Presidential Politicking: Who Puts Those Words in the Candidates’ Mouths?

Don Baer. Michael Gerson. Ted Sorensen. Peggy Noonan. Jon Favreau.

You may not recognize all–or even some–of these names, but you have probably heard or read the words they have written. These individuals were all presidential speechwriters.

A speechwriter works not only with a sitting president but also presidential candidates to craft messages that will appeal to a constituency and sway voters. He or she works directly with the senior staff of the president or candidate, and perhaps even with the president or candidate himself or herself, to determine what messages to cover and what tone should be struck. Speechwriters must be able to accept heavy criticism and comments on multiple drafts of a speech, and incorporate changes into drafts. They must also be comfortable with anonymity, because with few exceptions–primarily when something appears to be plagiarized–speechwriters are not typically acknowledged. Consequently, researchers often face a dilemma: to whom should credit be attributed for a particularly pithy turn of phrase, such as “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”?

This episode explores that issue as well as others within the realm of presidential speechwriting.

To learn more about U.S Presidents, their speechwriters, and their campaigns check out:

White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters by Robert Schlesinger

President’s Speech: The Stories Behind the Most Memorable Presidential Addresses by C. Edwin Vilade

The Policy Partnership: Presidential Elections and American Democracy by Bruce Buchanan

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