Presidential Speechwriting: A look at Presidential speechmaking

Since the advent of broadcast news media, beginning with radio, Presidential speechmaking has become a tool of mass discourse. Beginning with the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and continuing to the present, Presidents use this form of discourse to outline policies, sway millions to support their causes, and defend nations.

In “Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond”, editors Kurt Ritter and Martin Medhurst assembled chapters written by those who studied the political rhetoric of the Presidents from FDR to Ronald Reagan in great detail. Each author examines the speechwriting and speaking approaches of an administration. In their examinations, we find that each President had a different approach to speechmaking and these approaches are looked at in great detail.

First, the editors poke holes in ten major fallacies about Presidential speechwriting:

1) Before broadcast media, Presidents always wrote their own speeches,
2) Franklin Roosevelt was the first President to use speechwriters regularly,
3) Presidential speechwriters have always been called speechwriters,
4) Presidential speechwriters have always been employed as White House staff,
5) Speechwriters simply represent the President’s policies,
6) Speechwriting reduces Presidents to marionettes who speak the words of others,
7) The most successful speechwriters are those who seek anonymity,
8) Presidential discourse would improve if the wrote their own speeches,
9) It is hard understand what Presidents believe because their words are not their own,
10) Speechwriting is a very small part of the policy-making process.

In the first chapter, these myths are challenged in brief, but throughout the book, we find them challenged with many examples presented by the authors.

Of the many critiques made throughout the book, the harshest judgment was reserved for Lyndon Johnson, whose 1968 speech announcing he would not seek re-election began with an appeal to “speak to you of peace in Vietnam and Southeast Asia”. The speech was described as “instead of withdrawing U.S. troops, President Lyndon B. Johnson withdrew himself”.

Other in-depth looks are made by the authors. including the Carter administration, where President Carter, who had little use for speechwriters or speechwriting, began his Presidency offering idealism and change from the cynicism of Watergate and Vietnam, only to stumble through crisis after crisis. The role of Ted Sorenson, Kennedy’s main speechwriter, in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, is discussed as an example where the process of speechwriting produced persuasive options to resolve critical situations.

Presidential speechwriting isn’t just applicable to the rhetoric of Presidents. Those wanting to make their own speeches more persuasive, better understand high-pressure group dynamics, how important messages are put together and presented, as well as those who are interested in studying Presidential administrations, would all find this book a great read and a permanent addition to their library.

You can find this on Amazon for a pretty cheap price, so go get it – it’s well worth it.

2 Response to "Presidential Speechwriting: A look at Presidential speechmaking"

  1. Anonymous 3/8/07 10:46
    Earl, I hear one of your ex-flakes was running her mouth this morning? Which one was it? Any truth to the rumors?
  2. williamsburg county moye 3/8/07 19:19
    gotta get it

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