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tv   Former Political Speechwriters Discuss the Impact of Presidential Rhetoric  CSPAN  December 25, 2021 8:03pm-9:06pm EST

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the senate and house floor. we hear your voices every day. c-span now has you covered. download the app today for free. announcer: speechwriters for presidents bill clinton, george w. bush, and barack obama discussed their speech writing process. this is about one hour.
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-- in a time of crisis, it can move a nation, it is an incredible tool both here at home for our own politics but for our foreign policy abroad. we all know that senator kennedy is famous for his booming rhetoric whether it was on the senate floor or in speeches across the country. words, in addition to actions, go down in history books for their meaning and impact. it is my pleasure to introduce our esteemed panelists. first is ambassador caroline, a recognized journalist and educator who served as the ambassador to belize. we have senior presidential speechwriter for president
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clinton, she wrote on a ride -- a wide range of issues including race. they include remarks in memphis. the speech originally was supposed to be on the american free trade agreement and she argued to shift its focus. after delivering his meant it, do not end it speech, president clinton made history this afternoon. she personally helped me craft my affirmative action speech. she had more to do with dropping -- drafting it and she is the first person of caller and the first latina in the -- color and the first latina to write speeches for the president. second, we have cody keenan, former colleague of mine.
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he has written for president barack obama. rising from a camping intern in chicago to obama's post-presidential collaborator. their joint efforts were compared to the works of abraham lincoln, they were described as the "i have the dream speech" for the 21st century and categorized even by prominent republicans as speeches every child should read in school. cody was nicknamed the springsteen even though he cannot play an instrument. his passions were sharpened at eight young age. today, cody sits on the board of edward and kennedy institute for the united states senate. we have john mcconnell, who served more than 10 years on white house staff in two different administrations.
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as a senior speechwriter for bush and dick cheney, he was part of the three-person team responsible for all of the major addresses. including the historic speech to the joint session of congress after september 11. i am thrilled to introduce our moderator for the evening. tamra has been been a correspondent for npr and cohost a politics podcast. it is the top political podcasts in america. they focus on the response to the covid-19 crisis, chronicled the trump administration from day one, from early morning tweets into executive orders to executive orders to investigations. she covered the final two years of the obama residency and also
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the 2016 presidential campaign covering hillary clinton. i will turn it over to tamra. >> -- >> i thought it would be fun to get to know you better, let us start with cody. what is the springsteen thing? >> nonsense. it is true, but it is like i just listened to him all of the time. the easiest things to write were's speeches at auto plants. bruce springsteen is america's greatest poet. >> yes. why don't you tell us about the
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time that vice president cheney had called and said he had gotten you both in trouble? >> one afternoon my phone rang and cody and carolyn know when the president or the vice president calls, it says potus or vpotus. i picked up the phone and said sir. he says, john, i got us into some trouble. i say oh. the president and ms. bush had decided to leave washington right away to go to the funeral of john paul the second. the president had been scheduled to speak the next night at the radio and tv correspondents dinner in washington. the president has to give a funny speech. janie -- cheney says i have to go there tomorrow and the
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-- in the president's stead and say funny things were 10 minutes. i do not do funny. i said, you will do a fine job up there. just let me call my colleague matthew and the next day or so we will get a speech ready for you. the lesson is, number one, he was very funny. if you work in white house speech writing, you have to be ready for anything at any time. >> i think you also wrote some speeches for those terrible, wonderful, washington dinners. >> terrible. we had a very small staff, there were three writers. i was a new one, a holdover from the campaign. we would sit around in a circle, three speechwriters compared to
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nine or 12 before his assessor. -- for his predecessor. it was a matter of volunteering and who does not like comedy, i grew up on really terrific sitcoms and other things. i put my hand to write the speech. it went very well. it was the radio tv correspondents dinner as well. i do not remember that story but it is hilarious. what i did basically was a lot of humor. it was a surprise hit. the next day the president called me over to atlanta and he says pretty funny stuff. what have you got for me for the gridiron? i am thinking, wait a second? i did not sign up to be a comedy writer but i had plans. all i could think of the top of
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my head was ok, can you keep your lips warm for a saxophone. i could have thought of another way to say that. the comes back and says i will! i run over to the communication office to let them know. they're talking about the prior night's comedy address. they said we are talking about gridiron. i said, oh great, you will play the saxophone. no, never ask him to play the saxophone. he has to rehearse it. it is a bad idea. i said sorry. he took a stage at the gridiron as a surprise, wearing black sequin tails and played on his saxophone, yak yak don't top -- talk back.
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this was great. within minutes we are going to be talking about the decline of democracy. i'm glad that we had a little bit of fun to start. we want to move into the speech writing process. i am hoping that each of you can talk about a speech that you worked on that was really memorable or that you are proud of. also give us some insight into the process. i assume every president is different in the process that they want. who wants to go first? john? >> the process is similar in the same few basics as it generates a draft that is then sent to the staff secretary who is an assistant to the president who circulates to the senior staff in the white house for review and comment. typically the same day.
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then you have your fact checkers, we had very strict fact checking. in our office, we even had a department in speech writing. the polished draft goes to the president for his review. he will start to make his imprint on it. president bush was a serious editor. speeches took 4-8 days. that was our general expectation. but after september 11, we had a series of speeches that had to be put together really quickly including the speech that friday to the service at the national cathedral. and then the speech to congress, that speech, we got the assignment, my colleagues and i got that assignment monday morning september 17 and we were told that the president wanted a draft by the end of the day. our objections to the contrary
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went unheeded. we had to get a draft to him by the end of the day. and we did. that was the rare instance when you had to turn around something very fast. we had very good guidance on the front end from the president. he gave us the framework for the speech which was questions that the american people are asking. because the president gave us such a firm outline, we were able to finish the draft in a single day. >> a couple of weeks ago i interviewed the former trump secretary about her book and the thing from the interview that stood out that she was talking about the president gave an oval office address on march 11. basically the day that tom hanks got covid everybody went oh my
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god, this thing is real. they did not decide that they were doing an oval office address until 3:00 p.m. and the speech was at eight. -- 8:00. now that i hear you talking about your process and being alarmed only having three days, i think maybe your story is more shocking than i imagined. i am sure that my colleagues would say that is unimaginable. your not to have a good result. -- you are not going to have a good result. we had a speech ready in four hours, but that was when we lost four astronauts on the spaceship columbia. it is a very quick turnaround. a major oval address will not be decide until 3:00 in the afternoon? it is unimaginable. you are not going to get a good result with a process like that
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in my opinion. >> there was confusion after the speech where all of the reporters were scrambling, saying what did he just announce? cody, why don't you take a turn in talking about the process -- cody, why don't you take a turn in talking about the process? >> it was not just chaos in the process, you look abroad and you have people showing up at the paris airport because they did not get good guidance from the speech. that is why you do not rush these things. >> this panel is called why presidential rhetoric matters. >> for something like that you have to be precise. our process was similar to john's. probably a little bit more condensed. we took three days per speech. we excised staff secretary from the process. we circulated the speeches
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ourselves. once we thought it was ready, we sent it around to senior staff and wait saw there it and decided which ones to take and which ones do not to. i do not know how you have no -- how you dealt with other people deciding on what edits to make, we kept that to ourselves. you are talking about a specific speech. the president was almost a writer. he saw it as a collaborative relationship. one of our best speeches was the day i got to circumvent the process entirely. two days before he was supposed to speak in selma, washington shut down for a snowstorm. we spent a day shuttling drafts back and forth because nobody was there.
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we had a day to send drafts back and forth. no process gives the best speeches. >> i am completely envious of you. for having that as your set up. we did have processes as well. not the same as you, john, but our process was hair on fire but not to the degree we just heard about it from the fire -- prior administration. the process was typically policy and scheduling driving what the topics would be. i will illuminate a bit more on the memphis speech. it is the one time that i felt i absolutely -- i had to do something to intervene. i could have possibly lost my
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job i suppose. the speech was supposed to be about the north america free trade agreement, this was in november of 1993. i had been in the oval a couple of times leading up to this. our time was not quite a week. the president in the oval had said a couple of times they -- there had been a story in the front page of the washington post written by a young woman i actually knew. it was about an 11-year-old girl planning her funeral because of the violence in her neighborhood. it was a gutwrenching story. a tremendous impact on the president. he talked about it a few times. and so we are sitting in a
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circle and i am hearing speech two, the complication -- convocation of the church of memphis. i put my hand up and we started our research. had a great research department headed by and walker. one of the first things i would do is ask about the history of the location. sometimes there is something there. we played with the idea of the archives as this treasure box for our documents. so the history of that pulpit just struck me like a thunderbolt. of course, it was the last pulpit of martin luther king before he was assassinated. you are supporting strikers and sanitation workers.
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to go there and talk about north american free trade agreement which was opposed by blue-collar workers, unions, and these ministers, it was just not doable. i could not get any traction. after a meeting with one of our several meetings, i went up to bruce, he was the president in a lot of ways. his best friend, i think. i explained to him as being the last pulpit of martin luther king. and oh by the way, nafta is not going to resonate. the church also has been founded in little rock, arkansas. he was not going to stick to his script because he knew these bishops. it has to be a talking point. it has to be about race.
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bruce was saying do it, i will tell the president. i did. even on air force one, the policy people were arguing about needing to be about nafta. very few people remember that. but it was a little bit chilling until bruce got into the car with me with the motorcade and i says i think that went ok. what do you think? i think so. it was a guidepost for him. he deserved, being visited by the holy ghost. it was just me. >> since we are on the topic of speeches about race, i wanted to ask cody and john about this too, you both served presidents who gave important speeches at
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times when racial division was out in the open in the u.s., way out in the open again. cody, you are finishing up a book about that period of time between the mass shooting and -- at mother emmanuel church and his eulogy? >> might manuscript -- my manuscript is due tomorrow. i will be playing an all-nighter tonight. i am writing a book about the 10 days between the shootings in charleston and the eulogy in charleston. it is not a memoir, there was a lot that happened in that week. there was a public debate about confederate flag coming down in the south in public spaces and the supreme court found marriage equality. the one thread through all of
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this is this question of who are we? who are americans? there is this contest to determine the true meaning of america that has been going on since our founding. you have the kind of people who think that america is only for one kind of person while there is this more cacophonous version of america on the other side. the question at the heart of america is which one will win out. that is what the book is about. there will be some fun stories but speech writing. i thought about this of all of the time. the first black president, you have to. that gave him unique opportunities but also some unique obstacles when it came to talking about race. >> was the amazing grace pla nned? >> it has been said before. we were on marine one that morning heading to andrews, he
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just finished a statement in the rose garden about marriage equality. marine one came and he was still working on the speech on board. he stood up before we landed and said if it feels right, i might sing it. we inserted the lyrics towards the end. the first lady shook her head. i had not slept in three days. i just shrugged and said you do you. i asked him afterwards, you knew that you were going to do that? keep in mind it was a memorial , service, but is also the church. they had an organist playing during their remarks. a guy came in with a guitar with his remarks. people were singing. it was technically friday but it was a i knew within two minutes sunday. of seeing the crowd there that he was going to sing. before he did, he paused for about 12 seconds and looked at his book and i asked him, or you
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-- were you trying to build some dramatic effect? he says no, the thing about amazing grace is you have to start real low. once you get to a wretch like me you are up here and i did not want to squeal in front of the entire country. >> wow. john, you have a different moment when the country was grappling with who we are. >> when 9/11 happened, it was so awful for the country. all at once, american people were feeling shock, grief, anger, and fear. the president was giving voice in his speeches during that time to all of those feelings that the nation had. but it was also his role to reassure the nation that we were
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going to get through this. we had been attacked and there were enemies we had to deal with. and we were going to do that. we were not going to live in fear as the country. but at the same time, in our response to what had happened to our country, we were going to act in a manner consistent with our values. to the extent that there was anyone thinking that the united states had overreacted and would find itself as at war with a racial group or more to the point that the entire religion. those fears were unfounded because they were dealing with president george w. bush. a genuinely decent man, a goodhearted man, who in those very early days said just the right things. that is not a credit to his
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writers except to the extent that we paid careful attention to the man himself and how he wanted to say things. it was a sensitive moment. it passed with very little difficulty because of the way that the president handled himself. >> just a note to our audience that we are going to want to take your questions in a few minutes. if you have questions, put them in the q&a section and it will get to me and i will ask them. the title of our talk mentions tweets, even though i would rather never think about twitter ever again, i do want to ask you guys whether you think that twitter has helped or hurt presidential communications. whether there is an art to the presidential suite. as a reporter who perfected the art of reading a tweet on the
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air, i have not had to read tweet on the air in the last nine months. there just has not been a tweet that has created news. i do not know if that is good for president biden. i just love all of your thoughts about presidential tweets. >> for myself, i do not think it is a net plus for presidential communications. the tendency nowadays to turn everything into a bite sized piece is epitomized by twitter. i cannot think, i want to say with confidence in general, do not think anyone is better off in this country, anyone is better informed in this country, anyone has a better sense of the important issues facing the
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country, and the distinctions, differences among people are the issues among people because of twitter. i think it is just the opposite. >> all of that is true. speechwriting is thinking before you speak. tweeting is speaking before you think. there is no nuance to it, you are wrong half of the time, it is designed to make people enter -- angry and interact. speechwriting is designed to make people think. >> another thing about that is speeches in modern life, too often there is a reaching for a --applause lines. it is part of the system now,
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i like the kind of speech where you are able to go to great lengths, even a page to draw people in and get them listening and thinking as cody was saying. you have communications experts often, especially in politics who say you have to have something or have an applause line every two paragraphs. you are pushing against that as well. >> it is like electroshock therapy. people go to it because they're looking for something to zing them. people go because it is supposed to help. i am pretty sure that most people do not click if it says
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pause for effect. there is misinformation and meanness about it. it is a real mixed bag. but i think more than anything, i find it is not useful for me, it is a time waster. and there are so many other ways for some context and depth and where speeches themselves are concerned. it is a matter of not just words, it is also feelings. it is also the ability of a particular president to communicate something that is deeper than words that would appear on screen or in a handheld. it is speeches are living things that speak to a time, place, and offer a vision.
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you cannot get that. the closest that any president has come would have been the shortest speech in presidential history, the gettysburg address. i do not see gettysburg getting any traction. it would take five screens or something like that? >> it could be a short thread. this gets me to something i think a lot of people are concerned about the current state of our democracy. about the polarization, the alternate universes of truth and the meaning of what democracy is supposed to be. i am wondering whether you think that a president's words can
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damage our democracy. has damaged our democracy? is there anything a president can say to actually repair it? >> i think we have seen pretty clearly that there are words you can use to damage our democracy. you had a president who comes to mind, our last president denigrating anyone under the sun who was not a white man, standing next to vladimir putin and repudiating nato. it makes a difference. hate crimes rose. the list goes on and on. you certainly can. i worry a lot about we do not just reclaim our status in the world as soon as joe biden takes office. these are things that take time to earn back. it is not just words. it is also things like leaving our commitments and treaties and abandoning other nations. it can make a big difference. getting it back is a lot harder. the media environment makes it a
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lot harder. one place where we were a little bit more unfortunate than john and carolyn is john, you only had to deal with the last two years of facebook. facebook became a real problem. they are becoming a bigger problem. nobody has figured out how to use it in a productive way. president trump used it to his own advantage in a lot of ways. it did not help him with reelection. when your strategy is to divide and conquer and make people as angry as possible and get rid of any sort of baseline of facts, twitter can be a very powerful tool. >> president clinton would say in his arkansan way said any jackass can kick down a barn,
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but to build it back up with takes more thought, planning, and working together. i think that applies to twitter. yes, it did damage democracy. we are seeing that. we are seeing how the process to repair can be so slow, having to go through courts just to get records of what was actually done, to try and thwart the people's will on january 6th. so it is a hard turn that president biden has gotten. he will be known as a healing president. the healing will not come quickly. it is going to feel slow to some people. his ratings are coming down. i do not think it is particularly fair but that is human nature. we will see where the path leads us. i do not expect overnight success. >> i was talking to some voters in ohio who said that they are disappointed that the healing has not come. but i do not know quite what a
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president can say. given the current polarization. john, any thoughts? >> president's words do matter. i think that every time a president gives a serious speech on a serious matter it is a great opportunity. and i will just say that anyone thinks it is right for a president, especially in times like these to resist the impulse to try to hurt or provoke someone. if you believe in unity, sound like it. take yes for an answer. you are the president. a president can do a lot to make the country feel good and even political people who disagree with the president politically feel as though they are viewed with respect.
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also this tendency nowadays towards shorthand has really gotten bad. if you look at president obama's speech, the speech that made his career in boston in 2004 where he says we are not red and blue america we are the united states of america. we have never as a country refer -- referred to ourselves in such terms. the problem is i think that in 2000 when you have the 35 day recount, every night a map of the presidential electoral vote tally was on tv. every night, instead of one night. people saw that map, red and blue. red and blue. red and blue. by the end of that period, people were saying red and blue america. the new york times uses the terms red america and blue america in headlines. what is ohio?
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ohio is neither. we should not view ourselves in those terms and to the extent that people in positions of influence use those terms, i think it damages the country. you do not hear america's refers -- you do not hear americans refer to themselves in such terms. >> i am turning to the questions. do you think president trump helped incite january 6th with his words to his supporters? not just with that speech on that day but earlier too. >> yes. >> absolutely. >> it seems like it. that seems to be their version of it. >> that was easier than i thought it would be. let us move on. one of the questions we got is what it takes to be a speechwriter and how you got to where you got.
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why don't you start? you are a woman of color in a world that is dominated by white dudes. >> i am. here is the interesting thing. although some tried to tag me with the role of hispanics speechwriter, the white house did not know who to hire. and so they did a bit of a talent test. they asked a couple of dozen people across the united states to submit writing samples. i did not want to. somebody put my name in. they reached out to me and i had a contract with ted koppel who i adored and i did not want to leave him. i put off putting it in but they called me a few times and i thought i will go ahead and do it.
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what they did not tell me is that they stripped off all identifying information on the writers and a panel sat down for the campaign and they chose the one that they wanted. they chose mine. i showed up at the white house for an interview, the same day that ted koppel was doing interviews for gaze -- gays in the military. week after the inauguration. i had not told him i was going there because i thought they were being polite to tell me thank you for submitting this, we are going another direction. i did not really want the job anyway. ted saw me and i told him and he said they do not have time to be polite here. they will offer you the job. you need to decide if you want to do it. i was offered the job. ted went into the interview. he gave me an on the spot recommendation. that is how that happened. my life had been as a journalist. i thought working at the white house would be pretty neat, the
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timing for me was not what i expected. >> john, how did you become a speechwriter? was it american idol style? >> no, i always tell people that when you get a position like this it is not because of there was a nationwide merit search, it certainly was not the case in my situation. i had an opportunity to go to work for vice president and quail -- dan quayle in the summer of 1990. i wanted to do something political early in my career. as it happens, somebody know -- somebody knows somebody, and i got this position and i was hired by the chief of staff. i did not know him, i like him, admired him, supported him. i did not meet him until my second week writing speeches for
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him on air force two. >> that is a nice place to get introduced. >> he knows you are there for a reason. >> not a stowaway. cody, how did you do this? >> i got my job through stephanie potter who introduced us tonight. the first speeches i ever wrote were for senator kennedy. and she introduced me in 2007 to john favreau. they had worked together on the campaign in 2004. we hit it off. he hired me in 2007 and i was stubborn enough not to leave until 2021. it illustrates the point that carolyn was making. i have had every advantage just by virtue of who i am.
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my parents sent me to a good college and help me in washington and i went to a good grad school. i had a bunch of connections. not everybody has that. it is a very difficult industry for speechwriters of colors to break into. let alone the white house. we did not have enough when we were in the white house. we had four women in our second term team but only one speechwriter of color. there just aren't that many. i talked to the president about this and he says the system is not set up for it. there are people trying to change that in a way that was not true 20 years ago. there is a group called speechwriters of color. we see people paying interns. we try to hire us me
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speechwriters of color as we can. >> one thing to that. this is really important. what cody said is absolutely on the spot correct. it is difficult to break in because you do not have those contacts. but if outreach is done, you might be able to find people. and i will give you this little bit from when i was at the white house. somebody, in a senior position said to me, not thinking, you know, i think all of the president's speechwriters should be white southern men because they would have his voice. and i thought what an interesting thing to say to me. i said that is a great idea, can you also arrange for all of his audiences to be white southern men too? [laughter] that shut that down pretty fast. i think it gained a little bit more respect for the idea that
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you need different perspectives at the table. diversity is not just color or race. it is coastal, midwestern, you have to have people. if you are trying to talk to this great nation, you have to have people who have experiences from different parts of it. because you will miss so much otherwise. cody, i know you are from chicago, i am from the chicago suburbs. i think that helped a lot. john, you are from wisconsin, that probably helped a lot. the perspective that you brought to the white house. >> one quick question. somebody writing in with a question. dreams of being an ambassador, since age 12, how do you get to be an ambassador?
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there is the easy way and the hard way? i think it is all the hard way. >> there are two baths -- paths. one path is you join the state department and good luck in passing all of the testing there. working your way up this tremendous bureaucracy. it is huge. getting noticed, and they have had a problem of not allowing diversity. there was that. or, you know the president. you might even be a big donor. because i have been a journalist i never gave a cent to a politician. when the senate got my nomination, paul coverdale invites me in to meet me because they could not understand why the president was nominating me
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as a speechwriter. i researched everything, i researched a lot and he had been the head of a peace corps. i was able to talk knowingly about what was going on in belize with the peace corps. you have to have a certain amount of knowledge about a part of the world. you have to be able to communicate with people effectively. you have to be able to advocate for u.s. interests. for people in that nation who have the u.s. passport. evacuating people from hurricanes, i did that. going into the jungle with u.s. troops and for joint exercises in the jungle. i break out in heat rash but i did it. because i thought it was important. the guys before me had not. the prior ambassadors, i was told. you have to be willing to do a lot of stuff to get this. you get the impression that you can do it if you know the person
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who is naming ambassadors as i was lucky to. and the offer came to me. i was asked what i will do in the second term and i said i do not know, you can name me and ambassador. i had belize in mind. i had been in the caribbean before a worldwide news organizations of all pieces fell together. i was lucky. lots of people got mad. >> so, another question from the audience. how you deal with writer's block on the job? are you allowed to have writers -- writer's block if you are a presidential speechwriter? you are shaking your head. >> no. there is no time. i do not believe in the concept.
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i think that writer's block suggest there is the perfect speech in your mind that you have to find somehow. i just start writing. i will try to write the entire speech in like a minute. in 100 words. what are we saying? that is what revision is for. once you have a basic structure down, then you start working and playing with it and that is when the speech comes to life. i cannot tell you how many times i have changes speech entirely from the first concept. i find them iced -- the most important thing is to talk it out. we were lucky to have teams around us. if i was ever stuck i would go in and start talking to them and sometimes i would figure it out in my head before he said a word. i think writers block means you are stressing yourself up by thinking you have that perfect speech in there and do need to get it all done immediately. it is a process.
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start banging away, and if it does not work you will get there. christ i think of what the -- >> i think of what alan get his said. what is my motivation here? dennis -- guiness said the motivation is her paycheck. i was going to get the work done matter what. it will not always be your a game. >> i agree with both of my colleagues, if i cannot write it is the same problem, i do not know what my point is. if i know what the point is i can write it. that is what the problem is going to be. i am not intimidated by the blank screen. some of the best thoughts i ever heard of on writing are from the
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late, great charles. he said he always dictated his: and setback and dictated it, and it was transcribed, and it was too long and disorganized and repetitive and all of the problems you have in a situation like that. he said, i am not writing, i am rewriting, editing. cody makes a good point, get something down, get going on it. if there are a few ragged thoughts, if it looks like thinking aloud that is ok, you do not have to show it to anybody. get something down and your thoughts and insights will start to take shape. >> another question, once a speech is agreed-upon is there
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training, rehearsals? i have to ask carolyn, because i understood president clinton was notorious for changing things while it was in the teleprompter. >> it never happened to me. he could, but he could also read it 100%. it was a mixed bag. you do not have ownership of the speech. it belongs to the president. rehearsal four states of the union, absolutely, convention speeches, national addresses, but more than anything you have to be able to channel the voice and the thinking. it helps to have access, as we
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were able to in our white house so that you got the voice down. >> rehearsals, what were they like? >> president bush would rehearse big speeches. he did not use the teleprompter often, maybe six times a year. for the big ones, rep. sessions:. -- rehearsal sessions. he would read the first draft aloud to us. as the date of delivery drew nearer he would do those practices. there is a movie theater that goes back to the eisenhower era. it is a regular movie theater. that is where the president will set up the teleprompter and
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lectern. if you were involved in the speech chances are you would be involved in the russell. interesting -- rehearsal. >> to president obama -- did president obama also use the same theater? >> no, he is the map room. he would do it once on state of the union day around 5:30 that evening and then go out to dinner with his family and shower, got a dive. sometimes -- pick out a tie. -- >> is a good hype song. >> it is a great hype song. there is a youtube video of him somewhere doing it backstage. >> another question, you alluded
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to this. how do you handle it when a president dislikes what you wrote or wants to go in a different direction or uses a lot of marker? >> i had an incident in boston. i had not been told there was no air conditioning. the mother of the kid being saluted that they had a heart condition. to make matters worse the white house thought we would take a small plane. they were trying to show the u.s. public we were trying to save money. i had to argue my way onto it. this woman may have a heart condition.
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we get downstairs, we get on the ground and i am literally cutting, pasting, stapling, putting it together and i handed it to the president. watching me the entire time is john kerry who said you earned your pay today. the short answer is you do what you can to make it better. >> i repeated it many times, where there is no alternative, there is no problem. [laughter] >> when you are a younger speechwriter when you see a bunch of edits on the page you think you have done something wrong. within a year or two eventually i realized you were doing something right. if he is editing on the page it
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means he likes what you were doing. a few times there would not be edits on the page because he went to take a different direction. he would take time, sketch it out on a legal pad. he would always take the time to explain to us why he wanted to say the things that he wanted to say or where he wanted us to go with it. once the pen came out that meant you were on the right track. >> a couple more questions. you are going to get to finishing a book a couple of minutes later. do speechwriters confer with each other across administrations for perspective? were you guys ready on speed dial? >> i did not do a lot of it. you do not do it while you were
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there. i did not check with other speechwriters, and how do you do this or that, but you get to know them, you meet >>--beyond their writing and
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that was inspirational to. >> yep. view speeches as you are writing
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inspiration, or check back with a can every once in a while. >> we did. in our first year, when we did not what we were doing at certain events, i was like what does a president do on memorial day? we would go back and look bush and clinton speeches to see what they usually said. but for foreign policy speeches we'd look at kennedy a lot, cousin obama guided us when the economy fell apart in 2008, he would see what fdr was saying to an anxious nation.
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