tv Chicago Global Affairs Council- Presidential Speechwriting CSPAN June 3, 2018 2:58pm-4:01pm EDT
and what it's like working for president trump. that's at 7:30 eastern on c-span. ♪ americaweekend on "reel 1988erican history tv, the summit between president ronald reagan and soviet leader mikhail gorbachev. >> democracy is sometimes a complicated way and sometimes trying, but it is a good way and , andlieve the best way once again, mr. general secretary, i want to extend to you and to all those who have labored so hard for this moment my warmest personal thanks. >> watch "reel america" today at 3.00 p.m. eastern on c-span >> now a panel of presidential
speechwriters and poets examining the speaking styles and speeches of presidents and politici. presented by the chicago council on global affairs, this is an hour. you may know, the first-ever limerick competition was run as a lead-in to this conversation. winner with an astonishing 451 votes, almost implausibly .igh number, was connor dirk is he here? give him a round of applause. [applause] connor is a real hero. connor will get some counsel swag and will have the honor of .aving his limerick read >> you want me to do that right now?
>> yeah, if you don't mind, thank you. [laughter] >> global affairs limerick competition robert: said trump with a great bit of zeal, we must protect our aluminum and steel, but he and navarro must not know dave and ricardo, because these tariffs are not a good deal. [applause] >> 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. that will be coming online in a few days. she served as white house speechwriter for president george h. w. bush from 1989 to 1992, working on more than 100 of his presidential addresses. she is also the executive producer of "41 on 41," a documentary about former president george h.w. bush, which is currently on netflix. david litt is the executive director of the funny or die office in washington, d.c. he served in the obama white house as senior presidential speechwriter. our moderator is henry bienen, the president of the poetry foundation and a board member of
the scout council on global affairs. he is the former president of northwestern university and was formerly the james s. mcdonnell distinguished university professor and dean at the woodrow wilson school of public and international affairs. cap princeton university. ladies and gentlemen, 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 glad 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, am told, wrote melancholy poetry. i can't say i have read in a. orge wasngton ote love poems at an early age, and many presidents have in fact written poetry, including grant and some you might not think about. i will not list them all. of course presidents have had poets at their inauguration. famously maya angelou, robert frost, recently elizabeth alexander. just begin president of the mellon foundation. robert, i do not think you ever read at an inauguration. again, 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, as we know, it was the biggest crowd ever. [laughter] henry: but no poets, as far as we know. i am told that when jfk was a senator, he said in 1956 if more politicians knew poetry and more poets knew 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 cary 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? please? [applause] robert: i do want to respond to henry and say abraham lincoln's poem "my childhood home i see" is melancholy and strange, and it is a wonderful piece of writing. i recommend abraham lincoln's poem "my childhood home i see" ." 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 a 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 said i would like to help speech right. adhesive rubber, we will save -- and he said, robert, we will save you for what 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 plainness. 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 ax for voters. cheap to move. good pennyworth's, but money cannot move. i keep a fair but for the fair to view. a begger view of love. for all my wares be trash. 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 come as treasures from the mind. it is a precious jewel to be plain. i will repeat that line again -- 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 pack, pins, points, laces, and gloves city in the country's fair, but 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 a very fancy and elaborate defense of plainness.
the poet is writing as though he were a street merchant. some have heard that counter uses thisred deller in a song. the street beggar, merchant 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 very often on plainness. "i have 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 that 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, or the suggestion made, 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. the failed attempt. people died in that as well. this uses one syllable words. i will just read the poem to you , and then yield to the experts. oh britain in the beginning of the year 1746 by william collins. how sleep the brave who seek to rest -- when spring with dewey fingers returns to decked their hallowed halls, she there will dress a sweeter thought than
fancy feet have ever trod. the spirit of it is a fancy jewel to be plain. not as sacrosanct asre sleep the brave. by fair hands their knell is -- again, one-syllable words -- by forms on seen their dirge is sung, and freedom for a while shelled well to repair a weeping hermit there. thanks. [applause] mary: first of all, thanks for having me today. i agree with you, robert. president bush 41, 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 "i's," 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 iain mentioned, 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 "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 gave to him when he was confirmed at age 14. she inscribed a poem inside the bible. she did not write it herself. but she knew of it. poem, and it this 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 bear. 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 to all, giving, humble, looking up laughing and listing, 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 tnk 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. and i think you would really
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 a poem, but it worked beautifully. president bush was the founder, with his cousin, of a poetry society that only had two members, the two of them. [laughter] mary: and 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, what i did, by the way, is i sort of 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 leer 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. here we go. 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. [laughter] mary: like life itself, there can be 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 are aware of -- his daughter robin died of leukemia when she was, i believe, three or four years old. 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. 20 years ago. they were his collected letters.
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 of the united states, 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 try very hard to focus on what i believe to be the truth in the lives in the stories of the characters i create, i must inevitably
second-guess 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. when i was doing "41 on 41," 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. so along those lines, 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 running, 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 some starch crisped frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. we need some 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. she was patient. her hugs were less wiggly. like them, she would climb into
sleep with me, but somehow she would fit. she would not wake me up with pug nose, mischievous eyes, a quarter inch from my sleeping face. she would stand beside our bed until i felt her there, she would put the precious, 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. we hope she will stay in our house for a long, long time. 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 too big on poetry in his speeches. i have it 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 would i do a 20-minute speech completely in limerick form. i did the math and said that is probably 200 limericks. [laughter] mary: 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 been fired is worn out and tired, not my fault, i worked for gb. [laughter] [applause] david: thank you. i did not realize we would all be speaking from a podium or a lecturn, 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 for 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. [laughter] david: that turned out to be good preprofessional experience for speechwriting. it also means whenever i'm
sandwiched between two people with university backgrounds, my palms 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, what 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. i think 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 were talking about some of these beautiful phrases composed of one syllable word so much of that letter was these one syllable words. i'm thinking about yes we can, which is obviously a set of 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. because people had heard so many "let me be clears." what i do think politicians can still do and what president obama probably still 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 mostly about times i embarrassed myself in front of the president. one of the thingdid lk 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. but he was able to sort of break those traditional rules in a way that you probably did not notice they were being broken. if you go back and read his speeches come any that resonated with you, 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 so tuned to that in our and tired of it in our political speech. that was something more poetry -focused in the obama speechwriting. the other 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. luckily that did not happen. one of the things i learned as a joke writer for president obama, my job was to both write and then also to bring in jokes we
thought were g and he would go through them and if he funny, he would do a silent victory lap in your own head, and if he said, i get that, i would have a quiet heart attack. and one of the interesting things about that was that jokes as opposed to other types of speaking often do not come from the speaker. there are different people doing it differently, but it is not like president obama was up late thinking we have all these foreign-policy issues to do with, but actually, 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 and white house correspondent s dinner every year, i would get the president's handwritten edits. he would have gone over the jokes three or four times in person but then he would give them one last look. and to watch the precision that went into that last edit was
always remarkable. with a joke, as opposed to a more traditional speech, the difference between saying however and saying but, or having a comma before the word and can ber the word the life or death difference for a joke. to watch that and watch how much better the jokes would get after that last round of edits, where you could tell he was that you have every word or bit of punctuation was always one of my favorite parts of the job. so it is interesting. i think even now when the trend is away from poetry or at least away from obviously engaging with poetry for politicians, you know, there are certain elements that stay with it, particularly -- i guess one of my first bosses in speechwriting described speeches as a tone poem. and i do not understand what he meant by that, but i suspect he was right. so on that note, i will sit back
down. [applause] henry: thank you very much. robert can certainly explain what a tone poem is. i want to put it to all of you, in a way where something david said about rules of language. at the poetry foundation, i think we have always had an very eclectic view of what is poetry and if you look at who comes to the foundation to read, if you look at the magazine , which i hope many of you will -- it is called "poetry," and it is the best magazine in the world on poetry. it is not just i that says so, it is almost everybody. and you see what is published in it, it is not what many people would have said was conventionally poetry. it can be very abstract. it can be what a lot of people would call prose. and if you think of presidential speeches, which might not be explicitly poetry, but the
language is eier very soaring "gettysburg's address" or his second inaugural , which stand as great works of literature in the english language, and if you look at biblical references which lincoln used a lot, or you look at roosevelt, "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, so i want all of you to reflect on the sort of rules of language of cadence, of meter, occasionally of rhyme, of alliteration and what we would call the art of poetry. and how much -- you have talked a little bit about that, david, when you mentioned punctuation, how obama could pause a lot in
his speeches. in fact. wonder, for the president's have known or have how much they were really conscious of rules of language, and what did they take, which might not have been poetry, but would have been poetic in some sense? david: i think in president lucky, case, i was very because we used to say that president obama was the best speechwriter in the white house, and it was unquestionably true. was a writer obama before he was a politician, and i do not think that has happened maybe since lincoln, where somebody was a published writer in that way, and so, i think that we were lucky that we were working for a president who had
an understanding of language as a writer but then also when understanding of using it as a means rather than an end, which is more of what a politician is thinking about. so i think for us -- i would say there was kind of -- i don't know that it was intentional, but i think it was important. there is always the requirements, one is that it be 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, and to some extent, that is always, perhaps, easiest when it is in contrast to the person who came before you. so i think to some extent, , people were -- and i know i was -- so excited about president obama, because he al style this oratori
that seemed antithetical to george bush. that is probably one of the reasons of why people were fans resident trump or of bernie sanders were excited about their style. these were breaks with tradition and were surprising but also authentic to the person giving the speech. >> one thing i tell my speech clients, you know, 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 she with you, and 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 just blocks of paragraphs. but what winston churchill did was take his speech and write it out as if it were poetry. so 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 hree quarters of a way down the page. and so, and of course, you put for people with glasses, and 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. so it is a good tip if that is useful. but, to me, it is sort of the intersection of poetry and prose, because it allows you as you are formatting it to keep editing and doing what you're caning about where a comma go in the wrong place, or you realize it is a run-on sentence, so it just makes the language a little more of a diamond that
you are turning and looking at as you are putting it in that format. and it comes from winston churchill. henry: robert, do you want to reflect on tt? robert: it has to do with sound.y -- vocality and rhyme is the least of it. all of the european poets with their models, homer does not rhyme. virgil does not rhyme. hollis doesn't rhyme. do you know where rhyme came into european languages? you have a vague idea. it was from folk artists up in the hills of scotland. >> it is a limerick. robert: rhyme came into english from arabic and persian. the fertile crescent has these people who knew hebrew, arabic,
french, old french, and they experimented. in a way it has distorted our , idea of what a poem is. a poem is a work of art that use the sounds of language. a poem that is "not in run" 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 roofing, doing probably looking out from the windows of his doctor's office. fine work with pitch and copper. now they are resting in the life, separately and in unison like the stone regular about the roof ready after lunch to be opened. the copper and eight foot strips has been beaten length wise at right angles and lies ready. picks up a copper strip.
and runs his eye along it. the only thing you could call end rhyme is coping. he picks up a copper strip and runs his eye along it. that is like sounds and unlike sounds. it has nothing to do with "there was an old man from ewing." i am probably one of the few people here old enough to remember the senator from the -- this state everett berkson. portrait -- poetry style quoted poetry quite a lot. , it was corny. the reaction you are talking about is part of reaction to the kind of mindless, florid thing that everett dirksen did embody. henry: we certainly know that robert has a good memory.
that i have been aware of for some time. i guess it is question and answer time now, right? with all due respect to president bush, when he says he wishes he had a daughter so he could have somebody who would instead of arguing with him would cry i am the father of daughters, and i do not have any such child. [laughter] >> if you have questions from the room, raise your hands. there, in the blue jacket. thanks. >> thank you all for being here. tangentially related questions and they are directed to all four of you. feel free to answer one or both, which ever you prefer. the first question is this. i don't think anybody would describe mr. trump as being a poetic man by any stretch, that -- but have any of you observed
him using either consciously or not, poetic devices for more , more pervasive or machiavelli and -- machiavellian ends? what it is like to me is propositional style. , standup quality the way he riffs. what do you think about that kind of style and what role it should play with the more formal, buttoned up prewritten speeches? >> i would just make one comment what strikes me about president 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, not in the way which is what i would call metered or cadence, and it is striking. i leave that to folks who work in cognitive science. [laughter] >> i think there is expertise there. it is a kind of marketing expertise and histrionic expertise. it is not inept. it is a certain kind of marketing salesmanship, folkality. and it is not, whatever your moral issues would be, it is worthy of study. it is limited in range, but it has been mastered, and 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. there was a moment of the speech writer's art. one of the kids said to senator rubio, senator, would you announced tonight that you would never expect -- 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 it. they buy into what i think. they buy into what my ideas
are." that was very good and it was go at speechwriting. on that occasion, it failed to have this other awareness that itself,e word "buy" in it was a blunder relying on a good piece of speechwriting. but it is not going to apply in that situation. that was subjective on my part. i would guess that trump would have been more clever within that context. this is -- and this is i am talking from my hat. [laughter] i am the least expert person here. i thought that was an example of relying on good speechwriting but not knowing how to -- not using it. and an occasion when, i am not saying trump is a brilliant person with language, but a congregational -- conversational
savvy. >> anybody else? >> you may recall during the campaign how he basically mocked president obama and secretary clinton for her and overreliance on teleprompters. any use that against politicians and elites and that sort of thing, -- and he used to that against politicians and elites and that sort of thing, i thought what would happen is more and more people on the speakers, that they would start saying, oh, i can't use the teleprompter. as you can see, the popularity of ted talks, and they are getting shorter and you cannot use the teleprompter. it started at 18. i thought maybe we would see more and more people saying i need to hire you to write a ted talk for you because it is a different style of writing
because you have to write it in a way that is easy to memorize, and every paragraph starts with "see" or something, pneumonic devices, and president trump is getting better on teleprompter than he was. i think that is reassuring to people who may or may not like when he is extemporaneous. when i look back on some of the speeches when he was extemporaneous, some of them were very funny, and he can be very entertaining. i do not think it was a terrible thing that he was unscripted sometimes. but what do you think, david? david: i have a couple of thoughts. well -- sorry, i feel like unpacking on the current president is sort of like a national pastime now. i will try my best. i am actually 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 wanting to do, to get you to pay attention to what they want you to. and i think that donald trump is almost entirely made up of that. you mentioned marco rubio. i think politically he is a very good politician who is sort of a baseball analogy using. only oneump really has mode, but he is good at it. i would say that when he speaks it is not exactly like standup comedy. standup comedy is not usually as extemporaneous as it seems.
and some of the art is in concealing the art. watching someone who is very good at getting the attention of the crowd, and i think most leaders, most political leaders, regardless of their party, are trying to get your attention for some reason. and it is an incredibly powerful thing when you're trying to get someone as it should, and that is the reason, it gives you a leg up on the marco rubios of the world. you don't care what comes next. it is not just the means, it is an end. that is one of the reasons why i think a lot of the 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 an agenda. but if the agenda is getting people to pay attention to you, or that is the most important part of the agenda then i think , you can speak like that. and the other thing i think we are noticing is the backlash to
the speaker is happening so quickly. the news cycle is now if you seconds long and now people went it isxtemporaneous, great, off-the-cuff is great, maybe you 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 in opposition to that. >> another question. in the black. >> i wanted to ask, do you think president trump 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 will have an effect , and i don't think this is entirely a bad thing. i think 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.
and 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. a person who owed $100,000 in back taxes, and that was a simpler time, when something like that got him disqualified. that will push the envelope a little bit. he went on tv and said, you know, 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. and i think one of the things president trump has revealed is a weakness in that system, which is that if you never admit the mistake, the traditional mode of we cannotsays, well, make knowledge 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. so i think things like that will change until the coverage changes to keep up with it. where i do not think it would change, 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. i think it worked quite well for trump during the campaign. some of the nicknames are cutting and 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 do a soaring resident obama's speech and is not able to. speech andt obama's is not able to. >> 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 the 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. i think they all will have to. maybe not in the same way, maybe not in the same tone, but he has changed the landscape on that. >> one more question, i think we will have time for. in the blue shirt. thanks. >> 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 have to -- 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 sort of definitive collection of great speeches and that is , william safire's lend me your ears. and, by the way 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. and what he does is he divides up the great speeches of all time by occasion, and some of us --re to in noble enoble us, and some are a call to arms. to celebrate greatness. each one that you write, you
have to figure out the audience, the venue, the occasion, the type of vocabulary you would use at, say a funeral oration will be different than a campaign pep rally, but 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, the speech writers ideal with all of the time, is to take spches, and you know at the top, it was say who the speak is and what the occasion is and the date and place. 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 and nothing
that makes it personal, first of all, you bore the audience and you have written a speech that anybody can give, and the greatest speeches are the ones that say, oh no, only abraham lincoln could have given that speech in the months after the civil war, or whatever. to me, that is how i would answer your question. you figure out the moment in time and the person who is speaking and how to best capture it in a way that is authentic to them. david: i would add to that it is probably a cliché, but i think it is probably one of the true speakersthe best embody the 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 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. and so 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 aund divides like race and 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 contributing to the chaos. i think there was -- if he is making the argument, in kind of a weird way, just look at me. america is a mess. i am here. he made the pivot to saying
because i am the one who can break the system, i am the one who can fix the system, but to your point, i don't know that it is how much is genius versus how much is craft. it is certainly not like we were sitting in the white house trying to figure how to write transcendence for greek independence day. in those key moments, if you can find something that is authentic to the person analso 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. we are going to clear space in the back of the room. they will be signing books after the program, please join me in thanking the panelists. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
anuncer: tonight on "q&a," a discussion of a book. psychologicalhuge literature about wilson, and i read it, but i had a sense that it just reduced him to tangles and things like that that i did not think do with, on the strength of my own knowledge, of the theory. the father. some people have said hes
stubbornnesst his later in life was related to his father's strictness, and there was something they said that his father made him right lots of ite lots ofde him wroi times, but he was a good boy, and he put up with it. but with his brothers and his father, they were worshipful. "q&a."er: tonight on announcer: and now, more of c-span's coverage of this year's commencement addresses, with anita hill at wesleyan university, maine senator susan collins, at colby college, and at pepperdine, and marne levine. anita hill was asked to speak at wesleyan after the original
speaker withdrew after allegations of sexual misconduct. earlier this year, she was asked a case in hollywood. during confirmation hearings for supreme court justice clarence thomas, professor hill became one of the first women to speak publicly about her experiences with workplace harassment. [applause] dr. hill: thank you. good morning. it is a pleasure to be here. i want to thank the board of trustees and the faculty and staff that have made this singular recognition possible. i proudly accept this honorary degree and the privilege of