Amusing and interesting behind the scenes look at the cobbling together of presidential speeches from former Bush deputy director of speechwriting Matthew Scully:
- When we began last year's effort, my colleague Mike Gerson had taken to calling it our "seven-day death march."
Mike Gerson and another senior writer, John McConnell, have together given us some of the most memorable words of the Bush presidency, including their recent collaboration on the second inaugural address. The setting from which these lofty words issued, however, is not quite as one might imagine. The work was done mostly in narrow quarters in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House. With heaps of coffee-stained papers strewn about, a few days' worth of crumbs and other food scraps accumulating, and an unobstructed view of the White House trash bins, the place brought to mind, as John McConnell remarked, "the back room of a cheap restaurant."
Locked away in this hovel, the team produced three State of the Union speeches, encountering problems ("confronting challenges," in the parlance of these addresses) familiar to all who had come before us.
The first great challenge of a State of the Union address is common to every annual presidential ritual - to freshen it up. Almost as dreaded as drafting a State of the Union, for example, are those yearly chores like writing remarks for the St. Patrick's Day visit by the prime minister of Ireland. How many different ways can you accept a bowl of shamrocks, or celebrate the sterling qualities of the noble Irish people?
Personally, I would consult the Duke.
- as every presidential speechwriter knows, the gravest State of the Union challenge comes when drafts of the address are circulated for editing by the members of the White House senior staff and the cabinet. One must then try to accommodate the various criticisms and manias of the editors.
....Our speechwriting collaboration allowed for little writer's vanity - no ownership of lines or clinging to cherished phrases. The same, alas, could not always be said of the resident editors, who were constantly pressing upon us certain words or chunks of verbiage that "he has to say." Close inspection usually revealed these inserts to be puffy and meaningless, ringing pledges to "develop and implement" some remote project, or to "foster and encourage" some vague objective or "spirit."
....Often the best edits came in the family theater, from the president himself as he read the text aloud. It was there, with a presidential "take it out," that the joint meeting speech after 9/11 was spared a ghastly intrusion that began, "This crisis found us making progress on many fronts, from education to energy policy."