walk to the private dining room. he is in there in a plate of carrots or something he [laughs]. he has made his edits and he wants me to read them and understand that he is doing. i see that he has blown out that section a little more and added a little piece about refugees. later on i learned that he had actually been in a meeting related to refugees. you could see the evolution of his thinking, but he was going to do something else right after that, he said go make these edits, and send me back a draft. i am going to go meet the pope at andrews later but i will take a look at it tonight. i send it back and maybe are on the end of the night i sent him to get those edits. he had a few more, but what was interesting was to watch the evolution of his thinking. even though there was so much going on, this is what any president
5:38 pm
has. in those few minutes he had to sort of focus in on the speech, he was able to give it the thinking he needed. not that it was not influenced on what was going on throughout the day, it was, but just the ability of a person in that office to continually give something its focus. and, tend to it, even though there is all this other stuff going. >> that's one of the value adds that speechwriting brings to a president. they have so much going on. give him something to react to. give him something to look at. president bush, he wasn't really a writer, but he was a really serious editor, very, very confident editor. he had this very logical mind. he could read -- you heard me tell this story. he could read an eight-page speech draft, throw down on his desk, look at the ceiling, and recite you the
5:39 pm
outline of the speech. i'm not capable of doing that. but, he could internalize it. he called me one morning, real early, and he was going to give a speech across town. there were these things that were not related. so, in the middle of the speech, you have to connect the two, and he was going through his final read through before being taken over to the hilton or whatever. he said, what is this on page 3? middle graph. it was, you know, 6:30 in the morning or something. i said, well, it's in the nature of a transition, mister president. and he says, it's just words, isn't it? and i said, yes sir. he said, take it down. he wanted direct, clear, and he could feel, in the way sorenson used to describe john f. kennedy, he could feel the momentum of the words. and if he didn't feel it in the speech, he saw a problem. >> interesting. >> but, give him something to react to. the morning of 9/11, i was sitting with vice
5:40 pm
president cheney. and the reason i was with him, was that he had a speech coming up that friday. and the arrangement we always had was, i'm not going to go in and say, you have a speech on friday. what do you want to say? i'm going to come in and say, you have a speech on friday. here's what i recommend. here's something. and then, you can get the gears turning and something to react to. because, they have so many other things going on. oh, i've got to givve a foreign policy speech in chicago. no, don't do that to them. bring them something. >> yeah, go ahead. >> no, go ahead. >> i was going to, say that sounds really familiar to me. i had to write a speech that president obama gave. it was a speech at morehead college, which was a historically black college in atlanta. i remember walking into the oval office, and my boss, said kyle has some
5:41 pm
ideas for ways to tailor the morehouse crowd. there is a picture, at the time, telling me what i thought i should say. he looks at me, as the first black president, and says, i'm going to let you finish, and then say what you should say. so, that was embarrassing. you probably remember this to, but the editing, the more editing you got from obama, the better. he, like if he had spent time at night writing it out on the yellow pad with your draft next room, that was great. it meant he was completely engaged. if he had a bunch of edits on the page, that was fine. would he never wanted to, get was that note on the top that said, please come see me. because then it's, like we are starting over. you are starting over. >> yes, it's bad. but, it's true. you always want the person you are working with to be engaged with a draft. i was also going to respond to something john said, which was really important. president bush was looking for that momentum in his speech. and here, i can represent our colleague who is missing, jeff. i worked with him for many years, and one of the things he taught me was that a speech had to have a sense of inevitability about it. so, you are building an argument through our speech. there is
5:42 pm
momentum. but by the time we get to the, and the audience says, obviously. this is where we are. we get to the point, and there is an inevitability about it. you, know what president bush saw with that bad transition was, there is no sense of inevitability. his momentum got broken. i was thinking, you can do the joe biden transition, look folks. just pivot to a different topic. but, bush wouldn't like that. >> no, so we are all speech writers, but not all speeches were the same, and not all ways the president gets the message across is the same. so, whether it's the state of the union, a major address, a press conference just talking to reporters, just doing something on social media, where do you feel like president bush and president obama were best? and, where do you feel like they were not as good, and how, you know, any stories about good or bad examples? >> he was pretty good in all these settings. i always -- the issue of authenticity comes up. nowadays, you hear people say,
5:43 pm
well, it's more authentic if someone just tweets something off the top of their head, or it's more authentic if they are doing an interview, or just something more off the cuff, town hall meeting, that sort of thing. and, you can be authentic. of course, you can be your authentic self, but you also are authentic when you are saying what you want to say. in the best way you know how to say it, that's actually authentic. i saw--in here at this conference, and he is writing an essay on reagan's address at moscow state university back in 1988. that speech, reagan's speech at the berlin wall, a memorable speech, one of the greatest speeches in the english language, remembered by everybody. it was worked on very, very closely by the speechwriter, secretary of
5:44 pm
-- i think was involved. the president, himself. there wasn't a spare word, afterward in the speech. it was a very carefully worked on a speech. nobody is going to say that wasn't authentic, because reagan wasn't standing there saying what had just popped into his mind. there was nothing more authentically reagan than that. >> being prepared as being respectable for audience as well. >> yeah, and respectful of the time. what president bush would, do i remember he did a town hall meeting in kansas. and, i wasn't on the trip, but i saw it on c-span or something. the next time i saw him, i said, do you know you are up there for an hour and a half? answering questions from the audience? he did, but he said at the time, he said, i had no idea i was up there that long. but, it was very good event. he had his microphone. and when he would come into an event like that, he wouldn't have a prepared speech, and he would tell us, don't waste your time. i'm giving a prepared speech for the first couple of minutes of a town hall. and, he would make his own notes about things he wanted to say. and when i say
5:45 pm
notes, i mean tax plan, public schools, freedom. [laughs] >> there is always freedom. >> yeah, always freedom. and, he was very good in all settings as well. i also felt that his secret weapon was the press conference because the late icons were always making fun of georgia which is where he stumbles, especially if he was reading a speech, pronouncing a, name something like that. they would catch him, and then they would run these things constantly. but then, everybody, at some point in the course of the year, everybody is going to see the president, or hear him in a situation that they are, kind, of it's the only thing they can listen to. they are in the car, and the president is making an announcement, or there's a press conference that's interesting, or something. you listen to bush, and i think a lot of people thought, well actually, he is very well formed, and very well spoken. this is really not what i was expecting. because, most people are busy with their lives. but in these moments, these rare moments when they hear him for 15 minutes or so, he would
5:46 pm
sound pretty good. and that's why i say, it was a secret weapon. >> he is also really funny. >> yes. >> president bush is really funny >> he didn't have to write jokes. he tried, but he came up with the best one. and >> i'm curious what you would say to. this we know, president obama's reputation as someone who gives these, sort of, soaring speeches with a lot of rhetorical flourish. and some of the seminal speeches of the last ten years have been ones that he gave at these really critical moments. you know, whether it was that 2008 philadelphia speech about race, selma, charleston, these are speeches that he put a lot of thought into, right? as john says, sort of, he was saying the thing he wanted to say, that he was prepared to say. but, i also think that, i'm sure you guys felt this because kyle was first time in half, and i was a second term. we were, it sort, of his presidency followed the growth of social media. and so, it was a whole other opportunity to, you know, communicate in a new way, and also screw up in a new
5:47 pm
way, but to really reach audiences in different ways. and so, you know, when he -- and, i think that he really followed mrs. obama's lead on this. i mean firstly, he was such, so on the cutting edge of using social media to reach audiences. you know, she wanted to meet people where they were. so, she was always, you know, getting to young people through whatever social media channel they were using. she went on ellen all the time. she knew that those were the audiences of women who watch ellen, people that she wanted to reach with her policy ideas, and to also shift to culture around issues like a college access, you know, healthier food for children. so, she was really good about that. she wasn't above any of that. and, i think that helped, kind of, also inspired the presidents to get more bold about social media,
5:48 pm
too. so, he did the between two ferns video, which some of you might remember, you know, to encourage people to sign up for a health care. but then, he also did things like, he did a facebook live video to encourage young people to sign up for facebook. and then, it turns out young people aren't on facebook. so then, he used snapchat, or i forget what it's called now, or something like that. but, you know, to remind young people to fill out the fafsa form. he went to places where they were. at one point, we had a day where he was interviewed by a bunch of youtube stars, and i didn't, at the time, know what a youtube star is, but these are young people who have these shows on youtube, and have millions of followers. and, your traditional journalists were extremely angry that he was doing interviews with, you know, these young people who are not
5:49 pm
serious journalists, and wasn't, you know, speaking to the face of the nation or whatever. but, he really feel like this was an opportunity to reach young people, and, you know, there are pitfalls to all of this, but i feel like, you know, throughout his eight years, he was really good about finding ways to use every medium at his disposal to get his message across. it didn't always work. but, he tried. >> a couple quick points about. bush he was very, funny as you said. he used the first page of his speech. he would take acknowledgment, that would just be names. we wouldn't write these acknowledgments, and he would write off the names, and that's where a lot of that humor came from in this speech. he wanted to thank, you know, the person who introduced him, and the local dignitaries, and the band, everybody. and, he would riff on these things. and, then he would come up with these things. somebody asked him the stories i'm, or maybe a movie set around the time of lincoln, or one of the books about lincoln, some president said they saw lincoln's ghost. have you ever seen lincoln's
5:50 pm
ghost? said no, i quit drinking in 1986. but, cheney was -- he has a great sense of humor, very, very, kind of, kind of, low-key delivery, but very good timing. and, he called me one-time. and it was in the morning. i picked up the phone, and it was that deep voice of dick cheney. said john, i've gotten us into some trouble. and i said, oh? he said, yeah. the president is going to europe, and he is not going to go to the radio tv correspondents dinner. so, i've got to go there tomorrow, and be funny for ten minutes. and then he says, i don't do funny. [laughs] but the truth is, he does. and my colleague, matthew scully and i sat down. we hurriedly put together a speech for him for the next night, i think it was. and, he did a great job. he was very good at that. >> i want to ask you this, question because i actually don't know the answer. the way the correspondents dinner works, there's usually a lead writer,
5:51 pm
the funny speech writer. i was never the funny speech writer. but, everybody else kind of submit jokes to that person, and they will kind of pick some. so, they will spend a lot of time on a page or two of jokes and give them to our funny speech writer. he was very good, about it and he would maybe choose one, maybe zero. did you ever take jokes that were expected in the correspondence? >> i can remember. i think, maybe. so, tyler ran our speech writing process for that. honestly, i can't remember. yeah, there was, sort of, this pressure to get jokes. but, people sent jokes in, unsolicited and solicited from the outside, too. right? so, whoever was running, was sleeping on the correspondence it was getting all kinds of emails from everybody, you know? suggesting jokes, but then also, might reach out to, you know, comedians, comedy writers, and others for help, too, so it was this big, huge undertaking. it always had, you know, the state
5:52 pm
of the union is a really hard speech to right, and he might always see, you know, cody would grow a beard during the state of the union season, and shave it at the end. but, the white house correspondents dinner felt like that too, because there was so much pressure. you know, like president bush, president obama is pretty funny naturally. and so, you know, he can do that delivery. it's all about delivery and timing. they were both good about that. you can trust them to deliver. but, the pressure to really pull off these speeches was, i think, so great. >> well, it going back to the thing you said about compartmentalizing, the president being really good at that. this is a story some of you may have heard. there is the correspondents dinner, i think, a few years into his presidency, when there was a joke in it, where i think his middle name was hussein. there
5:53 pm
was a joke where, you really don't know there is a republican politician whose middle name is hussein. and, our speech writers finalize the speech for the white house correspondents dinner, and they said, i think i'll just cut this part out. we will make it some other name. >> change it. >> yeah, you remember who the republican was? >> i can't. >> so, he changed it. we were like, okay, that works. it turns out, that was the day that he learned about the mission to --, and he had just
5:54 pm
come from a meeting in the situation room. and later the, night they were going to actually do it. but, he didn't let on. he just did. it said, let's now do that into the speech. the speech writers didn't know that. it is book, david writes about how annoyed he was. that -- isn't as funny as osama. >> switch gears. >> yes. switch. gears >> one of the tough jobs as a speech writers is to reach different audiences, members of congress, the, public press. how would you think about, as you are writing the speech, which audience you are talking to? >> that is always the first question. what's the audience? it's an exaggeration, but in a certain sense you are halfway there and when you know who the audiences. is it your friends? is the on persuaded? is it an academic audience? is it the core, the great at the naval academy? is it the chicago world affairs council? it is the veterans of foreign wars? you find out with your audiences, and then you know probably how you are going to get into the speech, what's the general tone of the presentation is going to be, and things of that nature. however, it is the president speaking and therefore, as he always told us, everything is important. we weren't to think of a small rose garden event for teacher of the year as
5:55 pm
unimportant. actually, it was an important event, and it was part of the full volume of statements he made as president of the united states. also, he was always after us never to skip a step in making a case. even if you risk speaking to the audience of people who are likely to be in agreement with what you are saying, don't skip a logical step. because the president always has a broader audience. if he's making his case for social security reform, and he skips over the hard part, and just tells you all the great things that are going to happen, a person who disagrees, and maybe even a person who has not done a lot of thinking about it, will be oh well now you've skipped a step. he was always after us to explain things regardless of who the audience was. >> you can get bogged down in the fear of the audience. like john said, the audience is the world, for really any speech. we never know who is paying
5:56 pm
attention. i would have relatives in india saying that one of the president's speeches was reported on a paper there. you just never know. by the time we came into office, everything is on twitter. you could watch a speech i would do this sometimes, a speech that i would work, on i'm watching on tv, and i'm watching twitter at the same time, and it is a really great way to lose your mind. because you can see how any given news outlet will just filter pieces of that speech through its own view, and then slice and dice and reinterpret it however you want. and it appears on twitter from a very different way than you intended. all this can make you lose your mind. but we have to think about who the primary audience is. one of our
5:57 pm
colleagues, terry --, he once said to me when i was working on a speech for memorial day, he said, you could get bogged down in all the people are paying attention, so focus on the emotional heart center of the speech. who is the person whose heart you are most likely, wanting to touch? so for memorial day, it's a spouse of a fallen soldier. start with that and then move broader. that was a helpful way to stay focused and not lose sight, and not let twitter ruin your life.
5:58 pm
-- i have one more question. then will start taking questions from the audience. there's a big difference between writing a foreign policy speech and domestic speeches. can you talk about, based on what we have seen our colleagues, what's the different considerations are for those two? >> you want to start? >> well, i was fortunate to be a lawyer by training, but i am not an expert in any kind of a policy area. i had to write speeches about things, that in many cases, i had not done much thinking about. one of the great things about working at the white house is that you have policy experts. they love talking about their area of expertise, and they are very good at it. i was always toggling back and forth between the foreign policy slash military stuff, and the
5:59 pm
domestic, and all the other things -- president bush, his signature issue as governor of texas was education reform, and he wanted it to be the signature issue of his presidency. that was -- coauthored the legislation that bush signed, and it was really a big part of what he wanted to accomplish. it fell far into the background. but we can never make him happy with an education speech. he knew too much about it at the granular level detail that speech writers never get. so it went through the process, and everything seemed fine, and we get to the president, and he would say, you didn't get it, you don't have, you don't have it. so, one time, in 2004, the middle of the election campaign, a lot going on, i said to mike and matthew, the you know the president is not like the last education speech. we have another one to do. let's take what he didn't use and look at the transcript of what he actually said, and use that. so we did. we took the transcript of that last speech, we cleaned it up, and put in some current
6:00 pm
references, this current facts and data to freshen up, and, i thought, this is what he wanted to say. clearly that day, it was a rare event he had a speech that even use. but it was education, so we just wanted to do his own thing. we took that transcript, make that
6:01 pm
into a speech, send that to the president to see if he likes. that word comes back, he loves that. it's exactly what he wanted. because he wrote. >> so, my understanding from colleagues who worked with bill clinton's that, previously the speech writers were all in one shop, then when sandy burger was national security adviser for clinton, he really wanted the foreign policy speech writer under his purview, so it moved over to the national security council. when we were in the white house, our colleagues who wrote foreign policy speeches, --, they're email addresses were in scc, not g. o v like ours were. there were nurses they were technically part of the nsc. -- they were looking at classified materials to write speeches. it was a very different process. the few times i did have to work with and nsc staff, and foreign policy, i realized, it really is a different ball game. foreign leaders and populations of foreign countries are looking to the president of the united states and what he says, they are pouring over every word that he says in a way that nobody is pouring over my economic policy speech. there's a level of care that needs to be given to those speeches. now that you're not careful about every single speech, but the consideration that goes into this different speeches really different. that has an effect on the pros. i've been going back and forth with various members of an s c staff, who wanted something said in a very precise way, but that didn't sound like human but what was accurate and precise in the way that they needed. i remember one friend from the nsc told me that he wasn't a speech writer, he was a policy person but he was helping one of his bosses with remarks that
6:02 pm
she was giving somewhere. and in the speech, the draft said something like we are going to do this for the american people. and the nsc lawyers came back and said you have to say u.s. persons. you can't say the american people. which is of course, ridiculous. but there are just these considerations that are just different from foreign policy. >> a piece of trivia. when the president of the united states goes abroad, all of the public remarks he's going to make on that trip, whether it's two days or ten, those are all done and cleared and approved before air force one leaves the united states. so it is a real crunch for speech writing before. >> please tell us your name. >> as a former resident of south carolina, and charleston,
6:03 pm
i would like to hear you elaborate on his decision to sing amazing grace. >> do you know cody's story about this? go for it. >> we will tell our boss's story. i wasn't involved in writing the charleston speech, and i wasn't there. our director of speech writing tells the story that they were actually on the plane, heading down there, and the president said there's a fifty fifty chance i will sing. i think it was probably in the moment that he felt that it was the right thing, he felt it. >> and our boss who wrote that speech with him said he would never have imagined suggesting that he sing it. he said i think he should just stick with the song, but yes, in the moment. >> thank you. >> to what extent do you try to speak in the voice of the president? to mimic his phraseology, or to make it sound like something that he himself would say? or is that a road too far? >> that's a huge part of the speech writer's job. i would
6:04 pm
say it's the hardest aspect of the beginning of speech writing, getting someone's voice, speaking like they would speak. >> does it come from getting to the know them well? or how does that work? >> i think once you overcome the initial hurdle of how am i going to sound like a fifty-year-old black man who's the leader of the free world when i'm me is to think about how that voice, the idea of how somebody speaks, their voice is really about how they think. if you start there, then you'll understand what words they use, what phrases they gravitate towards, but how do they approach the world? how do they approach problems? at least for me, you had a lot more time
6:05 pm
with president bush certainly that i did with president obama, as soon as i got to the white house and got that job offer i immersed myself in everything i could about him. i read his books. i read every speech he had given. i watched when he was on jimmy fallon. i spent a lot of time immersing myself in the mind and soul of barack obama, which is kind of creepy that i think is how you sort of, you wake up in the morning, and you're not thinking what do i think about what happened in the world? you're thinking what does barack obama think about what happened in the world? >> when i left the white house, there were a few months there where i was writing emails to friends as barack obama. doctor kyle. >> i imagine many of the presidents'speeches are re-written and re-written endlessly and cleared by dozens and dozens of people. mechanically, how do you know with the draft is, given moment a? two, the practical question. what happens to all the drafts? are they shredded? are they erased? are the files sent to the archives? or what? >> everything for us was comments in the speech writing office, say five o clock on the same day that the draft went around the staffing process.
6:06 pm
during the draw during the staffing process, nobody was given a electronic copy of the speech. colin powell said one time, everybody likes to dream papers. everybody would love to get on the computer and play wizard word. we insisted on edits on a hard copy. they'd come to us. we'd have a stack of copies. >> i really wish we had done that. >> there's no other way to do it because you put it in their hand, and also when somebody has to take the time to write something, that's thinking too,
6:07 pm
rather than just dashing something off, the idea of having all of these electronic copies of the speech, redlined and all of that, it made our job miserable. but the hard copy, you go through them. and the president, if you worked on a speech, your name and your phone number was on the bottom of the last page. and the president always made clear, and the vice president, you are accountable for this speech, which means that you have the power to make sure that the speech still works as a whole. that doesn't mean that you can overrule the national security adviser on a question of wording or whatever. but it does mean that when you get all of these multiple suggestions from people who haven't done a lot of thinking about the speech, maybe just commenting on the fly, and don't feel strongly about the suggestion they are making, all those factors come into play. but it is your responsibility to go through those and accommodate the changes that need to be accommodated. laugh at the ones that you know you can't work with >> right. exactly. become annoyed at people who don't appreciate the artistry and all
6:08 pm
of that. but that's the only -- to answer the question, that you have to process stick to the process. otherwise it becomes chaos. the final thing is what happens to the drafts. they are in the bush memory. all of those papers, we had to give everything, two sets were on, it it became a record. >> actually going forward from where we are in the world, and the current occupant of the white house, you should know that they can't just throw things out. every record must be kept under federal law to that effect. i was just going to say that we unfortunately did not have people do handwritten edits, i surely wish we did. but i think everybody had a different method. similarly, five o clock every day we circulated, i think most speech writers that i know, we are all kind of obsessive about version control. so i have a elaborate system of how i need my files to make sure that i'm looking at the right version. when i got a lot of edits, i would actually print out all the edits that i got so i could check off that i got through
6:09 pm
all of them. oftentimes, if, i might be getting a bunch of edits from members of the same team, say the economic policy team, i would ask them to combine them all, litigate among themselves what they wanted to send me, and then send it to me. i wouldn't accept, you know, different edits from people on the same team. >> there is also a mental game in the people that you had to take into account, and those you could ignore. obviously we didn't tell them. yes please. >> hi. thank you for coming, first of all. you mentioned earlier that when you're writing a speech the ideas can just be your own, as just mentioned, you can't overrule
6:10 pm
the director of the nsc, so there are certain factors have to take into consideration. you're the voice of the leader of the free world, and that carries some weight. to what extent did you feel you had influence over policy as a speech writer? >> i don't know. i personally didn't feel any influence over actual policy. a couple of our colleagues were also policy people, like ben rhodes, who was very instrumental in president obama's foreign policy. but i did feel like i had some influence in shaping how he talked about something. so specifically, by the time that i got there, i felt like i could kind of help the president be more vocal about his feminism. so i used various opportunities, like essays we, had and then culminating a speech that the white house held in 2016, that i could kind of build up and sort of help him find a voice. give voice to
6:11 pm
what i knew he truly believed. and that i could push it and see whether he pushed back in a way. i worked on a team of men, so i felt like i had the ability to do that. and to kind of challenge it a little bit. and through each piece of writing about this issue that we did, i could kind of push the envelope a little bit more, little more, so the by the time he gave that speech, and got up in this on stage in front of thousand people that this is why the feminist looks like. and it took, you know, just slowly moving us in that direction and it. and it wasn't, it wasn't that i was putting an idea and he said. it's something that he already had. i was just helping him find voice, giving it voice. >> you know, the thing that is most rewarding about wrecking for a president, the president you're like, it is -- and the vice president, i have to say as well -- is that the reasons you're like the person you are
6:12 pm
writing for, you want the whole country to see -- >> yes what you like about the person. and so you think that when you're writing. and i don't consider that as having influence on policy, so much as getting him confidence, expressing his best thoughts. you know, putting all you can into it to ensure that the qualities you're like and admire are there for all to see. i will quickly add in the bush cheney white house, mike carson, the chief speech writer for the president more than half the administration, was a senior policy adviser. and so, he was, you know, he had real standing on the white house staff and that was a good inference because he was very good at what it. >> it [inaudible] was in the circle of people didn't care about something, i remember when i was a, when they tried to pass health care, and so that was important because he spoke on offered a lot, he had to persuade people
6:13 pm
including members of congress and people in the different states to not only approve this law, but to sign up. and we ended up doing through all the letters. president obama received thousands of letters and read ten every night, including for people who are saying, you know, these are the issues i am dealing with, i've been through, this is why this is really important. and so we will tell a lot of the stories as a way to help people understand why this writers. and [inaudible] make a difference for. yeah. >> this is a bit short. and also, my good friend just basically put together a much more eloquent version of the question i had. [laughter] so i'm a little bit of a scramble right now. but i think, if i were to shift the perspective a little bit on how [inaudible] a speech would have interest, i think that something that's been talked a lot about the the in this festival is the idea that the president starts himself with people who are willing and able to respectfully disagree and whole discourse in front of him or her, when we ever get a female
6:14 pm
president. and i think one of the questions i had was, you know, in the time that u.s. speech writers, where they are moments where you were able to challenge the president on a way that he would, he was approaching a certain topic or issue or perhaps even just the topic itself? where they are places where you are able to have that kind of discourse with him and kind of show that there was maybe a different path to what he was originally thinking? >> not many times. i mean, they were -- but i will say, you know, if there were something i really felt strongly about that i wanted to say to president bush about policy, i wouldn't, i wouldn't say, mister president, can i have you for a second? but i remember talking to a deputy chief of staff wants about something that i had a strong opinion on. and that was good enough. because i knew that this would be presented to the president. i didn't care if he said you,
6:15 pm
know, whose thought it was. and the vice president, you can be a little more free with the vice president cheney, you know, he's not a man in the oval office, but he was a, he was a chief of staff to a president, secretary of defense, congressman, a serious guy. and i never, i'm never lobbied or anything like that. but i remember bridging a couple of things with him. and he was, he's a kind of guy you would not hesitate to do that but you would also want to make sure you've done some serious thinking before you talk about it. because he respects anyone who's talking to him. but you need to respect his time but don't just come in with a half baked idea or something like that but and then in terms of speeches, it's you always have to tell yourself this is his speech this, is not me. i'm not contributing to the corpus of my work >> that's a really important is.
6:16 pm
point. nobody would ever say, well, that was a great speech by sarada peri. you would say, seem talking. this lousy speech by barack obama. so, you have to be really cognizant of that. i don't know if you ever challenge him on policy. i certainly never did. but, my understanding of people who worked on policy, it was that he really wanted a very robust discussion about policy in front of, you know, happening in front of him, where his experts were disagreeing with each other, talking about it. i mean, there was really great accounts of those conversations happening during the financial crisis, you know? during the transition to before even took office, and then when he, you, noted. all of the conversations, he got, the transition was really smooth, largely due to president bush's, you know, really -- during the transition, there were these really robust conversation that many people writing books about at this point, and i think he wanted that. and, i think, from a writing perspective, i mean, we were giving him our best in a draft, and then the edits would come from him. it was weird.
6:17 pm
i've never had an experience, where i would say, well, no, i could come up with something better than the edit you give me. i mean, more often than not, he would cross out two of your, roads and come up with one better one. so, you know -- >> i heard a story that robert strauss told. he was a longtime national party chairman. he talked about, he had big problems with the vietnam war. he talked about going in to talk to president johnson, and being determined to tell president ounce it was on the wrong track. and all he remembered seeing was something like, mister president, you are the greatest man. you know? and, he said, he left the oval office, and he was so angry at himself, and he made a vow to himself, that if he was ever speaking to the president again, he would tell him exactly what was on his mind. and, he maintained that. he kept that. he ended up in the cabinet in the carter years. and, he maintained, ever after, that he stayed true to that. i was in a meeting in the oval office one-time, and it was glenn
6:18 pm
hubbard, one of the economic advisers, that later on became dean of the business school. i don't know about the issue was, but glenn was there, and i was there. so obviously, a speech was being talked about. but, i remember that it was kind of a loose consensus forming around some idea. and, the president looks at glenn hubbard, dr. hubbard and says, what do you think about it? and, it was mister president, i don't agree with that at all! and, i have never forgotten that. i mentioned it to glenn over the years. it was one of those moments that you hoped would actually happen, you know? that someone is not going to -- the president asked them their opinion, and they tell them, instead of holding back. and, that was kind of the tone that i always felt that president bush had, even though i never felt in a position where i needed to say, i disagreed with something. it has never happened. >> it's hard to ever say how hard that is. the first house
6:19 pm
in the oval office, i forgot the complete thing. like, i don't even remember. because, you are just there. you're like, i'm in the room. it's so bright. like, what am i doing with my hands? like. it's hard. you get used to it. especially senior people, you get used to it. yeah, thanks. >> in the impeachment of andrew johnson, one the articles of impeachment involve speech writing. the president had done a tour of the country defending his version of reconstruction, and he had apparently been so crude, so offensive, so unpresidential in his criticism of the radical republicans, that they wrote that as a reason for his removal from office. is it possible for a president to say something, write something, or tweet something that would justify removal from office? >> justify the removal of the writer. [laughs] that's where you live in fear of. but of course, johnson didn't have
6:20 pm
writers. so yeah, impeachment. >> i mean legally, i can't answer that question. i feel like, if he says something that is, where he perjured himself, then, yes? >> >> it seems like it could be the sign of an actual crime. i don't know. >> not an actual crime. i don't know. there were questions about whether this president's use of his twitter account, the leading treats. i mean, whether he is in violation of the presidential records act by doing, so things. but, i think, as john said, one of the things that speechwriters live in fear of, it is just being wrong. and, you know, writing something, well, it -- we are not current speechwriters, but we lived in fear of, it was just being incorrect. so, hence the fact checkers, hence the lawyers, who made sure that what we said was not in violation of anything. and like you said, johnson didn't have that. there
6:21 pm
were also other regions they impeached him. >> good history lesson. >> so, for all of us prospective speechwriters, what are you doing now? >> that's a good question. >> i write speeches for private clients. i work with a former white house colleague named matthew skelly. >> and, i also have my own, and sort of, one woman shop, and i do speeches, and all kinds of writing, but also message, strategy, communications, coaching, different clients. >> sweet. >> actually, i graduated in 2008, and i am -- [applause] should've had applause at the beginning. i moved back a few years ago. i work for a general, and the president's office doing communications for him. yeah, i also write some speeches, yes. yeah, this president. not that president. >> i'm just curious, once you have all of their words on the paper, how much time did your prospective presidents spend practicing? or, did they just
6:22 pm
have the ability to read it a few times, and really be able to deliver in a way that, you know, with the appropriate pauses, and all that goes into really communicating that law. and, is that the kind of thing they are doing at night in front of a mirror? i mean, how did they? >> i don't know. that's a good question, and i don't know the answer. i don't know how much time he spent on it, but now and then, we gave them the speeches, 23 point a type. they read them usually on cards that about two thirds of the size of a sheet of paper. and, so it was big type and he could read it without glasses. and on occasion, i would ask a staff secretary to give me the presidents reading copy, because i wanted to look at it, see what he had done. and in the last moments, what changes he had made, and when he crossed, out would've descends, things like that. which weren't terribly common. but they did occur, and i wanted to see them. but the point, is i would
6:23 pm
notice that he would underline words for emphasis. he would mark out where he wanted to stop and pause. he wouldn't write notes to himself, but he would put the signals. he would underline. that suggests that there was a least one serious practice of the speech. i bet in the oval office, when he reads an entire speech allowed for the small audience of people sitting around the desk, that is when he is doing his first major edits of the speech. and then if he was going to go off to a city in the heartland and read a speech, there would not be a practice session. but there would be practice sessions in the family theater in the east wing of the white house. the family theater is about as deep as this room and half the width, maybe. and set up like a little movie
6:24 pm
theater. he would set up the teleprompter and everything. he used the teleprompter. i know president obama used ity a lot. president bush probably used four or five times a year. but he would practice those things. and sometimes edit the speech while reading from the teleprompter. in the ordinary course of things, i know there was somebody, never really asked him how much time he spent with it. >> my understanding is that the speech is that the president obama rehearsed, were the white house correspondents dinner, state of the union, convention speeches. the ones that he was doing regularly, i think as the president, you just get so used to delivering the speeches. and because he had prepared the speech and spend time with it, there was a subset of the population that would mock president obama's use of a teleprompter. it really is a
6:25 pm
better way to deliver the speech. you're looking out at the audience, you have written it down, you have prepared, you have thought which he wanted to say. he just got accustomed to do that. he's a terrific corridor. he's able to do that. the first lady is always for fair, does your homework early, so i know that she would rehearse her speeches because she wanted to make sure that she got it right. she knew that little kids were listening to every word she said. people were hanging on every word, what she said mattered. so she really wanted to put a lot of thought into what she said and how she set, she really took her role as mom seriously, and wanted to be very prepared. i don't think president obama, he
6:26 pm
took his role very seriously, i don't think he rehearsed the way that she did. >> she was also not a politician. >> she was not a politician, right, so she needed practice. >> i wanna tell a story really quickly. during a speech, in 2007 in the first campaign, iowa he was doing the jefferson-jackson dinner, which was a big campaign event. the room was around, the table was round, and there wasn't space for any notes. so he had to memorize it. a week before, he was told, you have to memorize, that you gotta memorize that. it turns out the night before he started memorizing it, when his bodyguards were walking by, they would be hearing espn just blasting on the tv, that's because he was in the bathroom talking in the mirror, trying to memorize the speech, and he didn't want people to hear it. he apparently hated doing that. i don't think he ever memorized anything ever again. we are out of time. thank you all so much for coming. [applause] enjoy the rest of the day.
6:27 pm

18 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on