I loved being a speechwriter.
A lot of it had to do with sitting down with someone and hearing what he or she wanted to say — then working over the course of weeks to help get it just right. I was fortunate. I worked with executives who took the time to labor over their speeches.
A speech is a vehicle for delivering a message. The speaker’s message. Neither the message nor the speech should be concocted in isolation by a third party. In fact, I quit my last corporate job when I was asked to work this way.
A third aspect of speechmaking: every speech must be consistent with those delivered by the speaker before and after it. Every speech must hold its own on a continuum that reflects the knowledge and values of the speaker.
I never did political speeches because I don’t like writing by committee. Plus, I suspect that most politicians do not review anything written for them before they actually deliver a speech. Both the message and the speech are usually in the hands of a handler. This is risky, because as pressure builds and polls swerve, a politician may lose control of more than the process. In the hands of others, the messages may swerve as well.
Which is clearly what’s been happening with one of the presidential candidates.
I remember standing a few feet away from her during a speech in 1992 and thinking, why isn’t she running for president? She was fresh and earnest. Unrehearsed yet prepared. Clearly not handled. Talking with the audience, not to it, without exaggerating claims to experience and perspective.
So, now there’s this other candidate in her party. He is clearly in command of his content, but his focus, as delivered in his choice of vocabulary, is on something outside of himself. As a result, you are hearing his ideas first, which define his persona. The words are plain, the sentence structure clear — the listener does not have to decode the language and worry about what he really means. You understand and know whether or not you agree with what he would do in the next four years.
And he’s getting slammed for being good. By the people who help his opponent with her messages. Perhaps they have become so jaded by their own behavior, they see oratory in the hands of an accomplished speaker as some sort of red herring. Maybe they are afraid of putting the real thing on the podium, so they don’t know it when they see it.
There are many reasons this person and his ideas are taking hold, not just the way he speaks. But the fact that he’s a compelling speaker with a logic flow — able to impress and get a point across in his own way — says volumes about how his mind works and what kind of leader he would be. You don’t get the sense that the speechwriters or the advisors are steering him or catering to the latest burp in a poll somewhere. There is consistency from speech to speech and I’ll bet if he wins the nomination, there will be more specificity to the inspiration he values.
If his only slip-up is the snafu with the borrowed phrasing that he didn’t acknowledge in one speech he delivered, we can live with it. The slip-up was human — not deliberate plagiarism and certainly not covered up. His message is authentic, because he is. And his speechwriters and advisors, at this juncture, anyway, seem to know their place.
And that’s the difference between being a Churchill, a Kennedy, a Reagan or an Obama; being handled; and the instant gratification of words lazily strung together by a charm-meister or desperately grafted onto a power-first, wavering message platform. It is authenticity unencumbered by ambition, a desire to connect uncompromised by selfish superiority. It is good speaking and a good speech.