tv Chicago Global Affairs Council- Presidential Speechwriting CSPAN May 30, 2018 12:58pm-2:10pm EDT
on c-span's q&a. presidential speechwriters and poets look at speaking styles and speeches with politicians with the former speechwriter for president obama. former poet laureate robert pinsky. the chicago council on global affairs organized this event. there was a global affairs and limerick competition. it got 28 submissions from as far away as bahrain. the winner, with 451 votes was from chicago. is he here tonight?
>> robert is the author of 19 books which you can buy from our partners. next to robert is mary kate carry, a senior fellow at the university of virginia's miller center. she is also the cohost of a new political podcast. we recorded an episode of that earlier today. she served as white house speechwriter for president george h. w. bush from 1989 to 1992, working on more than 100 of his addresses. she is also the director of "41 on 41," a documentary about bush that is currently on netflix. david litt is the executive director of the funny or die office in washington dc.
he served in the obama white house as senior speechwriter. ouderator is henry bienen, e presidenof the poetry foundation and a board member of the council on global affairs. he is the former president of northwestern university and was formerly the james s. mcdonnell distinguished university professor at the woodrow wilson school of public and international affairs. please join me in welcoming the panel. [applause] henry: thank you very much. in my capacity as president of the poetry foundation, we are extremely grad to partner with the chicago council on global affairs, something we have been wanting to do.
now we have done it. i think this is a great idea to have distinguished speechwriters as well as a great poet with us. i want to point out a few things and will not say anything about the panelists because they have already been introduced. presidents have written poetry. i have my doubts whether the incumbent does that, but you never know. however, abraham lincoln, i am told, wrote melancholy poetry. george washington wrote love poems at an early age and many presidents have written poetry, including grant and some you might not think about. i will not list them all. presidents have had poets at their inauguration.
maya angelou, robert frost, recently elizabeth alexander. robert, i do not think you ever read at an inauguration. whether i do not remember, i try to forget a lot about the incumbent. he did not have a poet at his inauguration, even though it was the biggest crowd ever. [laughter] no poets, as far as we know. i am told that when jfk was a senator, he said in 1956 if more politicians new poetry and more poets new politics, the world would be a better place to live and that may well be true.
what we do know is that many presidents have consciously used meter, rhyme, alliteration, and cadence to get people's attention. let me now tell you how we're going to proceed. each of our panelists will speak for less than 10 minutes and then i will help, i doubt they will need much help and having a conversation with each other, they seem a spirited crew. after they do that for a while we will have q&a from the audience and then there will be book signing for those who will hopefully get some interesting books. i will ask robert pinsky, who is a poet who does know politics quite well, as having in his poetry -- he writes a lot about civic matters and citizenship
and then i will ask mary kate carry to speak and then i will turn to david litt. mary kate was speechwriter for president bush i and david was senior speechwriter for president barack obama. i have to put a plug in for northwestern and speechwriting. david overlapped with cody keenan who graduated from northwestern in political science and then went on to the kennedy school and was president obama's director of speechwriting for quite a number of years. without further ado, robert, if you will come to the podium? [applause] robert: i do want to respond to henry and say abraham lincoln's poem my childhood home i see is
melancholy and it is a wonderful piece of writing. also, i never read at an inauguration but in january on the steps of the new york public library, former laureate rita dove and i were asked to read counter inaugural poems, which we did. [laughter] robert: i supplied quotations from poetry to a president and vice president and i am going to talk to you about poetry as plain speaking. i will tell a story on myself. i spoke to -- i cannot remember the name -- i got the phone number of someone i'd worked with with the gore campaign of someone who was running these things for john kerry and so i
would like to help speech right. he said we want something really lofty. we want passion and intensity and color and i realized, oh shit. this is not going to work. what i think poetry has to offer is artful ainness. making something feel direct. it does take art to do that. i'm going to read you a 16th century poem written in the plain style and i will just change one word. the poem is about courtship. instead of maidens or lovers i will use the word voter. fine next for voters. good pennyworth's, but money
cannot move. i keep a fair but for the fair to view. a bigger view of love. for all my wares be crash. the heart is true. that is the first of three stanzas. the second is great gifts are guiles and look for gifts again. my trifles comest treasures from the mind. it is a precious jewel to be plain. i will repeat that -- it is a precious jewel to be plain. sometimes in shell, the orient pearls we find, of others take a sheaf of grain, of others take a sheaf of grain.
within this -- in my heart where duty serves and love turtles and twins, courts brewed a heavenly pair. happy the heart that thinks of no removes. that is an elaborate defense of plainness. the poet is writing as though he were a street merchant. some have heard that counter teller use this in a song. the street beggar is saying these trifles i have come from my mind. it is a precious jewel to be plain. of others take a sheaf, of me a grain. it is an inverted boastfulness and it does take a lot of thought and a lot of art.
my fellow panelists have mastered the art. the art of communicating depends on plainness. i had a dream is one syllable words. i heard a fly buzz when i died is one syllable words. they both are manifold and complicated and they are very plain. i will read another poem to you before i sit down. this is a poem i did supply to al gore when he was vice president for an occasion. some of you will remember in 1998 the two guards who were shot and killed at the capitol building. i think it is important to say their names. jacob chestnut and john gibson.
they were defending our capital against somebody with a gun. they were killed in the course of that. i believe there was a tourist murdered as well. my assignment -- the guy who mostly talked to me for gore went on to be a writer for the west wing. this is an extremely famous 18th-century poem by william collins written in just 10 lines. written in the beginning of the year 1746, which was the last attempt by the stewarts to take the island over again. people died in that as well. this uses one syllable words. i will just read the poem to you and yield to the experts.
oh britain in the beginning of the year 1746 by william covens. how sleep the brave who seek to -- when spring with dewey fingers returns to decked their hallowed halls, she there will dress a sweeter thought than feet have ever trod. not as sacrosanct as where sleep the brave. by fair hands their knell is rung, by forms on seen their dirge is sung, and freedom for a while shelled well to repair a weeping hermit there. thanks.
mary: thanks for having me today. i agree with you, robert. my former boss agreed in plainspoken ways, single syllable words. the ones i was thinking of as you were speaking were this will not stand, that is what i think people remember him saying. he also did not believe that as president of the united states there should be a lot of i in presidential speeches. if there were too many he would circle it and change everything to we. in a democracy that is a good thing. as henry mentioned, or i guess it was ian, a few years ago i made a documentary about
president bush and it is on netflix, it is called "41 on 41." it is only 90 minutes long. it is not 13 seasons of game of thrones. it is the opposite of house of cards and it is nonpartisan and it is the story of a remarkable life. as we were researching how to do this, what we did was sent a researcher to the bush library and she found a bible that president bush's mother ge to him when he was confirmed at age 14. she inscribed a poem inside the bible. she did not write it herself. it later became a protestant hymn. i would be true, for there are those who trust me. i would be pure, for there are those who care. i would be strong, for there is much to suffer. i would be brave, for there is much to dare.
i would be friend to all. i would be giving and forget the gift. i would be humble, for i know my weakness, and i would look up and laugh and love and lift. if you go down that first set of words on each of those phrases, true, pure, strong, brave, a friend of all, giving, humble, it is almost as if as a 14-year-old boy he decided he was going to live his life by those words. what we did was set the poem to 41 of his best friends and we said we are going to ask you to read the poem on camera so we would have everybody's voices and then you tell us which line of that poem you think most applied to george bush and give us a story to back it up. that became the narrative arc of the film.
lucky for us, because he has lived his life by all of those words, if everybody had picked one phrase, we would not have had a film. luckily, all eight lines of it, there were four and five stories of each example. that became the narrative arc of the film. you enjoy it and it is a fun film to watch. it is a lot of teachable moments about values like that for young people. perfectly appropriate for family viewing. that was, to me, not your typical way to build a documentary around the poem. president bush was the founder, with his cousin, of a poetry society that only had two members, the two of them. they wrote about it back and forth for close to 50 years. many people try to join the poetry society and they said no.
there were limiting the membership to two. in 2003 -- before i came here tonight, i crowd sourced this with a bunch of my friends, including president bush's daughter and said does anybody have any poetry from president bush that i can share? luckily there were people at the bush library. the bush library pulled up a letter to betty holden, his cousin in the poetry society from 2003 and it was right around his 80th birthday. somebody had just given him a segway. he wrote the following ode to a segway. lean forward into the future, pull back to stop time, with left hand twist or right-hand twist, segway spins. life is like that when 80 creeps up on you.
on concrete or on grass, if you spin too fast, you bust your ass. like life itself, there can no doubt, segway lives until its gyro gives out. there you have it. presidential poetry. the other thing the bush library was able to find was, president bush, when he was a young father, had lost a daughter. i do not know if you're aware of -- his daughter robin died of leukemia. by the time he wrote this letter to his mother, he had the four boys and no daughter.
he wrote a letter to his mother about why he needed another daughter. why he needed a girl in the house. he included it in a collection of letters called all the best which came out probably 15 years ago. there was a playwright named albert black who read "all the best" and was particularly struck by this letter to president bush's mother after the loss of robin. i have a letter from mr. black to president bush and i want to share a little bit of you and i will show you what president bush wrote. the letter says, mr. president, you write from the heart. if you had not gone into the public life and become president, i hope you would have become a writer. every word, every phrase, every nuance is from the heart. i've never read anything more
perfect and more beautiful than your letter about robin. it is natural poetic genius. letters for me are the most honest form of writing, as a playwright, while i focus on what i believe to be the truth, i must inevitably second-guessed what my characters think and feel, in the same way a novelist would second-guess what his characters think and feel. letters go right to the heart of the matter because they come from the heart of the writer. they express precisely what the writer thinks and feels. in bearing his soul, letters cut right to the quick of the writer's soul. i interviewed david mccullough, the historian. he said the same thing. writers of letters give you a window into their heart. if you want to know george bush, you should read his letters. here is what he wrote to his mother.
i do not have the date on this. i am going to say this was the late 1950's. there is about our house a need, the pulsating restlessness of the four boys as they struggle to learn and grow. the world embraces them. all of this wonder needs a counterpart. we need starch crisped frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. we need soft blonde hair to offset the crew cuts. we need a dollhouse to stand firm against our forts and rackets and baseball cards. we need a legitimate christmas angel, one who does not have cuffs beneath the dress. we need someone who is afraid of frogs. we need someone to cry when i get mad, not argue. we need a little one who can kiss without leaving egg or jam
or gum. we need a girl. we had one once. she would fight and cry and play and make her way just like the rest, but there was about her a certain softness. her hugs were less wiggly. she would climb into sleep with me and somehow she would fit. she would not wake me up with mischievous eyes a quarter inch from my sleeping face. she would stand beside our bed until i felt her there, she would put the fragrant locks against my chest and fall asleep. her peace made me feel strong. we need her, and yet we have her. we cannot touch her and yet we feel her. they eventually had a daughter.
she was the one i had on the string who said lookup cousin betty. dora was the aftermath of that letter and is absolutely beloved by her father. i have other examples with me of other presidents who have used poetry in their speeches. president bush was not big on poetry in his speeches. i have with me, and maybe during our discussion i will share some of the ones from other presidents. i close on a much lighter note. i had a client two weeks ago who had to speak at a big st. patrick's day dinner on the 16th right as march madness was starting and his original request was what i do a 20 minute speech completely in limerick form. i did the math and said that is probably 200 limericks. i thought that was not going to work.
we did a standard comedy speech and i did send him one limerick. as all good speechwriters, he owns this, not me, and he shall remain nameless. these are ones i thought would be fun to share. march madness begins in d.c., with chaos and tweets by dt. what staff not fired is worn out d tired, not my fault, i worked for gb. [applause] david: thank you. i did not realize we would all be speaking from a podium which makes me feel like this needs to be a lot more significant than when we are sitting down. i will say i did not bring any poetry with me.
to some extent, it is interesting to me personally. my training as a speechwriter was that in college i would skim the introductions of books and then in discussion sections i would pretend to have done the reading. that turned out to be good preprofessional experience for speechwriting. it also means whenever i'm sandwiched between two people with university backgrounds my palm start to sweat. i was thinking about what you said and i actually think there is an interesting -- there are two things i thought about. i think president obama, while i am sure he has favorite poems or enjoys poetry, he was probably even less likely to use poetry than most presidents who came before him. i think robert, you talked about a trend toward plainness or a value for plainness, became even
more pronounced. as we have gone on, plainness is almost fetishized. i think there is a reason for that. we are living in a moment where we are surrounded by people saying stuff and particularly by leaders saying stuff. we become very attuned to things that sound manufactured, even things that sound manufactured that we like become old very quickly. we're talking about some of these beautiful phrases composed of one syllable words. so much of that letter was these one syllable words. i'm thinking about yes we can, which is one syllable words, and also let me be clear, which is another set of one syllable words. one that was probably just as iconic in a weird way but we had to stop using fairly quickly.
i got to the obama white house in 2011 and by that point there was already a quiet "let me be clear" prohibition. what i do think politicians can still do and what president obama had in common with somebody thinking about writing a poem. the first was ways of breaking normal rules about language. one of the things i talk about in my book, and most of the book i wrote was not about the nuts and bolts of speechwriting, it is about times i embarrassed myself in front of the president. one of the things i did talk about is that when writing for president obama you could write run-on sentences in a way i would not for anybody else. that is because the president was able to punctuate sentences that ordinarily you or i might try to deliver and we would get lost in them. he was able to break those rules. if you go back and read his
speeches, you will find that a lot of those sentences went on for 40 or 50 or 60 words, which i would never do in my own writing or writing for somebody else. that ability to play with the sounds of the language, even if you are not rhyming or obviously alliterating because we are all tuned to that in our political speech. that was something more poetry focused. another thing i will talk about briefly and that we can get to the less serious sitting down portion of our conversation is something i have more experience with. 11 months out of the year i would write serious stuff and then one month out of the year i would write jokes.
except one year i had to write a speech about remembering the holocaust while i was also writing jokes. in the sitcom version of my life i would have mixed up the speeches at the last moment. one of the things i learned as a joke writer for president obama, my job was to both write and bring in jokes we thought were good and he would go through them and if he thought something was funny you would do a silent victory lap in your own head and if he said i do not get that i would have a quiet heart attack. one of the interesting things about that was that jokes as opposed to other types of speaking do not come from the speaker. there are different people doing it differently, that it is not like president obama was up late thinking we have all these foreign-policy issues, let me come up with good punchlines. to a large extent this was editing rather than writing from
scratch. part of my job was before the white house correspondent dinner every year, i would get the president's handwritten edits.we jokes three or four times in person, but he would give it one last look. to watch the position that wanted to the last edit was remarkable. with a joke, as opposed to a more traditional speech, the difference between saying however and but, or the difference between having a comma before the word and or after the word and, or little things like that can be the life-and-death difference for a joke. to watch that and to watch a much better the jokes would get after that last round of edits for you could tell he was really thinking about every word, every bit of punctuation, was always one of my favorite parts of the job. even now whenng,
the trend is probably away from poetry, for at least away from obviously engaging with poetry for politicians, there are certain elements that stay with it. i guess one of my first bosses described speechwriting as a tone problem. i suspect he was right. on that note i will sit back down. [applause] >> thank you very much. want to put it's all of you from what david said about rules of language. at the poetry foundation i think we have always had a very eclectic view of what is poetry. if you look at who comes to the foundation to read, the magazine, what to help many of "poetry,"it is called and is the best magazine in the world of poetry. that says so, i
it is a most everybody. you see what is a published in it. it is not what many people would have said was conventionally poetry. it is abstract. a lot of people would call it prose. if you think of presidential which might not be explicitly poetry but the language is either very soaring, like lincoln's gettysburg address or second inaugural which stands as great works of literature in english language, and if you look at biblical references, which lincoln used a lot, for you look at roosevelt's nothing to fear but fear itself. it is taking words and juxtaposing them. there is an awful lot of that in presidential speeches, which are maybe not explicitly poetry or the use of poetry borrowed. i want all of you to reflect on
the rules of language, of cadence, of meter, occasionally rhyme of the alliteration and what we would call many of the art of poetry and how much did -- you have talked about a little bit when you mentioned punctuation. how obama could pause a lot in his speeches. i wonder for the president to -- you have known or written for, how much they were really conscious of rules of language and what did they take which might not have been poetry that would have been poetic in some sense. david: in president obama's case i was lucky because i was just we used to say president obama was the best speechwriter in the white house. we would have said that even if it wasn't true. but it was unquestionably true.
president obama was a writer before he was a politician. i don't think has happened maybe since lincoln, where someone was a published writer. i think that we were lucky you had -- we were working for a president who had an understanding of language as a writer and also an understanding of using language as a means rather than an end, which is probably more of what a politician is thinking about. -- i would say -- i don't know if this was intentional, but i think it was important. there is always requirements and one is that it be surprising and original in some way and the other is that it be true to the person delivering the words. i think that -- and to some extent that is always perhaps easiest when it is in contrast
to the person who came before you. i think to some extent people were -- i know i was when i was a senior in college in 2008, so excited about president obama because he spoke in this style that seemed antithetical to george bush. i think probably that is one of the reasons why people who were fans of president trump, or of someone like bernie sanders were excited about their rhetorical style. these were breaks with tradition and authentic to the person giving the speech. >> one thing i tell my speech clients since leaving the white house is that winston churchill came up with a way of writing out his speeches but it would be useful to many people to get up and speak, which is why i thought i would share it with you. basically he writes out -- if
you look at a speech text after it has been delivered, it often looks like a magazine article or newspaper article, where it is blocks of paragraphs. what winston churchill did was take his speech and write it out as if it were poetry. it looks more like "twinkle twinkle little star, how i wonder what you are -- and it is in the most automated form it would be a teleprompter where it is a single column. but in the way that i do it for my client is i do it by phrases, and i only let it go three quarters of a way down the page. of course, you put it in big print for people so they don't have these classes. what that does is you can look down and your eye catches the phrase and you don't look like you are reading. if you do not go more than three quarters of a way down the page, it keeps your chin up. it is a good little tip if that is useful. to me it is the intersection of
, poetry and prose. it allows you as you are formatting it to keep editing and doing what you're talking where a comma can go in the wrong place or you realize this is a run-on sentence. it helps with editing and make the language a little more of a diamond that you are turning and looking at as you are putting it in that format. it comes from winston churchill. >> robert, do you want to reflect on this at all? robert: the overlap of these two subjects has got to do with locality and sound. we fetishize run. rhyme is the least of it. all of the european poets with their models, virgil doesn't rhyme, homer doesn't rhyme, horris doesn't rhyme. do you know where rhyme came into european languages?
you have a vague idea. it was from folk artists in the hills of scotland. >> it is a limerick. robert: rhyme came from arabic and persian. the fertile crescent had these people who knew hebrew, arabic, persian and their own friends from old french. they experimented. it has distorted our idea of what a poem is. a poem is a work of art that use the sounds of language. i will quote a column that is not in rhyme because it does not use end rhyme. this is from a poet in new jersey. this is a poem from william carlos williams about seeing some guys doing roofing from the window of his doctor's office. it begins in the key of eh and modulates to ooh. fine work with pitch.
now they are resting in the light, separately and in unison, like the stone step regularly about the flat roof ready afterwards to be opened and strong. -- strewn. the copper and eight foot strips has been beaten length wise at right angles. one still chewing picks up a , copper strip and runs his eye along it. the only thing you could call rhyme is coping. he picks up a copper strip and runs his along it. that is like sounds and unlike sounds. it has nothing to do with "there was an old man from ewing." i'm probably one of the few people old enough to remember the senator from the state, everett dirkson.
very florid oratorical style, quoting poetry quite a lot. it was corny. the reaction you are talking about is part of reaction to the mindless, flored thing that everett dirksen did embody. >> we certainly know that robert has a good memory, which i have been aware of for some time. i guess it is question and answer time. right? >> i have a naughty thought. all due respect to president sh, when he says he shes h had a daughter so he could havef argue with him would cry. i am the father of three daughters, and i don't have any such child. [laughter] >> questions from the room given raise your hands. there in the blue jacket.
>> thank you all for being here. two tangentially related questions and they are directed to all four of you. feel free to answer one or both, whichever you prefer. the first question is this -- i don't think anybody would describe mr. trump as being a poetic man by any stretch, but have any of you observed him using either consciously or not, poetic devices for more nefarious ends. more persuasive or machiavellian end? the second question is pertaining to mr. trump. he employs this extemporaneous improvisational style in his speeches. when he recalls to me is almost something like stand up comedy the way he grips on certain -- riffs on certain topics. what role or in what way do you think that kind of style should play with the more formal,
buttoned-up prewritten speeches? >> i would just make one comment . what strikes me about president trump is how limited his vocabulary is. i am not kidding. i would say it is very unusual to have a public figure who not on his speeches that he is reading from a teleprompter, but when he speaks extemporaneously, he uses a very small number of words and he often uses them over and over again, not in the way which is what i would call cadence. to me it is striking but i leave that to folks who work in cognitive science. [laughter] >> i think there is expertise there. it is kind of a marketing expertise and histrionic expertise. it is not inept. it is a certain kind of
marketing salesmanship folkality. whatever your moral attitude might be, as a matter of rhetoric is worthy of study. it is limited in range, but it has been mastered in somebody who has been on television a lot and somebody who has engaged in marketing quite a lot, and yes, it is worth paying attention to. i do not want to get contentious, but there is the moment where we had the long cnn video of the parkland high school kids and the two senators from florida. this was a moment of a speechwriter's art. one of the kids said to senator rubio, senator, would you announce tonight that you would never accept any more money from the national rifle association?
and rubio, i thought, said something that a very good speechwriter had written for him and used many times. he said "oh, i don't buy into what they think, they are buying into what i think and what my ideas are." that was very good and it was good at expert speechwriting. on that occasion, it failed to have this other awareness that using the word "buy" in relation to himself was a blunder relying good piece of speechwriting. it was not going to apply in this situation. that was subjective on my part. i would guess that trump would have been more clever within that context. and i'm talking through my hat. [laughter] i am the least expert person
here in this stuff. i thought that was an example of relying on good speechwriting but not knowing how to use it. also an occasion -- and i am not saying trump is a brilliant person with language, but his conversational savvy might have prevented that. >> anybody else? you don't have to take every question if you don't want. >> you may recall during the campaign how we basically mocked president obama and secretary clinton for overreliance on teleprompters. he associated that with establishment politicians and elites and that sort of thing. i thought in 2016 what would start happening as more and more people, clients, people of the speakers tour with start saying saying, oh, i can't use the teleprompter. as you can see, the popularity
of ted talks, and they are getting shorter and shorter . it started at 18. i thought maybe we had seen more and more people say i need a higher you to write it had talk for me -- ted because it is easy to memorize. every paragraph starts with 'c'or something for pneumonic devices. president trump is getting better on teleprompter than he was. i think that is reassuring to people who may or may not like what is extemporaneously. when i look back on some of the campaign speeches when he was extemporaneous, they were funny and he can be very entertaining. i do not think it was a terrible thing that he was unscripted sometimes. what do you think, david? david: i have a couple of thoughts. -- sorry, i feel
like unpacking our thoughts on the current president is a national pastime now. -- sorry, i feeli will try my . i think that the -- i am thinking about tweets. i do not think they are poetry in the traditional sense, but i think they are distinctive, and they are catchy in a very weird way. as you probably could guess, i am not a fan of president trump, but i think that he is very good at getting attention and figuring out what will hold attention and what will focus you on the thing he wants us to focus on. i do not know that he is strategic about that, but that is one element of every politician and certainly every president is trying to do, getting you to pay attention to what they want you to. i think donald trump is almost entirely made up of that. you mentioned marco rubio. politically a
.ery good politician trump has one mode but he's very good at it. when he speaks i don't know it exactly like standup comedy. i think standup comedy is not usually as extemporaneous as it seems. some of the art is in concealing the art. what it is is watching someone really get a getting attention and figuring out what plays well with a crowd. i think the difference is most leaders, most political leaders regardless of their party, are , trying to get your attention for some reason. it is an incredibly powerful thing when you're trying to get someone's attention and that is the reason. it makes you -- it gives you a leg up on the marco rubio's of the world. because you don't care what comes next. it is not just the means, it is
an end. an end. i think that it is one of the reasons why a lot of other speakers so quickly realized i can't sound like trump because the problem with his speaking style is that it gets in the way of his agenda. if the agenda is getting people to pay attention to you, then i think you can speak like that. the other thing we are noticing is the backlash to a type of the speaker is happening quickly. the news cycle is now if you seconds long and now people went from extemporaneous is great and off the cuff is great and maybe i want to sound like trump to two months later saying we are over it and now i want to sound more scripted and formal and be thought of in opposition to that. >> another question. the lady in the black. >> i wanted to ask, do you think president trump has -- will have a lasting effect on how presidents communicate, or is it unique to him or has he changed the landscape into the future?
david: i will take a guess at one way he probably will have an effect, and i don't think it's entirely a bad thing. one of the things president trump did was exploit a weakness in the way that washington and the media deals with apologies and sort of making a mistake and then correcting it. i remember very early -- and this was before i worked for him in the obama presidency, one of the thing president obama said was when i make a mistake i will , own up to it. i think it was tom daschle's nomination he had $100,000 in back taxes he owed. it was a simpler time, and that got him disqualified. [laughter] by the way, i think it will push the envelope a little bit. he went on television and said i screwed up, which was in a moment very admirable, but it also meant that the press felt they had a license to say, well,
we all agree this was a mistake so we can be objective and cover this as a mistake. one of the things president trump has revealed is a weakness in that system is that if you never admit the mistake, the traditional mode of reporting says we cannot acknowledge it was a bad decision because the only bad decisions we can acknowledge is where there is a universal bipartisan consensus that it was a bad decision. i think things like thawill change until the coverage changes to keep up with it. where i don't think you'll see every presidential candidate in 2020 try to come up with a great nickname for all of the other presidential candidates. it worked quite well for him on the campaign. i think some of those nicknames are actually quite cutting an accurate, but i think that is not going to work for most people. most people who try to are going to do about as well as somebody who tries to deliver a soaring obama speech it is temporarily
destined for mentally unsuited for it. temperamentally unsuited for it. >> the thing i would say is that i think president trump has transformed the use of social media by the president. radio was around for a long time before fdr figured out fireside chat. tv was around before kennedy really mastered it in the debates against nixon. the internet has been around, but it hasn't been until president obama had the white house website be a hub of house website be a hub of activity. i think president trump's use of social media will be the marker that gets laid down. i don't see how future presidents are not going to be able to not use social media. they all will have to -- maybe not in the same way and tone, but i think he has changed the landscape on that. >> one more question, i think we will have time for. down here in the blue shirt. >> when we were talking about
poetry and what you write and what the presidents say, i am wondering where is the distinction between what they say and how they say it, the delivery as well as what is being said? as a writer, do you -- obviously you have to study the style and you do not write the same speech for h. w. bush as you do for obama, right? so how much of a role does that kind of thing play in what you write? >> so, if you look at the definitive collection of great speeches is william safire's "lend me your ears." the introduction to the book is written as if it is a speech, and it is a great primer on how to write a speech. he divides up the great speeches
of all time by occasion, and some of them are two bendable us and some are a call to arms. they are different categories to celebrate greatness. in each type of speech like that and you write for a president or for any other client, you have to figure out first of all the audience, the venue, the occasion the type of vocabulary any funeralsay oration will be different than a campaign prep rally. in all things you have to make sure you have captured the person's voice and that it comes across as authentic. one of the things i do all the time, a speechwriter's idea of a -- is takeis takes eac
speeches. i put my hand over it and read the speech and figure out if i can guess who is giving the speech. because if you can, that means that person has perfectly captured that moment in time and is the only person who could give that speech. if you write a speech that is completely boilerplate, that has no stories in it, nothing that makes it personal, first of all, you bore the audience but you have written a speech that anybody can give hearing the latest speeches are the ones that say, oh no, only abraham lincoln could have given that speech in the months after the war, whatever. that is how i would answer the question. you figure out the moment in time and the person who is speaking and how to best capture in a way that is authentic to them. david: i would add to that it is probably a cliche but a true
cliches that the best speakers and body their message and deliver it at the same time. thinking about president obama, i think a lot of the years he was in office were marked by really intense polarization. but when he was running in 2008, his promise was that we could transcend the problems we had, not just elect me and i will win on behalf of one half of the country versus the other, but to say we are bigger than this. the ability to deliver a transcendent speech was one of the reasons he was proving his own concept because he was an example of something that transcended our biggest problems, especially around the device like race just by being -- divides like race just by being there and giving the speech. i actually think the same is probably true of president trump on the campaign where he spoke about american carnage and chaos and his speaking style was both
chaotic and was contributive to the chaos. i think there was -- if he is making the argument that in a kind of likewas america is a mess, look at me, i am here. [laughter] more smartly the navy we would like to give him credit for, those of us that a liquid he is doing he made the pivot to , saying because i am the one who can break the system, i can fix the system. to your point, i don't know that it is how much is genius versus much of that is craft. it is not that we were sitting in the white house trying to figure how to write transcendence for greek independence day. most of the time it feels like work. in this key moments if you can find something that is authentic to the person and also not just saying something but demonstrating that thing, that can be very important. >> unfortunately, that is all we have time for.
if you are staying, just give us a minute and we will clear some space in the back of the room. they will be signing her books over there after the program. please join me in thanking the panelists. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [crowd talking] >> commencement speeches, all this weekend primetime. tonight at 8:00 eastern, hillary clinton, rex tillerson, james mattis and canadian prime minister justin trudeau. thursday at 8:00 eastern, apple
ceo tim cook, governor john kasich, governor kate brown, and commerce been luis gutierrez. on friday at 8:00 p.m. eastern, jimmy carter, betsy devos, representative mark meadows, in atlanta mayor keisha lance bonhams. >> sunday on human day, printers are o'toole discusses her book "the moralist: woodrow wilson and the world he made." >> there is a huge psychological literature about wilson. but i have a sense tanglesreduced him to and things like that that i do not feel i could deal with very -- on the string to my own knowledge of the theory, was the father.
some people said his stubbornness in later life was a kind of reaction to his father's strictness, and they can point to one story where his father made him revise a thing he wrote a bunch of times. are wilsontions presented this but he was a good boy and put up with it. inn you read every mention his letters of his father, they are worshipfull. they never had an unkind word. >> a presbyterian minister. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern on c-span's q&a. >> we are live now in washington at the wilson center, awaiting the start of a forum on the state of u.s. transatlantic relations following president trump's decision to withdraw the u.s. from the iran nuclear deal. his announcement re-imposing certain u.s. sanctions in place before the agreement.
that would affect iran's energy and banking sectors. we will hear from david o'sullivan ambassador of the european union to united states. it should get underway shortly. news is coming out of israel saying their defense minister was due to fly to russia today amid reports the countries were finalizing a deal that would push iran forces back away from syria. nbc reports the pact being negotiated as part of efforts prevent iran-israeli tensions from spiraling into outright war. that from nbc. you should get underway shortly here live on c-span.
>> we are wilson center in washgtonor a discussion on the state of u.s. transatlantic relations after the u.s. withdrawal from the iran nuclear deal. should get underway shortly. we will hear from david o'sullivan, ambassador to the european union -- european union ambassador to the u.s. and head of the wilson center, former ranking democrat on the house intelligence subcommittee, the homeland security subcommittee on intelligence. all this week we are bringing a commencement speeches. tonight at 8:00, hillary clinton, rex tillerson, defense secretary james mattis and canadian prime ministers justin
trudeau. that is coming up tonight. more all week long at 8:00 eastern. ahead of next week's return of the house and senate, we will feature a profile with mark short, the energy coming up on sunday, 7:30 eastern. he will talk about his time working for them congress and mike pence and is efforts working with congress for president trump. coming up sunday at 7:30 p.m. eastern [crowd talking]
washington journal. host: she is joining us to talk about the policy when it comes to unaccompanied alien children in the united states. guest: thank you for having me. host: first of all, your interpretation of the headline. what is really happening when it comes to these children? guest: it's important to distinguish we are talking about two different groups. of unaccompanied children become to the southern border, and we have special procedures for how they arrive without parents and without legal guardians. we have separate procedures for families, children aiving with their parents oillegal guardians. the procedure for dealing with those groups have gotten a little confused. amb. o'sullivan: explain. -- host: explain. allt: they are prosecuting
individuals who arrived at the southern border and ports of entry. that includes at least. the children are separated from their parents and the children are treated as unaccompanied child migrants, the other population of talked about earlier. they are put into the system in which they are transferred into the custody of a government agency called the office of refugee resettlement. lastately, that office, winter -- before the zero tolerance policy was limited, they did follow up calls with unaccompanied child migrants who previously been in the custody but released the sponsors throughout united states. they do a follow-up call at about 30 days of releasing them. last winter they called 7600 sponsors to follow up on these children. there were about 1500, a little lesson which they were not able to locate the child