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tv   Writing Presidential Speeches  CSPAN  August 1, 2018 8:02pm-9:37pm EDT

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about the shooting of hamilton who was shot by the vice president. we've had terrible times. >> there was a period before the civil war that had 80 members rolling around on the floor fighting one another. >> one of the members who had a wig his name was kipe one of the members pulled his wig off during the fight. and someone else yelled he scalped him. and that was enough levity to stop the fight. >> congressional reporters sunday night at 8:00 eastern on cspan's q & a. next on american history tv former presidential speech writers talk about communicating policy from the president's point of view. we hear from john shi who worked with hillary clinton and from josh mcconnell who wrote
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for george w. bush and cheney. my name is kevin mulliman and i'm the external affairs associate here at nuy washington, d.c. on behalf of new york university thank you for coming to tonight's event. tonight marks the first of many summer events in the young leaders senate affairs. we hope eventers like this will help interns like your build relationships with mentors and peers and maybe encourage you to return to the nation's capital to start a career in politics after you graduate tonight we're joined by former presidential speech writers during the george w. bush and bill clinton association. mcconnell served over four
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years in the staff. as the speech writer for george w. bush and vice president dick cheney, john was responsible for the president's major addresses. in the bush-cheney white house he held the position of assistant to the president. he has also worked as a principal speech writer for dan quail, bob dole and in 2004 nominee paul ryan. she began her career as a cops and court reporter for a florida newspaper but left to assist then first lady hillary clinton with her syndicated newspaper column and speeches. in 1997 in june became a special assistant to the president and presidential
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speech writer, writing speeches for bill clinton. june then went on serving as chief speech writer for mrs. clinton's first campaign in 2000. june will join the new york university. vonh is a reporter for nbc news. notably covering the special election senate race in alabama between roy moore and doug jones and the entirety of the 2016 presidential campaign. from the iowa coffee stops to the trump campaign in new york. dawn first started at nbc news as a fellow. this event would not have been possible without the coordination and support of the staff of the center along with our colleagues at nyu
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washington, d.c. please join us in the lobby for a light reception after the event. and thank you and enjoy the program. hello everybody. we're all good. thank you all for having us here this evening and thank you to kevin. this is june, this is john. we will be here and we'll take questions afterward. this is exciting for me because i've been here in dc for about five years so i haven't been around the scene so long myself here. so this is an opportunity for me. and i think for a lot of the people here the question is where are you going to be in the next couple of years and what are the opportunities that
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present themselves. how old were you when you began working with hillary clinton. >> 23. >> and she was the first lady. >> she was the first lady, yes. >> how did you get connected? >> i was a court reporter down in florida. and you know i was definitely much more of a partisan than a democrat and i knew i had to get out of journalism because i wanted to take a side. i had friends interring in dc, i called one friends and he said you know what president clinton's speech writer would love you. this is fax, he said fax me a resume and a cover letter and i will get it to her. i said okay. i just never ever thought it would work. so i didn't sweat it. i just sort of like, you know i sweat so many cover letters
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before and this one i didn't sweat because i didn't think there was no chance in hell. so i just wrote it. it was a paragraph or two, i faxed it to my friend. luckily my parents live in dc. when i came to visit them, i called liz mccultine and said i'm coming to town would you do an informational interview. she said yes. and it was awesome because i got to go to the white house. i said if nothing else comes of this i get to see the old executive office building and this is amazing. we had a good conversation and then i went back to florida and nothing happened. and then out of the blue like a couple of weeks later her assistant call med and said we have an opening. hillary is going to write a column and she needs an assistant. someone to research it and like write early drafts and i'm like, all right. so i tried out for that. i sent like, you do a blind audition kind of thing. you write a sample column and they judge it.
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this is a long story i'm sorry. and to shorten it. i got the job, it took a while. because they were agonizing over what to do. and i was ready to go to florida so i said i'm coming up any way. i'll volunteer. so i volunteered and then a week into my volunteering, she said you got the job. so and that was like, all right. you know. i was like whoa i just never ever thought it would happen. months later she told me the reason she even kept me in mind is she loved my cover letter. so you just never know. >> i think what we'll get at and we'll go into some personal anecdotes because ultimately you stay with the clinton over both of their administrations. >> i did. >> and you were with hillary. >> back in the speech department. >> one of the lines along the way is when you meet these people it's a matter of where those things can take you in those words. >> it's kind of college. the friends you meet in the
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campaigns or political families, you know you're always connected. >> that worked out for john. >> same thing. >> would you mind telling people how you got involved in speech writing and that trajectory of where those initial meetings happened and how it took you. >> it's a similar story. i was just out of law school. it was 1990. and i was clerking for a federal judge in new york city. and these clerks jobs were a yearlong and i wanted to do something political in my career. 3/4 of the clerkship i came to washington and talked to everybody i knew in washington and that took about an hour. and i wasn't quite sure how to go about this. i had a law firm, a couple of law firms waiting to for my own answer about whether i would come to work for them after the clerkship. but i was just holding off. i was thinking geez it would be
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really great to go and do something political in washington. the short of it is, because i was telling all my friends what i wanted to do and my judge knew what i wanted to do. and my professors, former pressers knew what i wanted to do. in my telling all these people generally what that i wanted to do something political. someone i knew knew someone in the political office and they were looking for a speech writer. they wanted someone who was available soon who had good recommendations and was willing to work for very little money. which is how a lot of people get their start in washington. >> yes, very little money. >> and i came down and talked to the deputy chief of staff spencer abraham was later a senator for michigan. and secretary of energy and the chief of staff vice president's office was bill crystal. and they hired me as a speech
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writer. and the -- abraham told me the vice president has never had a speech writer like the one we're hiring. that is someone to work on political speeches and just things other than major addresses. he had a guy on the staff who was a foreign policy expert who did these foreign major policy speeches but they needed someone to do everything else. and vice president quail had never really had someone full time doing that. he had just sort of doing his own thing. he had been a senator. prior to being elected vice president -- dan quayle. they said we'll see if we need you. i thought the worse possible scenario is i work for two or three months on the white house
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staff. but the best scenario played out they hired me for two months and forgot about the two months. and kept me on finally i mentioned to spence abraham, wasn't this a probationary job and he said you're fine don't worry about it. and this thought me make sure your friends know what you want to do. you talk to people with interesting jobs in washington and just about everyone will tell you if they're being honest they will think of a person what thought of them or connected them to somebody else or just decided to give them a break. dick cheney you hear him talking about coming to washington 24 years old, a phd student and how he ended white house chief of staff when he was 33 years old. it was just people along the way seeing what he was interesting in. and a talking to b and b talking to c. and things.
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things following from that. another good way of becoming a presidential speech writer is go to work for a governor who gets elected president. you just have to find that governor. >> what do you guys, i think oftentimes younger people they hear the words it's about who you know. and i think often times there's a majorititive meaning to that. from what you both articulate it's a matter of relationships. what type of people have you seen, not only from you guys but your experiences working in these offices. you told me you just saw dan quayle last week. that's a relationship that's more than 30 years strong. how important is that when people are presenting themselves as individuals in a very competitive sphere? what are they looking for and how did that relationship last in the long run? by speaking and questioning, by accomplishing a friendship? what does that look like?
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>> i remember, i called one of my best friends. as soon as i got this job to go to work for the vice president. it hit me this is not a job you ease into. on day one you will be given an assignment to write a speech and it'll be due in 24 hours or 74 hours. there's this heaviness settled on me as soon as i started i really, i really better be at the top of my game. i remembered saying to one of my best friends from law school calling him to tell him what was about to happen. and he said, don't worry at all johnny just make yourself indispensable. i thought that's good advise. how exactly am i to do that. if you think about it nobody is indispensable. what he was saying to me is just work very hard, be reliable and be a good colleague. i think one of the greatest experiences i've had is working
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for the george w. bush for president campaign in austin texas in 2000. and that just was a magical gathering of people just wonderful people. everybody, if there were rivalries or pettiness or anything like that i was, immune from it. and i was definitely unaware of it. it just was a very friendly smooth operating team. everybody pointed in the same direction and everybody moving forward campaigns tend to be that way. otherwise they don't turn out well. it's really important to like the people you work with to be liked by them. and even more than that to like the person you work for. that takes away some things that would be burdens on you. and so i just think, indispensable to me just means being reliable, and being
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someone that people like dealing with. yeah, that i totally agree with that. it's like, you know yeah you get the speech and so often it's like a last minute deal. and you're like, panicking and you're like okay i cannot mess this up. so and it's a lot of stress but if you can really deal with it and produce a good product. most of the time, you get a great reputation and it's also key like so, being a good colleague, low drama, you know like i definitely took assignments and just went away and produced decent copy. or decent speeches then when people would edit i would be diplomatic about it. i would not be a primadona. oh my gosh you don't understand genius. i might have been thinking that but it's all about, it's all about being very diplomatic. being a good colleague, being someone who's easy to work with. and not complaining and so, i also had this like because i
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was young i was 23, 24, 25, i was grateful for the opportunity. so i sort of just like kept my head down and got things down. looking back now that i'm a middle-aged woman i feel like maybe i should have been a little more pushy because i was so like, oh my gosh i can't believe i have this and i wish i would have been a little bit more assertive. but over all, your reputation will carry you very far. if people know you're reliable, you don't panic, you don't fail, and you're easy to work with, you're not going to be a primadona that reputation stays with you. and people 20 years down the line remember that. and they will help you, you never know when. but it will help you at some point. they have warm feelings for you, you have warm feelings for them then you can top that network. >> and also the principle knows you're reliable.
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and i remember vice president cheney saying to me one time, i always wrote for him the entire eight years. i remember one time he said don't let anyone make your life difficult. he said, you are doing things the way i need them done. and you know, i didn't hold that out. hold that over anyone but i just remember, appreciating that level of confidence. >> i think a lot of people in this room are familiar with john fabro he is the speech writing director for president obama. and he's now operating his pod cast, pod cast save america. the people who hear fabro now he's a very outspoking activist on the front lines. for you, as often people who come to washington are getting involved in politics because they want to be political engaged how can they make a difference. when you're a speech writer you're essentially representing the principle speaking for the
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principle, writing for the principal. to what extent was that like. when you're writing for the principle. you worked on many domestic issues you were passionate about. how was that in infusing your own opinions, knowledge based with that of trying to accomplish the goal of representing the principle and what you wrote. >> it was pretty easy. i definitely -- i would say i'm still a clinton democrat. i'm a moderate, now liberal because where the world has gone. but democrat. so i didn't have -- i was politically aligned with them. and then, what was great was that i -- because i was one of the few minority speech writers i got all the race -- i got a lot of the race speeches. and i got immigration speeches. and that was easy because everyone was align on the
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immigration issue. and what america is not defined by our race but by common ideals. all of those things were amazing to help formulate for the president and there was no controversy there. unlike today. but-- so it was not, i didn't have any sort of crisis of conscious. because i was aligned. >> 1997-1998, president clinton he announced he was going to go and do a year of town halls when it came to race relations. >> right exactly. >> it didn't necessarily, i will let you speak to it. it didn't go necessarily as the administration had hoped. and it was a tough issue he got a lot of criticism for that he wasn't forceful enough and gave overarching things and it was important to have a conversation. how were you when you were planning those town hall, was there a certain extent of
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coaching, town hall formats are different. what was that like, i'm sure you had that specifically on race in working with the president. how closely did you work on him, what was that like? >> you know a speech writer who worked on the two, and there was a whole race commission, i can't remember what they were called. so i wasn't on deck for every single speech but there's one speech i got to work on which was the 40th anniversary of desegregation at little rock central high school. that was amazing. because it really did sort of -- it was more like a, it was more a statement of the case. it didn't have many solutions unfortunately. because it's so hard. we haven't figured that out. but it was remarkable that he was commenting on it. it was sort of like a probarack obama speech like let's recognize that we still have so
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many hurdles. segregation ended then but we still self-segregate. it was a great, i don't know what it was. but it was just like it conjured up the right feelings. we thought we were on the great path. but as the initiative continued and i wasn't the involved in the initiative spot, it was very hard to speak 100% frankly. and maybe that's where things moved over. >> how did you do that? because you had certain thoughts. >> yeah. >> how do you write a speech knowing the extent to where the administration wants to go. >> i wrote that speech with my boss michael waldman who was the director of speech writing. we wrote what we thought. we wrote about self-segregation in schools. it was more like honoring the bravery of the people of the past. and the self-segregation that takes place. then the america is changing. it's not just a black and white
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country. it's a multi -- you know, more than half of the population of california is going to be all kinds of -- it was dealing more like the multicultural part. we just wrote it and then we got it to clinton. all these people are saying we can't say that, and then clinton got it and he just sort of, called us up at like 2:00 a.m. and we were working on it in the hotel. his person called us at 2:00 a.m. can you come see him and talk to him about it. and we're like, okay. where is he. he's at his mothers-in-law house. and i'm like oh my god where is that. we had to wake up people to find out where that was. we woke up someone and we got there at 2:00 p.m. he was in his hope watermelon festival t-shirt and he had rewritten. reminiscing about his childhood and talked about being alive during the integration and sort
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of like did his masterly clinton thing about you know understanding all sides. and it was -- i don't know it was great. and i can't, it was sort of like a frank address of what the state status was honoring the past and then going forward it was more like let's recognize this. i don't know how, the conversation went as it did. >> i always say that, a person who's elected president of the united states definitely president bush who i worked for is entirely capable of writing his own speeches. but he doesn't have time. he's not going to have time. the president speaks 500 times a year. so that's why you have, glad to say, the speech writing office. but your job really is to remember that ideally the work you're doing is expressing the president's best thoughts on
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the matter at hand. not yours, not your -- you're obviously going to make the case as strongly as it can be made. you want to marshal the best arguments. you want to bring the most compelling facts and anecdotes that you're able to gather through your own background or through the use of your own research or the research of your speech writing office staff. but a writer should never confuse a speech for a president that they're doing with their own body of written material. you are not contributing to your corpus of work. i don't believe you should think of it that way. you should think of it as the president's words. so if you're emphasizing something in the way that the president really wouldn't, of course the president is going to catch it in the editing process and will be annoyed by it and he will be really
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annoyed if you do it to him again. so that's why, although there are tons of abled writers, the proportion of them who would be able speech writers for another is not 100%. it's significantly less than that. i think some people who might be thought of as good potential speech writers don't really -- aren't really happy in the position because they don't like to change their style to suit the president they're working for and they think of it in terms of it being their own body of work. in terms of writing about things you care about, you're better if you care about it. you're better if you agree with whatever it is that you're writing about. >> you bring your passion. >> i'm a lawyer by training so i can make an argument for the opposing position. one of our professors told us, the best way to become the best
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advocate on your position is to become an expert on the adversaries position. that's where you spot the weaknesses and you will know where the listener is going to see where you skipped a logical step and things of that nature. but by the same token you don't want to spend every day applying that talent and writing arguments for things you don't agree with. so you can do that on occasion. i think it was more common in my own case to be writing on something i didn't care about. not so much something i didn't agree on. but i didn't have strong opinions on every matter of federal policy. at times i thought. you can teach it round or flat. >> john, you're one of the few that has served all eight years in the administration you worked with vice president cheney, also worked with george w. bush. can you walk us through sort of how you get to the point of putting the words on paper and sort of that conversation. talking directly with the
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president. like for instance, you can go through any number of whether it had been speech on hurricane katrina, the war on iraq. september20, 2001, these demands are not open to negotiations or discussion. the taliban must act immediately. they will hand over the terrorists or share in their fate. from this day on, americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have seen. it may include dramatic strike, visible on television and covert operations, secret even in success. how did those words get spoken there inside of the capital building? >> specific reference to that speech, that would have been direction we got from the president from dr. rice who at the time was the national security advisor. i don't, i saw the president
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allot -- the president a lot after 9/11. because there were a number of speeches before september 20th. it was the thursday of the week following, that was the speech to the joint session. my buddy spoke at the national cathedral on friday at the service of remembrance. but any way, that would have been direction we got from the president. we meaning myself, mike gerso new york -- who was the main speech writer and myself and culley. starting in austin, by dividing up the speeches and then editing them together. we ended up writing them together. and throughout the president's governor bush's campaign then president bush's first term. we literally wrote on that basis three guys in the same office at the same computer. writing the speeches line by
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line. gerson who's now a columnist with the washington postvery often would come in even before a single word was written with a very clear sense and clear direction on how the speech was going to be put together. kind of a theoretical construct so we would often start from that. a major speech like that addressed to the joint session, state of the union, it will be input from the president on the front end. and then a lot of input from the president once the thing has been drafted and put through the staffing process and reviewed. i mean he would give a lot of input on all speeches. but a state of the union is a different thing all together. because you have press rehearsals and the family theater of the white house where the president reads it through allowed and the writers are there. a lot of changes are made.
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that's in distinction to the dedication of a museum or something. the president is going to make his edits on it but you're not going to get a lot of direction on where to go with the speech. it's going to be assumed that the speech writers are able to put together appropriate. ronald reagan dies, gerald ford dies, pope john paul second dies. >> walk us through the room of where you're getting direction. who are you getting direction from. >> you mean on a big policy speech. >> on a big policy speech. >> there are policy people in the white house. >> you call somebody. going down the hall. >> you will get direction. there will be big picture direction from the white house communications director, okay. this is going to be social security week. and then okay well what's our policy? well talk to the policy people on that but it's clear the
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president wants these five principles to be followed in whatever reform is enact ed. this is going to be the speech on the principles, this is the town hall. he needs talking points. and you will just put those things together. speech writing we don't have to come up with the policy thankfully. but there are great policy people in the white house. one of the 10,000 people working for the president of the united states is the talent around you. you want someone to tell you about trade or whatever else. pick up the phone and there's going to be a great expert to tell you everything you want to know and to tell it to you in very precise, ironclad, clear understandable terms. which helps you a lot to understand it to be able to write it yourself. i will say -- i can think of a couple of examples where the fact that a speech was on the
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calendar drove the policy process. >> it created a deadline. >> i was in the deputy chief of staffs office one day. and it was called the deputy's meeting. and i was there and deputy chief of staff said to me, you guys have what you need for that speech on thus and so next thursday. i said no we don't have anything. we know where the event is but that's it. and he turned to the person in charge of the policy he said, or the deputy of that office, he said you tell your boss that if we don't have the policy by the day after tomorrow the speech is canceled. and the policy appeared in the speech writing office in due course. as we said, speech writing sometimes drives the policy process but typically not and
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it shouldn't. >> i had that question, because i was unable to cover the administration that you guys work for. but have been able to travel with vice president pence and he has one for the first year of his administration he had one speech writer who was essentially going from those campaign type rallies to overseas trips and it was impressive to watch someone put into words. how do you do the official side of it. because both of you have done campaigns and official and you guys did it within the same period of time. how is that process like and what is that working -- is it different working with the campaign versus the official side. >> i think the campaign is definitely more, there's a speech, there's a message. you just repurpose that message for every audience. you sort of like redo it through the same but different
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every time. and it's all about lines and getting the crowd into it. when you're the president -- you definitely try to bring in a sweep of history. why this is important. and then sort of like taking america along this road. and so -- and there's not always but usually there's a little more time to think it through. to make it beautiful. you get like policy guys will give you a fact sheet. and your job is to write a speech based on a fact sheet that doesn't read like a fact sheet. so that you bring in that poetry and you have that time. and campaign is just very responsive and what's the sound bite. and even now in the internet age. we worry about sound bites. i don't think sound bites are an issue anymore. everything is online everywhere. because before in the 90s, 80s it's like what's that 20 seconds that's going to get on
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the evening news. what's the line. and everyone -- all the senior people are sweating the sound bite. i don't think that happens anymore right. >> dick cheney writes in his book when he was chief of staff to president ford and they lost of course to carter in 76 to that point was the closest presidential election in 60 years. and ford told cheney, i want this to be a smooth transition to cheney got in touch with the carter people. the way he puts it in his book he said overnight you go from low do we beat them to how do we help them. this is when the election is over. it's over. and so if the speech writers keep writing, like the election is on, it's not going to sound right. and because it is very different. campaigning is about to use an
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unfavored word, dividing. defining choices. and especially -- >> contrast. >> contrast. >> all that contrast. where's the contrast. >> exactly right. exactly right. and by the time the votes are cast. the idea of campaign speeching is to have it as clearly set in the mind of a voter who's listening as you can possibly do so. what is the choice in this election and what are the stakes of making choice a versus choice b. that's one of the -- and then of course when you're president it's all about speaking in broader terms. as your colleague described the narrow arch of a presidency, the speeches should differ but they should all have some sort of a thread that goes through them through the presidency and you should attempt in every way you can to bring people
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together. there's another difference that you discover after working on a campaign and your boss is elected president. and in the campaign speeches you're always saying things like i will propose to the congress such and such or if elected president, i will direct the secretary of state to perform such and such an act. and when you're president you say i am proposing to the congress. i have directed the secretary of state. you go from the language of persuasion and vote gathering to the language of power. >> will you guys share what your principles were like. because i know when quayle left office. you continued to work for him. and you with the hillary
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campaign. who was she running initially on the republican side. >> giuliani. >> yeah. >> yeah, yeah. things could have been a lot different. >> what were you principles and in your working and personal side. >> with hillary it was definitely like the smartest person i've ever worked with. she's just a very, very very smart person and you cannot get away with bad stuff. you know like she just sees it right away. she's very kind about it but you're just like if you just give her -- i avoid -- i did my best to avoid it. and you know this didn't come through in her campaigns but she's a lovely warm woman. very gracious and funny, really funny. so and you know i started out ghost writing or helping her with her column and it's just like sometimes me and her
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talking about it and it was just kind of just a warm relationship. the president, president clinton he was always very nice to me too. and once again, really smart. and he held back a bit because i think he knew i came from hillary's staff. so if he didn't like something, he didn't always tell me, right away. because i could tell he didn't like it. because he knew -- so but also very smart and amazing. there are few times you get to talk to him about a speech. for me i only had a few times after the speech i got to talk to him and he would go after the speech after he delivered it and he would tell me, you know why he repeated the line. it literally was because he was reading the audience and he would do it this way instead. being in the audience of a
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master communicator. he was just really telling me, i did it this way because of that. so they were both very kind and generous and, when clinton was going to china in 1998 they realized i was chinese american. even though the clinton administration divided foreign and domestic speech writers they made sure i got to go. there are those personal touches too that are heartwarming i guess. president bush, i loved the guy. he was a wonderful person to work with, i never saw him slight anyone. i never saw him condescend. just a very decent fellow. if i had never met the man i
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would know who he was because he is a very easy man to read. his feelings go directly to the expressions on his face. happy, sad, annoyed, bored, irritated. immediately. i always describe him as, there shall -- there are people who thought he was impatient. but he is not an impatient man. he is very patient. i on many occasions saw him hear someone out. whatever the point he wanted to make. but he would not be patient anymore when they started to repeat themselves. and he would say you're losing altitude or something like that. but patient, considerate, a great memory. he knew everybody's name. he would call you by name. if he saw you on a saturday, we
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had many unexpected events that required fast, quickly produced speeches on a weekend. he would thank you for coming in on a saturday or sunday. of course it was your job. but he was very considerate in that way. he was also very serious editor of his speeches. line by line. and he could read a speech once. an eight page, 10 page speech. read it once. throw it down on his desk. and read it back to you. he had a real sense of how things were structured. he could find the one or two paragraphs that were out of place. he called me one day really early. i was sit at my desk it was 7:00 and i was staring down into a cup of coffee. and my phone rang and that little window on your phone
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says potus. and i said yes, sir. it was a speech coming up that morning and he was going to be leaving in about an hour. there was a hotel across town. and he said, i got a couple little changes on this speech. the speech was one of these tough ones that had, it had one part then another part that had to be said that day but it didn't really fit with the first part. any way so in the middle of it the president says, what is this paragraph in the middle of page four. and i said -- >> you have to blame the policy staff right. >> i just whatever i mumbled something about well it's just in the nature of a transition. he goes it's just words isn't it. he said take it out. he would spot though things. vice president cheney was not a big editor. he was, he would like the speech or not. he would modestly say i'm not a speech writer. but he would write inserts and
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he had a beautiful, beautiful hand. and he would write in this flawless handwriting, these inserts without any cross outs or anything else. just perfectly formed in his mind what he wanted to say and where to put it in the speech. but less of a line editor. and less, but he -- don't be wrong on a fact or piece of history. cheney is going to be on top of it. and he wasn't picker or anything like that but he would make little notations. he cared about his speeches. he called me one day. john i got us into some trouble. and i said oh. he said yeah the president was of these dinners that the president has to be funny. i have to stand in his place and i have to speak for 10 minutes and be funny. and then he say, -- he says i
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don't do funny. i said don't worry, matthew skullly and i will write you a little speech that will just have some nice stuff on it. i talked to him a little bit about it. i think he says, i think this is cheney, we talked about it a little bit. cheney was a wonderful person to work with. i enjoyed him as much as i enjoyed president bush. as a person. nice and appreciative. always treated, met everyone as an equal. i will add something about vice president quayle he's the only boss i worked for that would write an entire speech and gave it to me. he did this several times. when he was vice president of the united states. it's back when you would share disks. the first time it happened i was called to his office in the west wing and it was early in
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the morning. i didn't know why i was being called in. and he would say john i wrote a speech this weekend. he holds out a disk and hands it to me. dan quayle was a newspaper man and he could write and write fast. he had a newspaper column he could write a 600, 700 column in a half hour. >> this president is known to go off script. he is known to go without a telepromter. he speaks off cuff. there's a desire with authenticity. you see it with senate campaign, you see bader dropping the f bomb here, dropping the f bomb there. it seems there's a demand among the electoral that the
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president has continued it. where do you guys see the art of the word. the art of the speech, and how do you convince the public that through the words you are writing that there is authenticity. that you're not just another politician. because of twitter, the demand to have quick rapid responses that are not packaged up, perhaps in the way you guys did? where did you see, are you concerned about it and what would you say to individuals running for office and these midterms are in 2020. what would be a recommendation to a principal you're -- principle you're working for now. >> so many of these times are not normal. but if you go back to barack obama. the speeches made him. so there's still, i still believe that there's room for excellent speeches. i think what made him so successful, they were beautiful speeches. they were speech writely
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speeches but they were still authentic. so he was able to bring himself, convey himself through quite amazing, beautiful words. and so there's still -- and i think that's where america -- he came across as authentic. but he's also very articulately so authentic. i would still counsel a candidate to go that way. you need to say real things. i think that's when you get in trouble. when you're saying beautiful things but you're saying nothing. so of course, you know. like i think that's when it really works. you both -- trump would say very real things and like there's not substance. but there's just something, i
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don't know what the word is but i think you can still find that. for the sake of comedy and the civilization and the country, let's think these things through and find a way to talk about them. bringing authenticity in but i don't know -- i'm foiling here. >> president trump's state of the union was great. >> that's because they wrote it and he read it. >> the first time he came out and did the first state of the union speech. i was thinking what is he going to do. because during the campaign, he would throw down a couple of sheets of white paper with his own notes. and he would give a speech. and no one has ever run for president successfully doing this. no one. and yet he did it. so when he came out for that
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first speech to congress i thought is he going to do that. is he just going to reach in his pocket and throw something down. of course he didn't. and then as i said, the most recent one. you know this was, this was his best thoughts put down in a polished way. and nothing inauthentic about it at all. and it is, and so as you were saying at the outset, authenticity does not mean declining to share with people your best thoughts or spending time polishing your words. or working with writers. i think i work a lot with ceos now i remember one ceo a few years ago said to me, i'm not good at giving speeching. i said you can be. you're good at everything else you've ever tried. it's not a mystery.
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it's just some people don't want to do it. some people want to do it. it is something that a person who is intelligent and has a point to make, can do. and can get better at. and one of the elements seems to me will always be getting your best thoughts down in writing. just to prepare. like you prepare for anything else in life. >> right and the best speech writers can really help you find your authentic voice. right. the speech writer will listen to you and what you want to say and listen carefully and they'll be doing some research on you. and then really, as you said earlier, we serve our principles and really capturing their voice. and that doesn't mean -- like you don't have to write it. you don't need to write it yourself as a principle as long as you find people who help you say what you mean but better. >> can i tell you a quick story of i worked for senator dole in
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the 96 campaign. traveled across the country with him for the last six months of the campaign. and at one point, and i was writing speeches on the plane. and at one point during the campaign, headquarters, senator traveled all the time. headquarters would get in touch with me. well we now have a policy address. and it wasn't by anyone on staff i don't think. it i think it was done by a consultant. but at any rate, we have this policy address that we want the senator to deliver. sometime this week. it's really important. and they told me this because it was my job as a speech writer on the plane to present this to the senator and tell him it was really important that he deliver this speech. so i did and i gave it to him. i said well this is, they want you to do this speech this week. and it's important. and dole looks at it and, he
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makes no commitment to me about what his intentions are. he looks at it and then, and i thought well he'll let me know what he thinks. well he didn't. i get another call from headquarters a day later. when is he going to give the speech? i said well i don't think there's going to be any speech. not this thing you had me give to him. no, no. no. it's really important. you go talk to him and you tell him this is really important. so i found my opportune moment to go up to the senator on the plane i said, sir, speech draft is pretty important and they want to get it on the calendar. so if we need to make edits or whatever i can get to work on those. and dole just looked at me. saying nothing. and i said, you never want to see this again do you? and he just shakes his head.
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so i took it and gave the bad news to headquarters. >> we have some time to open up questions. everybody here. >> this is a question for mr. mcconnell. you mentioned the difference between an election and campaigning and working for somebody who is president, is the language, language of gathering hope versus language of power. how would you distinguish between those beds just the tense of grammar. >> yeah, really the point is, is summed up in the example i gave. as candidate for president, i intend to do this as president. i promise you i will do this as president. but then as the speech writer learns when you're writing for the president, you are saying i am doing this. i'm happy to tell you that i have just done this. or i am happy to tell you that the secretary of state is going
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to the middle east tomorrow because i have sent him. you're just, it's no longer the aspirations of a presidential candidate. it's now the actions of a president. >> first of all, these are very busy times, thank you both for taking the time to talk to us. since you both have written for various people and when we talk about tone, did you find it difficult that on the -- hillary and bill, they have a similar tone to how they speak. but dan quayle and dick cheney appear different on the words they use and how they present their arguments. was it difficult for you both to find that tone in any -- basically how did you also find that tone for having to deal
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with various people and politicians? >> you really have to pay attention and learn and ask questions. as you say, george w. bush, dick cheney, bob dole, dan quayle very different in their styles. they all of course are comfortable speaking in public and if you're comfortable speaking in public you can read a speech that's decently written that follows the basic elements which -- one of the main ones of which is the sentences need to be short, it's not like writing an essay. it's the spoken word, and so it's a little bit different. and in some ways significantly different from other types of writing. you have to read it allowed for example if you've written it because you have to be careful that things don't rhyme.
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or you have illiteration that is not intended or hit the ear. the main importance is how they get into a speech. how they start it. how that first page is like, how they bond with the audience and how they get comfortable. president bush liked to do extensive acknowledging. so extensive we would not write these things. they would be gathered up and entirely accurate. and it would be the mayor, governor, the congressman, the eighth grade band. >> clinton too we just had acknowledgment pages. we would just list them.
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>> did you write them? >> no it would take forever. >> quayle would just get right into his message. vice president cheney was a little more that way too. bob dole if you wrote him quality jokes he would tell jokes for five or 10 minutes. he was bob dole, you won't be surprised to learn, liked people. he had been in politics just since just a few years after he got out of the army in world war ii. and he had a very good sense of humor. he made up a lot of jokes on his own. and he liked to do that kind of thing. and he was good at it. but, really the main point is if text is decently written, it's written as the spoken word. it doesn't have any kind of quirks that would be unique to
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one person or another. really, the important thing is how is he going to get into this speech and what's going to be, what's going to be comfortable. >> yeah and related to that is, i worked for people, bill and hillary clinton are both excellent extemporaneous people. so what's your value added. your value added is finding that nugget or finding the story that can sort of help them a you say get into the speech. or finding the historical anecdote that will frame whatever policy you're proposing or your visiting a country like where the u.s. relation, the history of u.s. relations here. americans love biography and it's a great way to connect with an audience.
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and the researchers are very important on that and it's a bit of a struggle. that's the value added and they very much appreciate that. that is something you can't do on their own. they don't have time. >> right! for example, you are so busy and you have so many plates in the air. if you're researchers says the president is going to be speaking in front of a huge statue of general grant.
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you are very happy to learn that in advance. you don't want to read that later on. >> you mentioned having different policy teens and research teams aiding you with drafting speeches. to what extent are you performing personal research and how did you come across fine-tuning those research skills? >> i think it depends on how much time you have and how big a staff you have. on a campaign you are largely on your own. in the white house, you have interns, lots of them and you have to figure out how to assign them and get the most out of them. i'm sorry, what was your other question? on that, to serve your client
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well, you should know their biography backwards and forwards. i read all of the quickie bios and autobiographies and everything about them. you have a catalog of stories, all of their early speeches and everything. this way you could basically channel bill clinton and hillary clinton. you could get their voice that way. i was working before google. lexis-nexis and old autodial things and i think there was netscape, the interns were on netscape. it was harder. then you had to go to the
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library and look things up in the library. i'm very hands-on and i want to know everything. you know it when you see it, instead of interns bringing you random things. >> sometimes only you know what you are looking for. >> exactly! >> that is true. i remember, we had the assignment during the president's dedication speech for the world war ii memorial. one of my favorite writers of all time, ernie pyle, who wrote a daily column through most of the 1930s and throughout world war ii up until the day he was shot dead by a sniper, talk about beautiful, beautiful writing. that assignment came up , the first thing i thought was, we have to get ernie pyle and president bush's speech, every living person speaking
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english that remember that war remembers ernie pyle and they will be touched when they hear those words. if you are looking for something nice that ernie pyle said, i've got news for you, it's on every page. that was a joy and delight. when an eminent person dies or you are preparing for that event , you really can't say to the researcher, give me 10 things on ronald reagan. reagan was my hero so that's not a good example. i have a lot of stuff in the bank. by the same token, you are going to be giving someone there -- their due and so you can't farm that out. there's a line you've probably heard, henry kissinger who
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worked in the white house for a long time. even when he was secretary of state, he was also a member of the white house staff, national security advisor. he said the white house is a place where you spend intellectual capital. you do not accumulate intellectual capital. in speechwriting, your favorite quotations and stories from history, -- >> -- you give them away. >> that's right. that is something akin to research but it's really more properly termed as background knowledge, which every speechwriter brings to it. >> one of the best parts of being a former reporter's interviews. you can interview almost anyone to get the background because you are calling from the white house. that was pretty cool, just to get the live intact else from the friends -- [ laughter ]
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anecdotes from friends. there's not a lot of material on some people and this was a delight too. who is your favorite writer? >> i always feel inadequate when i answer questions like this. i think in categories; charles dickens, but he didn't write much american history or biographies so i have to have david mccullough who has written 8 or 10 great books, all of which are still in print. the first being on the johnstown flood which was
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published in 1966 about an event that happened in the 1880s and there were still survivors. he interviewed the survivors. david mccullough, i always mention him as someone who gave me, not personally, but imparted some of the best advice for speechwriting. when he was asked about the variety of books he had written , and there is no clear theme to all of the books, the question was, how did he decide what his next book was going to be. he said i write the book i want to read. i remember that stuck in my mind. i thought, that's a good attitude for a speech writer. write the speech you wouldn't mind listening to. i could go on but there's too many different categories. >> i love john adams biography. it brought history to life as if you were writing his horse with him.
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to this day, one of my favorite books of all time is to kill a mockingbird -- is "to kill a mockingbird". and [ inaudible ] because she conveys what it's like to be a child of immigrants and a woman. along those lines, i don't know how to say her name but it's a woman who wrote "americana". and also lin-manuel miranda is cool. i love him! >> you both mentioned instances of conflict with your principals -- principles. how do you know
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when it's important enough to advocate for and when you should let go? >> for me i was thinking about the speech he gave to little rock central high school. i wanted to start with this anecdote about the woman who was one of the little rock nine who showed up and didn't get the phone call that they were going to go in the back door and she showed up in the front door and all of the protesters surrounded her and there's a photo of the girl with everyone surrounding her. i don't know if people know that . i really wanted to start with that. there were people that thought that was not the right way to go . some thought it was a slow beginning. i was like, oh my god. this is brilliant. you can't do this.
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and my boss was like, look at my pen. it's not moving. it was almost on its way out and clinton was concerned about it but he read it and decided to keep it. at the end of the day, it's not your speech and while you are powerful as a speechwriter, there are people more powerful. i think i reacted a little too strongly but i was hoping that the -- they would see the merit of it. most of the time i had to just
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let it go. >> the september 20 speech, karen hughes, the president's counselor who worked with him in texas in his first campaign and the governor's office, all through the campaign and in the white house; advocated for the line open jack -- "live your lives and hug your children" i believe that was the line. we didn't like that line. i
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think we may have even removed it from the speech at some point. it stayed in and it was a line that touched a lot of people and is still remembered. we were wrong about that. that is one memory that comes to mind. i can think of something that i tried to insist be kept and wasn't. there were definitely some jokes we amused ourselves with. >> i'm in the middle of the world as it is and it talks about having to mind meld with president obama. i'm wondering if you ever worried that by trying to mind meld with your principal, you were afraid you would lose your own voice.
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>> i would say those five years i probably didn't have much of my own voice but it comes back. there was no time to write for yourself when you are writing for the white house. mainly, i did. clinton liked to speak in lists and i would write more in lists , first, second, finally. >> i guess i feel the same. as long as i was involved with george w. bush, that may be a better writer, because of how careful he was as an editor and how logical he was as a thinker. i was never afraid of losing my own voice because every day i was there i felt like my tools as a writer were being sharpened because of the demands of it. >> i always wanted to give my
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best to them. i always wanted to find the most evocative image and best words and clinton didn't want too many words. i wanted to be economical and that makes me a better writer. the best verb, fewer adjectives, the best noun, and the ways to be economical yet very evocative. i think that definitely made me a better writer and much more careful about my word choice. >> i was curious, what advice would you have for a policy person to be a better communicator of policy. >> that's pretty good. >> think first. the first question i always ask
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about a speech assignment, aside from the obvious one, what is the speech about, is who is the audience. that has a huge influence on how you are going to be writing a. is your audience a room full of nasa scientists. . in terms of policy, i would say i would say to become a more persuasive economic policy writer, think more about audience, and audience it's not technically familiar with the material but not unintelligent and not conversant in the
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matter. i remember chief justice rehnquist wrote a series of very interesting books about the supreme court in history. in the introduction to one of them he said when he was writing he thought constantly of his wife who was educated at stanford like he was but was not a lawyer. these books were about law and about the court. he said that having his wife, an interested and intelligent reader in mind, but not a technically trained reader, was a great advantage to the final product. whether it's thinking of one person or of a larger audience of a type of person, i promise you what you write tomorrow will be better than what you write today if you put it in those terms. i know this from experience.
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>> also, keeping in mind what the policy means for real people, painting the picture of what is the human result of this policy. i think sometimes because we have to turn things over quickly, you have the fact sheet and you end up getting really tired. if you were just tired or lazy you can rewrite the fact she. really you should stop, right the fact sheet and then figure out what this means to build on . what is the human impact? keep that in mind and paint that picture and you can communicate to a broader audience what a policy means. >> thank you for speaking to us. my question relates to the
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relative lack of media exposure of presidential speechwriters in the last decade or more, contrasting the 80s and 90s when you had people such as we sapphire -- negativism put into speeches. my question is because people assume because people are articulate and erudite like the clinton's and barack obama, as you mentioned, speak beautifully. and every speeches their own speech. but as in the case of people like nixon and spiro agnew, people say, that can't be his words. >> my other question is, for a presidential speechwriter, is it more difficult to [
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inaudible ] draft after draft rather than the president to take sure speech hook, line and sinker? >> i think there's a lot of famous speechwriters. the whole clinton team has gotten 20 of coverage from the media. i don't think -- i think they have gotten their fair share of credit. i don't know about that. may be they -- there are more outlets now because there are more outlets. -- five had his -- william safire had his column.
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>> i'm thinking of william safire who i knew and who was a fine guy and a presidential speechwriter for nixon and also did some very effective speeches for vice president spiro agnew. another person on that staff was buchanan who had been with nixon. nixon himself hired buchanan on his reputation in the mid 60s when he was still getting ready to run again for residents and 68. i've heard pecan until the story that nixon who worked very hard on his speeches, probably as hard or harder than most of his successors since then, he remembers nixon saying, why can't i get speechwriters like woodrow wilson and i said mr.
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president, woodrow wilson wrote his own speeches. >> [ laughter ] >> we can take one more. >> could each of you share a few antidotes -- anecdotes about grips you made or witnessed in the white house? >> i will jump to that one. we were very proud of our fact checking operations. our fact checking operation was 100% successful but shortly before we had an up and running fact checking operation. i remember, there was a reference to pope john paul leading a flock of 1 trillion.
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there aren't 1 trillion people on earth, anywhere close to it. it was 1 billion. it was during the budget season. i remember, everyone was throwing around trillions. everything was in trillions. and so we wrote this speech about pope john paul about his whole life, at the dedication of the john paul ii cultural center here in washington. the speech went through, multiple drafts, the staffing process, it wasn't caught until surprisingly late in the game when someone said, do you mean 1 billion. that never -- that was where the quality control process came in to correct things before the president was involved. >> i was super paranoid about making a mistake. it was almost ocd, triple checking everything and having other people check it, harassing the policy people to check things and never wanting
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to send out anything incorrect or off by a zero or anything like that. it was a very nerve-racking part of the job. i could get fired if i got something wrong. this is self-serving but i can't think of a major mistake. maybe there was but i do have a good story. this is my naoveti because i was young and really new to washington ways and ranks and titles. there are all of these titles and a deputy outranks an assistant and all of this. i was on the plane coming back from england with hillary and that she was giving a list to this guy larry summers. i had gone to college and larry had
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been a professor at harvard. and i was like, hey, professor, it's good to see you. i've read your articles and they were great. what are you doing now? actually i said, you are at treasury. and he said, i'm the deputy secretary. and i'm like, good for you. i got home and i talked to my boss and i said i met larry summers, he's something like the deputy secretary. oh my god! together with the deputy secretary is? that's a number two in the department. i was like, i am so sorry. i didn't even get that i was insulting him because i had no idea that a deputy secretary was number two. >> at one point i was reading a best-selling book and it had very interesting stories and it . it was irresistible. there was a story about john philip sousa, the composer. his family name wasn't sousa,
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it was so and out of love for the usa he added that to his last name. it never happened. it wasn't true. it was in a best-selling book and we dropped it in a speech draft and the first person who sees the space -- speech draft is the fact checker and there was no truth to this story. >> you have to have 5 million chucks and then sometimes it still gets through. >> i remember one historian i talked to, i told him, every now and then i hear something in a biography and i just wonder if it really was that way. he said, you know, as we say in the history profession, some stories are too good to check. >> [ laughter ]
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>> if you can get that triple checked, it's like, i am going to have to kill this and you don't want to kill this. >> that's a good question for me. a lot of people around here are looking to jump into speechwriting. i think the opportunity is quite interesting, if you look on the democratic side, in 2020, young congressmen and congresswomen jumping into the game. should somebody work for one of these or the governor's office or the labor department. in order to break in and have an effective impact in what you believe you are able to offer, what type of individual would you suggest going and trying to break in with and gain confidence with? >> what kind of person? what kinds of principles would you be looking for -- what kind of principal would you be looking for ? a younger one or what would you be looking for?
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>> find someone you really like and if you can't get a job as a writer for the person, go work for that person anyway. if you really like this person and really want to write for this person and you can write, i can almost guarantee that if you get onto that staff and they find out that you are a writer and that you are able to do this and that you can do it, under the conditions of a campaign or whatever other intense, demanding conditions they have; they will use you. maybe you are on the finance staff or the clerical staff, administrative team, fact check , research, whatever, press. if you just say, i would like to, when you have a spare project, a press release, policy paper or something; i
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would like to take a crack at that, if you wouldn't mind. i don't think they will say no to you. if you are really good, they will come back and back and back and there will be no limit to how far you can write in that operation, if you can meet that standard. >> that was exactly what i was going to say. in a campaign there are battlefield promotions. really, the talent rises. the other situation is murky but in a campaign, it's all hands on deck and the best people need to rise and they will get the opportunity. there aren't a lot of good writers out there so if you can write, it's like a needle in a haystack, especially on a campaign. there are so many operatives and people with whatever ideas but very few people can write. if you can do that and you go in at any level, any job and volunteer yourself and once they figure out you can write, there are so many things that
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need to be written in a campaign, not just speeches but all kinds of questionnaires. all of those things, they need good writers. once you are identified, they will keep coming and you will get great jobs. back to that thing, you're only going to take a low-level job for a little money, the only way to stay happy is to believe in the candidate and really think they are the best thing for america so you should find someone that you like and then it becomes much more easy. it's like you are on a mission. >> we both know people who have made that decision. and in many cases, many the majority, it's a snap decision. that's my person. you have to trust your instincts as well. >> getting coffee is not beneath you. do everything, be a yes person. make coffee, get the coffee. then say, if you are overloaded
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with talking points, i'd like to try a few. let me try a few. >> remember i refresher -- ary fleischer once said the good interns get the coffee and the great interns lead with coffee. >> there are people that say they want to do substantive things. but you have to do the copies too and then you will get into the substantive things. you need to get the opportunity. to the coffee. >> june and john, thank you very much. >> [ applause ] >> make you everybody for joining. there's a little reception. you can join us. thank you guys.
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a look at writing that deals with presidents continues in a moment. we are using this week's congressional break to show you american history tv programs normally only seen on the weekends. coming up, historians who write presidential biographies talk about challenges in striking a fair balance on various views of former presidents. then former speechwriters for president clinton and george w. bush will talk about policy ideas from the president's point of view. thursday evening we look at a conference hosted by the national world war ii museum in new orleans focusing on the 1998 academy award-winning film, saving private ryan that includes a discussion among historians about the 1940 4d day invasion. market is to primetime begins
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at 8:00 eastern time. this sunday on oral history we continue our series on women in congress with former democratic congresswoman pat schroeder. >> when i first got elected, i was in this really idealistic mode of this is wonderful. how long do you think it will be before almost half of the house is female. i asked the library of congress or somebody, what they thought and they said probably 300 years. [ laughter ] it has been very incremental, very incremental. in the weeks ahead we will hear from barbara can now lee, helen bentley, nancy johnson and others. watch oral histories on c-span 3 .
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congressional historians richard baker, donald ritchie and ray swan. to one of the questions i hear people asking all of the time; is this the most uncivil time in history. if you are going to pick another period it would certainly be leading up to the civil war when a host member came over and's -- in 1856 and disagreed and there were a lot of senators who cheered him on. there's a broadway musical about the shooting of alexander hamilton who was shot by the sitting vice president of the united states. that is pretty dramatic. we've had terrible times, political times. >> there was one brawl in 1858 before the civil war that had 80 members rolling around on the floor fighting one another. one of the members pulled his
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wig off during the fight and someone else said, he scalped him. that was enough levity to stop the fight. richard baker, donald ritchie and ray swan sunday night at 8:00 eastern time on c- span's q and a. next from the society -- society for historians of american foreign relations annual conference, five historians who have written about u.s. presidents in the presidency discuss the challenges and importance of writing presidential biographies. this is an hour and 40 minutes . let's got underway, thank you for coming. my name is will hitchcock and i teach history at the university of virginia. i am a historian of history,


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