Everyone is afraid of ghosts

People will always be a little suspicious of speechwriters. And people will always have a point.

I think speechwriters are waiting for people to finally understand what they do—and realize that this is an entirely honorable and ethical and useful profession.

They have been waiting a long time. And lately it has has occurred to me that they will wait forever.

Last week we wrote about a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story from last month, about a University of Wisconsin-Madison speechwriter whose boss gave her a big raise to stay.

“If you didn’t read the comments section after the newspaper story, you should,” a speechwriter correspondent noted to me. “Highly entertaining.”

Here’s a representative sample:

How about [UW-Madison chancellor] Rebecca Blank writes her own speeches? Obviously the out of touch elites running our university system are lazy and overpaid.

So the chancellor of a major university is not able to put down his/her own thoughts and deliver them in a speech? What skills are necessary?

This woman is obviously highly educated, yet she needs a speechwriter?

Seems to me the speechwriter needs to be cut, it’s quite a luxury.

You would think the UW Chancellor would be intelligent enough to write their own speech. Cut UW budget. They have money to waste. And they do.

That is a Fraudulent Representation! Someone hired to that level of caliber of a position should be able to easily write their own speeches! That is what we have assumed they were hired for; academic and professional competency!

In your own words how do you Govern? If you can’t articulate it in your own words how can you Govern! It is a sick joke!

Yes, several commenters defended the practical necessity for speechwriters: We don’t want the chancellor spending all her time writing speeches. All big-time leaders have speechwriters who help them with their speeches. And these days, the chancellor of a university is a big-time leader, as a commenter named Waterton explained: “The chancellor deserves the resources to do this important job well, and the cost of this speechwriter position is minuscule to the returns.”

But those defenses are just about the money. It’s the fraud charges that stick, as they always have stuck, to the speechwriting profession.

“Sad reality is that outside of our ‘circle,’ few people truly understand our roles,” my speechwriter correspondent said.

I think they understand our roles well enough. Not long ago, for the first time, I explained about speechwriting to my 10-year-old daughter. “That’s wrong,” she said instantly, with a level of uncompromised moral authority that jarred my chair. People in powerful jobs don’t say their own words? “They should!” she said.

I explained how busy leaders were and how long it takes to write a speech and said that in many cases, speechwriting is a constructive collaboration: the speaker tells the writer what he or she wants to say, the writer writes a draft, the speaker edits the draft, and so forth. The speechwriter is a useful and necessary part of modern political and corporate leadership. I believe that, and that’s what I told her.

She accepted this. Grudgingly. And still seemed a little sadder for knowing.

And ultimately, she still had a point, just as all the ignorant commenters to the newspaper story have a point, just as skeptics will always have a point: Words and ideas are inextricable from one another, and if we can’t hear the original words of our leaders, at least on the most important subjects, then we are in the dark in a way that we should not be.

That’s the way it always was, the way it is, and the way it always will be.

And should be.

Speechwriters should bear this in mind, and use the speaker’s own words at every reasonable opportunity. And as for waiting for the public to come around to the notion that speechwriting is God’s work? They should not hold their breath. —DM

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