Speechwriting

Aides Say Trump Wrote His Own Inaugural Address

President-elect Trump has written his inauguration address draft himself, two senior Trump transition officials told CNN.

“The decision is a departure from how Trump tackled speeches during the campaign, when he either delivered off-the-cuff remarks or relied on text prepared by his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller. It’s unclear exactly to what extent Miller has been involved in fine-tuning Trump’s draft.”

Convention Dispatch: Homage to a Beautiful Speech

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Just for members: Leonard Steinhorn, Professor of Communication at American University and a CBS Radio News Political Analyst, offers this report from Philadelphia.

Leonard Steinhorn

Leonard Steinhorn

We will hear a lot of quality speeches this week at the Democratic convention — speeches that are tapestries of rousing rhetoric stitched together into whole political cloth. Think of Senator Cory Booker’s sprawling but inspiring speech last night, or Elizabeth Warren’s take down of Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders’ embrace of Hillary Clinton as a vehicle for the change we need. All were on message, all expressed passion, all had some great turns of phrase. And there are certain to be more like them in the coming days.

But there may be only one great speech at this convention, and we heard it last night. Like every great speech, it was woven with a single unifying thread that bound it together, told a story, left us enchanted, and made us better for hearing it. What First Lady Michelle Obama gave us was a gift, a way to imagine America differently, a reaffirmation of the American Dream drawn from the experience of those who should have every right to be bitter about it. And she transformed politics from a blood sport about our wants and needs and anger today into a sacred promise we hold with our children to shape their lives and their futures.

In the pantheon of great conventions speeches — from Mario Cuomo’s 1984 tale of two cities to Barack Obama’s 2004 one America keynote — we must now add Michelle Obama’s 2016 appeal to our better angels.

From a speechwriting perspective, what she did was brilliant. She opened with a scene from her own family, how on Inauguration Day 2009 her kids “piled into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns,” how she saw “their little faces pressed up against the window,” and on what was arguably the greatest day of her own and her husband’s lives, she could only wonder, “What have we done?” Those years in the White House, she realized at that moment, “would form the foundation for who they would become.” It’s a story every parent — red or blue — could understand.

But the beauty of her rhetoric wasn’t in this particular story — it was how she made it a parable about politics, about its “power to shape our children,” about “kids who look to us to determine who and what they can be.” And if we think only of ourselves, if we inject our ego or fame into our political ambitions, then we are violating the compact inherent in politics and indeed in so much of life — that it should not be about ourselves, but the legacy we leave for our children.

And with that she offered an implied criticism of Donald Trump, an explicit plea for Hillary Clinton, and a powerful statement that politics must be more than the sum of our grievances. “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level,” she said. “No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

She then backed it up with a secondary but wholly connected theme, one about the American Dream, and she drew on the poignant but powerful journey of African Americans in the United States as central to who we are as a people. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said, but it was expressed not in anger but in admiration and appreciation for Americans “who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done … ”

The genius of behind her words is the way she drew on injustice but didn’t dwell on grievance — instead turning it into a story of determination and perseverance among those who suffered, a true American Dream tale that illustrated how anger can consume but hope can liberate and redeem, making possible a better life for future generations so that the great-great-granddaughter of a slave could wake up in a White House built by slaves. In a subtle rebuke to Donald Trump, she essentially called on us to practice our politics in that spirit.

But as beautiful and uplifting and compelling a speech as this was, it’s still just a speech. The question is whether the message she laid out — that it’s about our children, not ourselves, that our American story should be grounded in perseverance, not resentment, that when crisis hits we don’t turn against each other, that we listen to and lean on each other — will be strong, sticky, and inspiring enough to counter the repetition, accusations, and rage that is at the core of the Republican political strategy this fall.

A New Trump, But Not Improved

Jeff Shesol was not impressed with Donald Trump’s use of a teleprompter on Tuesday night:

Trump’s speech was both gaseous and inert, like radon. It was ineffective on two axes: on the Trump axis (X), where cheap insults and racially charged attacks are the measure of manly authenticity, and on the Mainstream Republican axis (Y), where rehashed Reaganisms about overregulation are a substitute for a policy platform. Both rhetorically and substantively, Trump flatlined last night. It is hard to see how this speech, or more speeches like it, will help Trump broaden his appeal.

British Politician Explains Why She Gave Her Cock Speech

Conservative British minister Penny Mordaunt “gave a speech in Parliament last year that was ostensibly about the welfare of chickens, but was actually written with the express purpose of saying ‘cock’ as many times as possible,” Gawker reports.

Mordaunt “revealed this week that she gave the March 26, 2013 cock speech in the House of Commons after losing a bet with some Marine training officers.”

Obama’s Top Speechwriter Moving On

Jon Favreau is ending a seven-year stint as Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Favreau is considering “trying his hand at another form of drama — as a screenwriter, perhaps in Los Angeles. The departure subtracts a vivid personality from the president’s operation, defined since the beginning by Obama’s spoken words and the team that wrote them.”

What Pronouns Say About Politicians

David Brooks looks at James Pennebaker’s new book, The Secret Life of Pronouns — which studies how people use words like “I,” “me,” and “mine” — and concludes that “when people are feeling confident, they are focused on the task at hand, not on themselves. High status, confident people use fewer ‘I’ words, not more.”

“Pennebaker analyzed the Nixon tapes. Nixon used few ‘I’ words early in his presidency, but used many more after the Watergate scandal ravaged his self-confidence. Rudy Giuliani used few ‘I’ words through his mayoralty, but used many more later, during the two weeks when his cancer was diagnosed and his marriage dissolved. Barack Obama, a self-confident person, uses fewer ‘I’ words than any other modern president.”