Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond

Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond

Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond

Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond


The rise of the media presidency through radio and television broadcasts has heightened the visibility and importance of presidential speeches in determining the effectiveness and popularity of the president of the United States. Not surprisingly, this development has also witnessed the rise of professional speechwriters to craft the words the chief executive would address to the nation.

Yet, as this volume of expert analyses clearly demonstrates, the reliance of individual presidents on their speechwriters has varied with the rhetorical skill of the officeholder himself, his managerial style, and his personal attitude toward public speaking. The individual chapters here (two by former White House speechwriters) give fascinating insight into the process and development of presidential speechwriting from Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration to Ronald Reagan's. Some contributors, such as Charles Griffin writing on Eisenhower and Moya Ball on Johnson, offer case studies of specific speeches to gain insight,into those presidents. Other chapters focus on institutional arrangements and personal relationships, rhetorical themes characterizing an administration, or the relationship between words and policies to shed light on presidential speechwriting.

The range of presidents covered affords opportunities to examine various factors that make rhetoric successful or not, to study alternative organizational arrangements for speechwriters, and even to consider the evolution of the rhetorical presidency itself. Yet, the volume's single focus on speechwriting and the analytic overviews provided by Martin J. Medhurst not only bring coherence to the work but also make this book an exemplar of howunity can be achieved from a diversity of approaches.

Medhurst's introduction of ten "myths" in the scholarship on presidential speeches and his summary of the enduring issues in the practice of speechwriting pull togethe


I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convic
tions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to
speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility
and try to live it as well. In all these ways I will bring the values
of our history to the care of our times.

What you do is as important as anything government does. I
ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort, to defend
needed reforms against easy attacks, to serve your nation,
beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens. Citizens,
not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens,
building communities of service and a nation of character.
President George W. Bush, January 20, 2001

For those who had observed Bush during his years as Texas governor or during the early stages of his primary campaign, the eloquence of the inaugural must have come as somewhat of a shock. How could a man who only months before had managed to mangle sentences, mispronounce words, and give a new meaning to Bush-speak, now articulate his ideas with such force, conviction, and poetic rhythm? Certainly practice was one of the answers. Bush had become better with each passing month of the primary and on into the general election season. Both his nomination acceptance address and his three debate performances were better than . . .

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