tv Presidential Speechwriters at University of Chicago CSPAN December 25, 2019 5:56pm-7:10pm EST
has provided coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events from washington, d.c. and around the country, so you can make up your own mind. c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government. ♪ former speechwriters for president clinton, obama, george w. bush, and michelle obama discuss their work and stories from behind the scene at the white house. this is one hour and 10 minutes.
kristen: the iop is honored to welcome speechwriters behind the words that have inspired us. terry edmonds served as assistant to the president and director of speechwriting for president bill clinton, overseeing production of domestic policy speeches. over a career spanning 40 years he has written for nasa administrator charles bowden as well as top executives at ibm, columbia university, time warner, the list goes on. he is a graduate from morgan state university and is adjunct professor at hofstra university. our next panelist,, sarah , sarah hurwitz, served in the white house from 2009-2017, first as a speechwriter for president obama before becoming had speechwriter for first lady michelle obama. previously she served as chief speechwriter for hillary clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign. she is a graduate of harvard college and harvard law school, and has an upcoming book about judaism coming out in september. and john mcconnell served more than 10 years in the white house
staff under two administrations. he was a senior speechwriter for president george w. bush and was responsible for the president's address to the joint session of congress after the 9/11 attacks. during the bush-cheney administration, he served as deputy assistant to the president and assistant to the vice president. he is a graduate of carleton college as well as yale law school. today's conversation will be moderated by alicia sands, director of the pritzker fellows this,m here, alongside she directed and produced the emmy award-winning film, by the people, the election of barack obama. she is working on a documentary about white house speechwriters. before we begin the discussion, we are lucky to watch some of these panelists work. please join me in giving a warm welcome to our panelists. [applause]
[video clip] >> my fellow americans, there are still bridges yet to cross. as long as there are people and places, including neighborhoods here in selma, that have not participated in our economic prosperity, we have a bridge to cross. [applause] >> as long as african-american income hovers at nearly half that of whites, we have another bridge to cross. [applause] >> as long as african-american and hispanic children are more likely than white children to live in poverty and less likely to attend or graduate from college, we have another bridge to cross. [applause] >> as long as african-americans and other minorities suffer two, three, even four times the rates of heart disease, aids, diabetes and cancer, then we have another bridge to cross. [applause] >> as long as our children continue to die as the victims of mindless violence, we have another bridge to cross.
as long as african-americans and latinos anywhere in america believe they are unfairly targeted by police because of the color of their skin, and police believe they are unfairly judged by their communities because of the color of their uniforms, we have another bridge to cross. [applause] as long as the waving symbol of one american's pride is the shameful symbol of another american's pain, we have another bridge to cross. as long as the power of america's growing diversity remains diminished by discrimination and stained by acts of violence against people just because they are black or hispanic or asian or gay or jewish or muslim, as long as that happens to any american, we have another bridge to cross. [applause] >> and as long as less than half
our eligible voters exercise the rights that so many here in selma marched and died for, we have got a very large bridge to cross. [applause] >> it is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return to almost normal . we will go back to our lives and routines, and that is good. even grief recedes with time and grace, but our resolve must not pass. each of us will remember what happened that day, and to whom it happened. we will remember the moment the news came, where we were and what we were doing. some will remember an image of a fire, or a story of a rescue. some will carry memories of a
face and a voice gone forever. and i will carry this. it is the police shield of a man named george howard, who died at the world trade center trying to save others. when given to me by his mom, arlene, as a proud memorial to her son, it is my reminder of a lives that ended and a task that does not end. [applause] >> i will not forget the wound to our country, and those who inflicted it. i will not yield. i will not rest.
i will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the american people. the course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war and we know that god is not neutral between them. >> you see, hilary understands that the president is about one thing and one thing only. it is about leaving something better for our kids. that is how we have always moved this country forward, by all of us coming together on behalf of our children. folks who volunteered to teach that team, to teach that sunday school class, because they know it takes a village. [applause] >> heroes of every color and
creed who wear the uniform and risk their lives to keep passing down those blessings of liberty. police officers and protesters in dallas, who all desperately want to keep our children safe. [applause] >> people who lined up in orlando to donate blood because it could have been their son, their daughter in that club. [applause] >> leaders like tim kaine. [applause] >> who show our kids what decency and devotion look like. leaders like hillary clinton, who have the guts and the grace to keep coming back and put putting those cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her. [applause]
>> that is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the staying shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today i wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. [applause] and i watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the white house lawn. [applause] thank you. [applause] >> and belatedly, thank you,
kristen, for that kind introduction. so each of these clips is so different, and not just because each person had their own voice and their own vision, but because the bully pulpit has so many different purposes. i would like to ask each of you to talk about why you chose that particular clip and what made that speech important to you, and your goals and challenges in writing him. i would like to start with your task in this speech. who did president clinton want to reach, and what kind of guidance did he give you? how did you work with him on this? >> thank you. and thank you for being here tonight. these signature accomplishments in the white house was on building one america and bringing us together ,cross race, color, ethnicity
gender, sexual orientation. he and i shared that commitment. that is one of the things that drew me close to him. it was one of the things i was most proud of to work on with him in the white house. , most since lyndon johnson, was focused on building one america and bringing the races together, so that speech was a chance for us to make that point. he always tells me that is one .f his favorite speeches it was a great day, because we actually walked across the edmund pettus bridge to reenact bloody sunday. and it was a great occasion. yeah. alicia: did he stick to your
speech? teery: he pretty much did. he liked that, we have another bridge to cross refrain. that was another one of his things with me, because he had sort of an appreciation for the black church and for the black cadence. and, you know, some of you might recall that sometimes he called himself the first black president. [laughter] teery: of course until the obamas showed up. he really took that mission to heart. and again, as i said, it was one of my proudest moments working with him. alicia: i'm just going to move chronologically here. one ofhat was probably the most challenging moments in our nation's history.
can you talk a little bit about the white house in the aftermath of september 11, and the , you know, the president showing leadership as commander in chief and healer in chief. what was the thought process around that speech? john: well, it was a moment of national unity. if you are old enough to remember, it was also a moment of greatly mixed feelings. people were shocked and grieving, but the country was also angry, and the country was also terrified of what might be coming next. and the decision was made on monday morning, september 17, six days after the attack, that the president would address a joint session of congress on thursday night. colleagues, mike, in and matthew, the three of us
were working together on virtually all the major addresses, and we were given the instruction. mike was given the instruction monday morning by karen hughes that the president is probably going to speak to congress, but he will make the decision when he sees the draft, which he expects to see today. [laughter] john: mike said, i don't think we can do that. karen said, well, the president thinks if he can give a speech on thursday, monday is a reasonable day to look at it. and i said, we will give him the option. and so we got to work on it. and it wasn't as if we were lacking on subject matter, obviously. we knew with the speech was going to be about, and we had some general guidance, of course, but early that afternoon we got a call to go to the oval office. so the three of us went over there. i'm sure karen hughes was also in the room, and andy carthage, chief of staff, and that is when
president bush said that americans have questions. they want to know who attacked us. want to know why they hate us, theywant to know why they hate us, they want to know what is expected of us now, and they want to know, how do we fight and win this war. and from then on we had an organizational principle for the speech, and that is what the speech did. it went through those questions as the president described them to us in the oval office. and so because, as all speechwriters know, one of your biggest challenges in writing is organization. how is this going to come together? how my going to lay things out a and make it compelling? because we had that sense of momentum with the questions, we did finish the draft that day, everything but a conclusion, we weren't quite there, but we did have a draft for the president to look for that day. and again, it was such a memorable moment because it
collected all of those different emotions. alicia: you had to articulate a vision very quickly. most people president's vision , a develops over time. how did you interact with him? what were the touchstones for coming up with the path forward? john: well, it definitely wasn't on the speechwriters. it really was the president who was our guiding force. we knew the man. he wanted us, he never said this, but i always had the feeling he wanted us to know him and how his mind worked. and he was a very close editor on speeches. and so in that speech, although it was still in the first year, we had reached a comfort level with president bush where we knew his mind, we knew once we had the concepts that were going to be expressed in the speech, we had a pretty good sense of how he would want to express
them. and if we got it wrong, he would tell us. alicia: did you learn more about him during that period? john: yes, and a general sense, just because of the tragedy that had come to the country, and now we are a country at war. it is not that i saw a new person, but i saw definitely some of his strengths that i basically understood him to have coming more to the forefront. what stuck with me was his steadiness at the time. i saw him the morning after 9/11. i did not see him the night of, but the morning after, and it wasn't at all clear to anybody what was going to happen next, and there was a lot of anxiety, to put it lightly. but i just remember being struck by the steadiness of nerve. was also ah, that
moment, a happier historic moment, writing the nomination for the first woman president. that seem to capture this is and hopes's values for the nation for her daughters. how did that come about? how did you come to understand her and her voice? alicia: a lot of people ask me how i got her voice and i think they are being polite. i think they want to ask me, how did you, a jewish woman, get the voice of the first lady, an african-american woman? i think at the end of the date you might be very different from the person you write for in terms of background, which i am mrs. obama.
you might be a different race, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera. what matters is that you have a similar sensibility of speechwriting, similar sensibility of how you move an audience, persuade, reach people's hearts. and i think we did. i think there was a click with that. in terms of this particular speech, she is a woman who knows what she is and knows what she wants to say. and that was true of every speech i ever worked with her on. this was in particular, where she so clearly knew this is going to be about our kids, about how this election is the future we want for our kids. she started the speech talking about her own kids, coming to the white house, the first day of school, where she is putting them in the big cars with men with guns and faces pressed against the window and she is thinking, what have i done? and she takes this personal story and started broadening it out, talking about how all of us are worried about our kids. and that was the whole theme for the speech. by the time she got to this part, it was very big, she was
talking about people who coached little league, who teach sunday school because they care about kids, people who lined up to give blood because there kids could have been in that nightclub where people were killed, and then when she comes back to her daughters playing on the white house lawn, it is the meeting of both, right? the small story of her daughters and the very big story of the arc of american history. she wove those two themes together in the speech in a way that was personal, but she broadened it to the american story. that is why that speech felt both personal, but a lot of people responded thinking it was personal to them as well. alicia: why did it matter to you? why did you choose that clip? sara: it's a beautiful interpretation of an uplifting idea of what the american story can be. i'm struck by how similar the clips we chose our in that respect. they are aspirational. they are leaders saying, we are not perfect, but here is what we can be. they are very hopeful.
i sort of file real sense of kindred spirit with both of these guys, even though we may veryfferent parties, but similar sensibilities about the american democracy, patriotism , and politics. alicia: in that way, these aspirational speeches, three speechwriters are often referred to as storytellers and in an administration. you tell us a little bit about -- what is a day in your office in the white house like? how do you start? you ran the office. give us a little bit of the highs and lows? terry: first of all, there is no typical day in the white house. every days different. and you have to be ready for the unexpected. you may have a schedule you want
to follow, but then some breaking news will come out, like the oklahoma city bombing happened when i was there, some breaking news, so you have to be ready to react and to produce you have lead time, a couple of quickly. sometimes weeks or a week or so, to write a speech. other times you have only minutes to produce something. so there is no typical day. but the types of speeches range from the state of the union, which is the super bowl of speeches. [laughter] to pardoning the thanksgiving day turkey. [laughter] so you have to be ready
to produce that range of speaking. the other thing i would say is that, you mentioned speechwriters are storytellers, that is very true. of the things that irks me is one when people think we are just wordsmiths. and we are not just wordsmiths. we are part of the policy-making team, because no policy comes to life unless it is written down or spoken, especially about the president. so as director of speechwriting, which was my job, i was at the table every morning with the chief of staff and the senior staff of the white house, plotting out, you know, what is our message of the day, how do we get it across, what speeches should the president give, those kinds of things.
so we were part of the policymaking apparatus of the white house, and not just wordsmiths. alicia: was it similar for you, sara? sara: i totally agree with terry that policies don't come alive until they are articulated to the american people. that is a very important aspect of it. in terms of my job, what struck me about the white house is, as terry said, you never have the day you think you are going to have. i think that is especially true in traveling. i don't know what it was like with you guys, but we tended to travel with the president and first lady. and it is this kind of real-time unfolding, you are writing a speech in a plane, and a helicopter, in a motorcade, in a hotel room, on the floor of a plane. there are a lot of unglamorous logistics people don't think about where you are trying to print the speech in the back of the plane before the plane lands, you get to the event, it is really quite hectic.
as terry said, the hardest part i found was the last-minute crisis. the first lady is not a first responder, that is the president, but if something really terrible happens she does have to acknowledge it. and it is often really stressful to type out that last-minute paragraph to acknowledge it, say the right thing, make sure you are not contradicting the president, it can be intense. john: yes, i remember being with the president in europe and we were about to fly back to washington in word arrived pope john had gone to the hospital and was not well at all. and so it was decided that if the pope were to die that day while the president was flying across the atlantic, when he landed at andrews air force base, he would get down off the plane and read a statement. so it was my job on that flight to prepare a statement for the president to read.
usually when you are coming back from a foreign trip, you are working on something. but in that case -- then a rumor came to me by telephone on the plane that president ford was dying. and so i asked andy card, the chief of staff, since former presidents have secret service, we could find out where president ford was. so the director of secret service called the command post in rancho mirage, california and happily found that president ford was just fine. [laughter] [laughter] and the pope did not die that day. at least you have it for next time. john: people ask us if you have something in the can if
something happens. we didn't have anything ready for things like that. ,henever you have spare time you're not going to sit down and write -- you know. [laughter] a call saturday night, labor day weekend, close to midnight, it was the staff secretary of the white house telling me that chief justice rehnquist had just died in the president would be giving the speech the next morning, the i was backs and so on duty. thingsso many different happen. you can plan your day. i have been asked could you plan your life. of course, i had a plan. every monday having
the week mapped out, but you have to be ready. i know there is a sense in the white house, but can you tell us that some of the with things that happened to you? one of the weirdest things that happened to me is we were preparing president clinton for a state of the union address and we were in the oval office, and we would take a tape recorder in to bounce ideas off .f him
and to hear him speak, and sometimes those were the best snippets of the speech, just hearing him talk. so we were in there for about two hours and i was in charge of the tape recorder. after we got back to the office, it was three speechwriters and myself, i turned on the tape recorder and realized it had not was not recording. i had not recorded it. luckily, we were all trained notetakers, so we took notes in addition to having the invisible were able towe reconstruct it. that was kind of a scary moment which we laughed about later. [laughter] alicia: how much later? [laughter] well, as you have been told, i wrote speeches during the entire eight years for vice president cheney, so it was a very interesting contrast in personality to work for him, but a very similar process.
one day i got a call from the vice president, and as my colleagues know, the little window on your phone will say potus or v potus when it is them calling. sometimes it is just an asterisk -- it depends, but anyway, i knew it was the vice president, and i said, yes, sir? i hear that signature deep voice on the other end of the line. john, i got us in trouble. [laughter] john: and i said, oh? and he said, yeah. the president has to go to europe. he has to miss the radio tv correspondents dinner. so i have to be his replacement tomorrow. i have to go there and be funny. [laughter] john: and then he says, i do not do funny. [laughter] john: which is a very modest statement for dick cheney to make, because he has a very good
sense of humor and always delivered, as he did at the dinner the next night and at other events just like it. had a very good sense of humor, very good delivery. that was a quick turnaround project that i could never have done alone. matthew spelling, my able colleague, helped on that. but that was another quick turnaround. sara: i remember a time missus obama was going to japan to announce the partnership with the japanese government to fund girls education around the world. and, you know, i thought it would be really neat to end the speech with a japanese proverb, to honor the culture of the country we were visiting. i looked and looked and i couldn't find anything appropriate. i finally found a proverb that said, no road is long with a good companion. and i felt, that is really good. the challenge of educating girls
around the world will be difficult, but with the companion of the government of japan, it will be doable. it will be good. i was really proud of myself. the fact checker said this checks out, it is a japanese proverb. i just decided to triple check. i'm going to send it to our embassy, and all of our embassies around the world have local staffers, people who actually are natives of the country who work for our embassy. so they had a japanese woman review the speech and i got a call from someone very senior in the embassy saying, we need to talk about that proverb. i remember saying, what, you are anti-friendship? what is the problem? and she said, talk to her. she puts the woman on the phone and she says, i appreciate that you think this is a beautiful proverb about friendship, but in our culture, this is understood to be a proverb about suicide. [laughter] >> i was like, you convinced me.
i will have to take this out. explain that? i tried to be light and casual about it. we had a good laugh about it, but it would not have been funny at all if that had gone through. that was weird. [laughter] fact checking, wind you're in those positions, you do not have to do it long before you get that first phone call after a speech is done where they say, where did you get the senso? thus and so? and you don't remember, because you are onto the next thing. so we had to regularize it. there was a very nice anecdote about john philip sousa, the composer whose name at birth was different.
out added usa to his name. nice story, but it is not true. [laughter] said, we ranecker into ground, and there is nothing there. mr. edmonds: it reminds me of the ted sorensen story about when john kennedy was at the wall in berlin, and said ich ben ein berliner, which translated to, i am a jelly doughnut. [laughter] mr. edmonds: and terry and i used to go, and sorensen would be at these dinners, and you could tell that still irked him.
i remember, he said, you know, if i -- he said, there is a magazine called "the new yorker," and if i -- he said if, if i said to you right now, i am a new yorker, you would not understand -- you would understand that i am not saying "i am weekly magazine." you could tell it still him. he was annoyed. [laughter] ms. sams: we have a lot of competing voices in the white house. right? not just the presidents. how did you navigate, particularly things like the state of the union? different agendas that may be might try to creep into a speech. what are the back room dynamics? mr. edmonds: well, i think it is different in every administration. president clinton was especially, you know, he liked to gather thoughts and ideas
from everybody, it seems like, from his college roommate to the andt lady to everybody, they also had, you know, outside advisors, pollsters, and, of course, cabinet secretaries, which, especially during the state of the union time, the speechwriter would get a call from the secretary of education and say, you have to put my program in the state of the union. you have to put this line in the state of the union, and it was quite -- i became like a traffic cop. had you know, sometimes you to disappoint people. sometimes you had to acquiesce , to what they wanted. was,yes, whenever there especially a major presidential address, you would get solicited and unsolicited advice from all corners of the universe. and it was quite a job to sort of separate the wheat from the chaff, decide what to put in and
out, and, of course, the president was the final decision-maker on what he wanted to say, but it was -- that was a big part of the job, was trying to ferret out those kinds of -- all of that advice, yes. ms. hurwitz: yes, i think as a speechwriter, you have to realize you are representing the speech, and you are protecting your principles from a lot of people want them to say things. the number of times i had someone say, "mrs. obama needs to say all 18 points of this policy proposal." and it was, no, this is middle school. you had to come back and say, i am sorry the first lady would , not be comfortable saying this. how can we fix it? and i learned that people often
had legitimate concerns that they were trying to articulate, but the edit they made wasn't good. i would ask, why do you need all 18 points, and they would say, it is important for people to know we have a plan. ok, like, i could do that without articulating all 18 points in the speech, so trying to figure out what is the problem you're trying to solve, what are you doing. mr. mcconnell: president bush reminded us that our name and phone number was at the bottom of any draft that we worked on, and he told us to never blame anyone for something that was in a speech that had our name on it. he told us we were responsible for it, and he also explained to us that we had authority, that if we knew something was not right for a speech, we could keep it out. we could not preempt dr. rice or do that sort of thing. we had to, you know, defer to the obvious people, but it was important. terry was an assistant to the
president, which is the highest rank on the white house staff. my colleague was an assistant to the president. when the speechwriting shop, when the head of speechwriting, has standing, that makes for a cleaner process. dick cheney told me a story about when he was on president ford's staff. he ended up chief of staff, but this was before then. there was factualism. when it came to speeches, and president ford had a longtime aide going back to his days in the house when donald rumsfeld was the chief of staff. he said, at one point, the president had two competing speech drafts given to him and he spent the night, the president himself, reconciling the two speech drafts. and, according to dick cheney who was there, he said the president came to the oval
office the next morning and indicated he would never be put in this situation again. [laughter] ms. sams: that really speaks to the power of it. doesn't it? in your experience, how does the bully pulpit become an effective tool of leadership? mr. edmonds: well, it is. when you are president, you have in strongest bully pulpit the world, and you can articulate the values that you think most represent the country and the values that you most admire and are most committed to , and i was fortunate to work for a president who exemplified the highest values, i thought, as far as the economy, as far as, you know, bringing the country together, and just in so
many areas, education, health care, all of those important issues. even if you did not have a specific policy to change things, you could use your voice to move the conversation along. and president clinton did that exceedingly well, especially on the issue of race. he was the first president who -- i do not know if anyone else did -- he created an office in the white house called the "office of one america," and he used that office to focus and initiative on race, which was very effective in changing people's attitudes about race and bringing the country together as one america. so --
the bully pulpit is very effective. ms. hurwitz: i think all of that is so true of the president. you know the first lady is a , little different, right, and i think something mrs. obama did really well is really met people where they were. people read "people" magazine, and mrs. obama was not a snob. she love people and would go on "ellen." she was speak of an important issue, and she would go on stephen colbert and the latest social media thing. carpool karaoke. but there was always a requirement that it served a purpose. so, we will come on your show but i will talk about military families. i will get in your car for karaoke, but we will talk about education. she would use these fun, cool venues to talk about real substantive issues and the
combination was really interesting and surprising, and i think she reached a lot of people who just do not consider themselves engaged in politics. a new venue. they were, wait a second. this is not normally where i would see a first lady or a president, and there she was, talking about an issue that was important, and i thought that was an effective way to use the pulpit of the first lady's office. mr. mcconnell: a speech writer of president truman, george, i used to have him to lunch at the white house, and he wanted to talk about what i was doing, and i wanted to talk about what he was doing for truman in the 1940's and 50's. and numerous times, george said, the president talks too much. he did not mean president bush. he meant the president in the -- 20th century, whoever it was. he said truman go days and days,
sometimes weeks, without giving a speech. i said, i would like to go back to that. [laughter] there is the weekly radio address, the weekly speed bump in the speechwriter's office. on top of everything. now, the radio address. terrific. [laughter] but the point is that just given the fact that it is the presidency, and we live in an age where you can go on all of these different forms of media, it is going to be used by the president and by the white house staff, and i think speeches are very important, if for no other reason that there are moments where you need to find exactly what you want to say and say it in the best way you know how. and the only way to do that is through concentrated discipline,
effort, and it does not mean you cannot do the other things, but this will always be important, and just because of the posture of the office will always have an outsized influence. ms. sams: we are about to take questions, so line up at the mic. before we go.ion we are heading into sort of eight lightning round. we are heading into 2020 campaign, and a lot of the are interested in working with campaigns but in speechwriting. john, what is the first piece of advice you would give to someone interested in becoming you? mr. mcconnell: very important advice. go to work on a campaign. get a job in the campaign. if they figure out they have a writer on their hands, and it is you, i can virtually guarantee they will use you. it does not matter what office you are in.
you can go up to the chief speechwriter or press secretary and say, if you ever need help on drafting press releases or on drafting statements for the candidates, i would like to take something off your hands, if you ever would like a little help. they are always looking for good writers in these situations. always. the hardest thing about presidential speechwriting is when you are responsible for hiring another one, because it is virtually really hard now, so if that is what you do, if that is your thing, sharpen your tool in anyway that you know how, and, again, go to work in a campaign, and they will find you if you are a writer. in addition to that, i will add the white house , has an internship program and a lot of folks got their start
by being interns in the white fact, i believe josh, who is now a congressman, he was an intern, one of my interns, and he is now a congressman, and, you know, that is a great way to, if you can get one of those internships, i would highly recommend that you try to go for one of those. ms. sams: we love internships. at the iop. we will take our first question. >> hello, i am a first-year graduate student. i noticed your commonality between generality and specificity. so the overall movement and things people notice in their everyday life. the candidacy and what that means to people versus the , specificity of senior children
and the specificity of the badge versus where you were when you knew it or other wording that friends'hink of parents who died in 911. how do you choose when is a good moment to use a specific detail? individual experiences as a whole? mr. edmonds: i think you do both in most speeches. you always want to have an example or a real-life story to bring your point to life, and i think you might notice, in most of the modern state of the union addresses, they have people in the gallery who represent different parts of the speech. and they ask them to stand up at the appropriate time, so i think that in most modern campaign speeches and in policy speeches, you want to have a real-life example to bring it to life.
so you want to be specific as well as make a general point. mr. mcconnell: i remember working with my colleagues mike and matthew on a speech that president bush gave at normandy on june 6, 2004. the 60th anniversary of the landings on d-day. and, of course, you have plenty of material to describe the event and aftermath, but i remember putting in their a quote from bernie pyle, and was known by everyone during that war. he was a correspondent who had written a daily column in the 1930's and during the war he wrote daily, or frequently. every time he met an american soldier, he gave a name, rank,
and street address and town they are from, so all of the country people were reading bernie pyle. the point is, it was very nice to put some of those descriptive terms not in the speechwriter born in decades after the war, not in terms of that that the speechwriter might come up with, but in terms that bernie pyle had, who was there. >> thank you. >> hi. i am third year in sociology. thank you for coming and share your inspiration. so behind all of these words of inspiration and other lines, are there other moments when you or the president you serve find that the words pale in comparison? some sort of cynicism? if so, how did you absorb the
moment and, you know, overcome cynicism? mr. mcconnell: never had that problem. never really. there was nothing i saw or experienced in the campaign or fed anyuse ever, ever cynical side to me. i think it starved to death when i was in the white house, my cynical side. most of the people you run into in politics, it doesn't matter if you agree with them or not, you will find you are very similar to them. working on campaigns. i mean, sarah and i have had these conversations, and terry and i have been at these events. there is so much commonality, and then again, the government, if you have that privilege to work for a president, and people are there with very good intentions and want to do the right thing, and that is really what you spend most of your time trying to do. campaigns are rough and
divisive and everything else, but even then, you are trying to appeal to a broad enough segment of the country to take power. and really, it brings out the best in people in positions we had, it seems to me. ms. hurwitz: yeah, i would echo that but also say there are moments when you get tired. for me, it was getting to actually meet the people whose stories we were telling. you just cannot be cynical when you travel to a country and you are meeting teenage girls who walk like two miles every morning to get to school, and then, they stay up all night to work and be caring for their siblings, and then they get up the next morning and clean their houses and do all of this stuff. the military spouse who has moved every two years for the past 15 years and she has two jobs. you meet these people who were
doing such extraordinary things, and i think they just constantly re-inspire me and help me realize that the stakes are very high and real and it is hard to get cynical when you actually meet the people you are serving. hi, my name is chase. i am first year at the college, thinking about studying and public policy and sociology. aboutys talk a lot different skill sets, like writing a speech after traumatic events, writing a speech after a death, to writing about policy amountng to mitigate the in a speech, and i was wondering what experiences helped you in your job as a speechwriter, and what made you guys want to
become speechwriters? mr. edmonds: that is a very good question. yes, you bring your whole life experience to the job and hopefully, your life experience is compatible or somewhat resonates with your principal or the president. for myself, i grew up in a family, livedlass in projects in baltimore, and have always been interested in civil rights and public policy and just current events. reader as aferous child, which was one of the things that sort of mitigated some of the things that i saw around me, was to always be reading and to be trying to, you know, emulate some of the values i saw in literature.
so again, that is one of the things that sort of brought the president and i together, because he had a similar background, growing up somewhat in a working-class environment in the south, and, you know, and also, having those values of trying to lift himself up, as well as lift those around him up. and we shared that commitment. so, yes, you bring your whole life story to the job, but you also remember that you are not writing for yourself. you are writing for someone else, and you are trying to find their voice and to help them get their message out. ms. hurwitz: i think in addition to being a good writer, i think having a good grasp of american history is really important.
but also for me, the most , important skill or aptitude a speechwriter can have is an ability to be moved, like a real sense of open heartedness and the ability to be moved by the story and struggles of others. i am not a military spouse. no one in my family is in the military. but hearing the stories of mostly women who were military spouses and their partners were years, deployed for months on end, and they were raising their kids on their own and working, wondering if their spouse was coming back, i was very moved by the stories. i had the ability to be moved, so i could write and tell their stories and share their stories with others. if you're are someone who is cynical, hardhearted, and closed off, i think speechwriting is not a good job. it is a job for people who are openhearted and willing to be affected by other people's stories. >> i always liked listening to speeches.
from the time i was a kid, i always like politics and listened to speeches all of the time. the best way to sharpen the tool is to read. of course, writing is a tool to be sharpened as well, but just to stock your mind with a sense of what good writing is. it doesn't matter what the subject is. if it interests you, read it. and you will just develop a sense of what is good writing and what is not in the distinction between the two. some of the best advice i have repeated many times about speechwriting i internalized came from david, a historian, who was not writing speeches, but he has are in so many books about different things and the question was put to him, how do you decide what your next book is? he said, i write the book i want to read. if he wanted to read a good book
on the brooklyn bridge, the building of the brookland bridge, and found there was not one, he spent eight years of his life writing one. in that sense, when i am writing a speech, i think, what is the -- would this be a speech i would like to listen to? and that is a good god, because if you get bored writing -- writing it, i 100% guarantee the listener is going to get bored. you just take it in those terms as well. we is something you can get good -- it is something you can get good at, something you can continuously get better at, but at the same token, there is no secret to it. it is just what works, what is credible, what is interesting and over time, if you listen to speeches and become a discerning reader, you will develop an eye for all of those things. >> thank you. >> hi. and i am alsoon,
first in the college, studying history and possibly filmmaking or screenwriting. one of those. my question is, what other media, like prose, poetry, playwriting or screenwriting, or song alere, what do you think speechwriting is closest to? >> that is a good question. >> all of the above. for myself, poetry is my first love. so i always try to infuse speeches that i write with some lyricism and rhythm. know, it is also storytelling and all kinds of, you know -- it is journalism, everything, depending on the i think, and yes, so
having a love of literature is really important. some type of literature, whether it is poetry or prose or fiction or nonfiction. we all draw from those disciplines to do our job. >> i would say i think that, oftentimes, journalists have a hard time making the transition to speechwriting, because writing to be heard is very different than writing to be read. they are two different arts. you have to make this transition. so if i am going to stop, i would just say, you have to make this transition. if that were written in a newspaper article, no one would think that was bizarre, no one would say that was not grammatical, right? we speak very differently from how we write. i would say anyone that involves words being spoken from someone's mouth is probably
going to be closer to something that is written. i remember hearing -- i think it was peggy noonan used to write the news screws for dan rather. yes, that is how she got her start. she was writing to be spoken. anything spoken is going to be the closest. >> yes. i think clarity is so important. my colleague, matthew, always pointed out writing is a process of elimination. especially in a political context, you are making a case. you are not lawyering in the technical sense, but you are making a case. clarity is so important. and president bush really got after us on that, never skipping a step, never skipping a logical step, because if you do that, necessarilyis not persuaded and what you are saying will notice you skipped a step. it weakens your point. so much of what you do in the work that we were called on to
do is just making it clear and do awayo make it -- with the clutter. i mean, you always want to be nice and all of those extra touches that go into speechwriting, but to clear away the clutter, don't have the 18 points, things of that nature, just clarity. there is so much up you station politics, and in a lot of people think they are pulling things off by using euphemisms. baby talk. things like that. it doesn't work. we live in a conversational age, so i'm not advocating for oratory. i am just advocating for simplicity and clarity, and, as ronald reagan always did, assume an intelligent listener.
>> we have two more questions and not a lot of time, so why don't you all ask your questions, and you will take them? >> i guess to continue to the theme of good writing and good reading i imagine being a good , speechwriter is watching speeches and learning from them. what is a speech that you thought was remarkably effective in terms of accomplishing the goal, or if you think it would be more productive, what was a speech that didn't accomplish the goal and what was the rhetorical failure? >> i noticed that two of you my question is, how do you think your experiences at law school have informed you as a speechwriter. did you ever see yourself on a clear path to speechwriting in the white house in law school? >> your speeches inspire a lot of people, so i was curious, who inspires you? >> have you ever felt that rhetoric posed an ethical
dilemma to your message and if so, what did you do? >> inspiration, you want to listen to great speeches. franklin roosevelt, john kennedy, ronald reagan, martin luther king, i would add, just in terms of -- to make another point as well, and that is to say when we talk about authenticity and nowadays there is so much talk about authenticity being whatever is on the top of your head, it is authentic. when martin luther king was writing these speeches and sermons, he put a lot of effort into them, and when he got
up there, no one said, give us some authenticity. there was nothing more authentic than his best thoughts. the presidents i mentioned were very serious about speeches and in my own case, working with president bush, he didn't do a lot of ad-libbing with speeches, because he edited them so much and when he got up there and was reading his speech, it was exactly what he wanted to say. he got high marks for authenticity there. >> i would add bobby kennedy to your list of people who inspired me. i will tell you one story about martin luther king. when we came up, there were not many courses in college on speechwriting. most of us probably just fell into it. i never started out wanting to be a speechwriter.
i wanted to be a journalist, but that is another story. i started writing in the clinton administration for the secretary of health and human services. my idea of a great speech was martin luther king, i have a dream. i started writing speeches for martin luther king and, finding the voice of your speaker is one of the key things to being successful as a speechwriter. after a while, she pulled me aside and said, i like martin luther king, but i am a short, punchy lady and i like short, punchy sentences. i am not martin luther king. that was a great lesson to me in finding the voice. you can admire these great writers and great speeches, but you have to always remember that
the person you are writing for -- that style may not be suited to that person. we have to always find their voice. their authentic voice. >> i totally agree with that. law school, never used it. it was a separate moment of my life. it hasn't been useful as a speech writer. sorry for anyone who wishes otherwise. in terms of authenticity, i want to echo what john said. what is more authentic, the paper that he spent two weeks agonizing over, making sure every sentence was exactly what you wanted to say, or the paper you dashed off hours before the deadline. i have zero patience for the people who don't do the work of riffing beforehand. our bosses riffed a lot.
they riffed all the time, but before they went to the podium. they spent a lot of time pouring themselves into their speeches, editing, taking away. by the time they got up, it was exactly what they wanted to say. that is so important. this idea of i'm just going to rip up my speech and speak from the heart, if you are dr. martin luther king jr., go ahead. if not, chances are it will not go well. in terms of speeches who inspire me, i would add malala yousafzai. her speeches are extraordinary. her speech to the u.n., she is a powerful moral voice and speaks so beautifully and movingly. i am a big fan of hers. >> on the law school point, i have never applied specific knowledge that i picked up in law school, but i am a big believer in studying what you want to study. i could not categorize the best writers i know according to what they studied. only that they are smart and they studied what interested
them. some of the clearest writers you will ever meet our mathematicians, the logic and everything else. one more thing about the writing process, one thing i've always done is to read a speech allowed -- out loud before handing it in. true story, my colleague, we had a speech we were working on for a president and there was one part we really liked and we could not wait for the president to read it. we couldn't wait to hear it and those words, set forth into the stream of history. anyway, we got to the point where it was time to finish the draft and send it in and we were reading it and we got to our favorite part and it rhymed.
[laughter] matthew said, we thought we were churchill, but we were dr. seuss. [laughter] >> avoiding rhetorical failings. anyone want to take ethical dilemma? >> i just -- you have had a lot of concerns, a lot of things he hoped would turn out well, but i don't remember any ethical struggles. >> the only thing i would say is i did not write that speech about that woman. [laughter] >> thank you very much. that kind of is the perfect end. thank you for coming. you are a great audience.
>> c-span's washington journal, live every day with policy issues that impact you. coming up friday morning, we challenges facing native americans today. correspondent will be on to talk about impeachment in campaign watch c-span's 2020. washington journal live at 7:00 thursday morning. join the discussion.
and watch authors week all this week starting at 8:00 a.m. tonight, john miller on the history of journalism and fake news, hosted by the liberty forum of silicon valley. >> i'm reminded of all the presidents men, terrific movie. great movie. it also had a bad effect on journalism. it encouraged a lot of young people to go into journalism who thought the purpose was to bring down a government. there's always in adversarial side to journalism. you've got to be willing to ask hard questions. that is all true. it brought in a crusader element. a lot of young people swept away by woodward and bernstein pretrade on film. it is a terrific movie.
thinkingswept away this is the job of journalism to bring down a government. that is what you need to do. johnu can hear more from miller as he talks about the history of journalism tonight at 8:00 p.m. on c-span. peter thiel is a technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist. he talks about the u.s. rivalry with china, globalization and the end of the computer age at a manhattan institute dinner in new york city. this is 40 minutes. thiel: good evening, everyone. paul: good evening, everyone. and welcome to the 33rd wriston lecture. this lecture has become an important night in america's intellectual life. the consequences and ideas offered at this podium -- the formula is simple, we invite extraordinarily bright speakers
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