The Life of a Political Speechwriter –

On the tradecraft of political speechwriting: not as glamorous as you might think?  Forget the cufflinks and fountain pen.  Lower expectations.  Keep it simple.

When I write speeches, I’m influenced by novels. I use story to move listeners. I also plant something in the opening and bring it back at the end, the way Anton Chekhov advised (“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall…”), and I search for illuminating details, as Joseph Conrad urged (“My task is to make you hear, to make you feel, and, above all, to make you see”). But this hectic, collaborative life is nothing like the novelist’s, especially when it comes to the nerve-jangling pressure to meet impossible deadlines.

Once, back in the ’90s, when I wrote for Representative David E. Bonior of Michigan, the Democratic House majority whip, he said he wanted to do a one-minute speech. Something about the economy, he said. It was 11:50. “When do you speak?” I asked. “12:02.”

I wrote a 150-word speech, called my mother to tell her if she turned on C-Span she’d see me on the House floor, ran up three flights and handed it to Mr. Bonior just as he was walking to the well.

via The Life of a Political Speechwriter –


2 thoughts on “The Life of a Political Speechwriter –”

  1. Personally, I would much rather write a speech than deliver one, and as an English major I found this article particularly interesting. Especially in political speeches, what these politicians are saying have to appeal to not only a lot of people, but a wide range of groups as well. The fact that the average American has only a seventh-grade comprehension is slightly startling, but it is a fact speechwriters must overcome, delivering a powerful message without depending on eloquence.

    Obama was able to make a name for himself in national politics because of his skills not just as an orator, but as a speechwriter as well. This article about Obama’s Presidential Speechwriter provides some insight into the speechmaking process ( It’s strange to think such a great speaker would need a speechwriter, but due to time constraints, the need for one has emerged. But it isn’t a detached process where the writer has to run up the speech to the politician last minute. When it comes to Obama and his speechwriter, it’s a lot more intimate, where ideas are worked out in person, and revisions are looked at by both sides.

  2. Much relies on a speech. In times of extreme distress people need to hear words of comfort. So much relies on how a president delivers a speech. Even more is pressure is put on what he says. For example, the attack on Pearl Harbor came to America as an extreme shock. I admire the way Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to deliver his speech. But I admire even more what was said. He calmed the public of the disaster yet at the same time rallied up a nation to defend itself. He is a clip for that speech.

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