All the Presidents' Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency

By Henderson, Julie | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

All the Presidents' Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency


Henderson, Julie, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


All the Presidents' Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency. Carol Gelderman. New York: Walker Publishing Company, 1997. 179 pp. $23.

The evolution - or perhaps devolution of the procedure used by U.S. presidents of the twentieth century to create their speeches and the effect that change has had on policy development is the central theme of Carol Gelderman's book, All the President's Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency.

Specifically, the book traces the role of speechwriters from the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt through Bill Clinton, analyzing their similarities and differences. For example, under Franklin Roosevelt, speechwriters were also his presidential aides, and as such were "deeply and continuously involved in high-level activities and associations. They had real policy responsibilities." Gelderman notes that Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson all followed Roosevelt's lead; that is, all of these presidents "recognized the connection between writing and policymaking," and thus their writers were also their top advisers.

Beginning with President Nixon, the role of the presidential speechwriters changed from involvement in policy making to a service department. President Reagan carried the process even farther, testing speeches before focus groups but not advisers.

Presidents Ford, Carter, and Bush all followed Nixon's practice of using professional speechwriterswho exclusively wrote speeches; they were not senior aides. Gelderman claims the confused messages disseminated during these terms illustrate that this is an inherently flawed practice. The problems of these oneterm presidents are attributed to their not using speechwriters to make policy; likewise, President Clinton's midterm turnaround is credited to "speechmaking reinvention. …

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