Saturday, December 27, 2008

Speechifying: The Writers Who Make It Possible

As I flipped through the channels on this dreary, rainy, foggy Saturday afternoon, coughing and wheezing and looking for a knitting needle to poke into my nose and relieve some of the pressure building up in my sinuses, I was held up on C-Span for a while.

Sometimes there can be some great stuff on C-Span.

Today, I was met with an image of one of those humongous oval conference tables, with about a dozen people seated around it, all with notepads in front of them, and water glasses within reach.

In the bottom left corner of the screen was the title, "Writing Inaugural Addresses." That's what made me stop. Imagine, all the words and ideas and moments of great inspiration that have been poured from the minds of those sitting around that table. (maybe they should be our presidents instead, yes?)

I didn't get to see it all, but one of Reagan's speechwriters was there, as was one of Nixon's...and a presidential historian from I forget which university (if I'm on the ball and think I may be blogging about something I see on TV, I sometimes take notes, and would have had the writers' names and universities and ideas to add here...but I'm rather ill today and was far too lazy to go in search of a pen and paper) who strongly recommended that if the writers around the table hadn't read James Garfield's inaugural address in 1881, that it should be required reading.

Clearly, speechwriting has been a much-needed resource over the past eight years. And the historic speech that will be delivered next month will also be mined for phrases that may be used on David Letterman's "Greatest Moments In Presidential Speeches" segment.

The current buzz, much of it negative, surrounding the inauguration is Obama's selection of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation, but I bet many of the writers sitting around the big table and featured on C-Span today were instead thinking of past lines like,

"Ask not what your country can do for you—
ask what you can do for your country."

and hoping that one day there'd be another line that would stand for years to come, and that they might be able to say, "I wrote that."

"It is the high privilege and sacred duty
of those now living to educate their successors
and fit them, by intelligence and virtue,
for the inheritance which awaits them."
—James A. Garfield; March 4, 1881

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