Sordid vs. Sociopathic

For speechwriters, every industry has downsides. From what type of professional merde do you insist on being spared?

Olaf(upon what were once knees)

does almost ceaselessly repeat

“there is some shit I will not eat”

—e.e. cummings

If poltiical speechwriting can be sordid, and corporate speechwriting is sometimes sociopathic. So suggest two speechwriters in separate stories this week.

The sordid story.

In a Weekly Standard review of an ebook published a couple years ago on the rise and fall of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, former Sanford speechwriter Barton Swaim wrote, “The trajectory of Mark Sanford’s political life—congressman from South Carolina, two-term governor of the state, Tea Party hero and potential presidential contender, blubbering fool and national joke, and now congressman again—just begs to be put into a book.”

Apparently, Swaim gave in, and wrote a book of his own: The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics is a “fictional” work, which promises “an intimate and hilarious look inside the spin room of the modern politician: a place where ideals are crushed, English is mangled, people are humiliated, and the opportunity for humor is everywhere … The story of a band of believers who attach themselves to this sort of ambitious narcissist … A funny and candid introduction to the world of politics, where press statements are purposefully nonsensical, grammatical errors are intentional, and better copy means more words.”

A number of political pundits have given it good blurbs, including Primary Colors author Joe Klein, who said, ““This is the truest book I’ve read about politics in some time, hilarious and sordid and wonderfully written.”

It’s out in July.

The sociopathic story.

As weird as political speechwriting can be, former Vice President Gore speechwriter Bob Lehrman vastly prefers it to corporate work, as he explains in a lively interview with an Australian magazine, Future Perfect.

“In the 1980s I wrote for Texaco,” Lehrman recalls painfully.

I had to write something attacking gasohol—gasoline made from grain. I did. But they never used it. Six months later, my boss said, “Bob, rewrite that gasohol piece. But now we’re for it.” I asked why. He told me we’d gotten a big contract to produce gasohol with a partner. I went back to my office, talked with the same engineer I’d worked with before—and did what they wanted. Does that tell you why someone who was passionate about ideas wouldn’t like corporate life?

Meanwhile, Lerhman found political speechwriting to be idealistic—and not just by comparison:

People in politics aren’t cynical at all. With good reason. Democrats—my side—mostly hated the war in Iraq, wanted health insurance for everyone, supported same-sex marriage, supported raising the minimum wage and closing tax loopholes for the rich. Republicans were—mostly—on the other side of all those issues. Isn’t that worth working your ass off? And Republicans feel as passionately on the other side. They work just as hard. That’s why I’ve always loved politics. The work is for something worth doing—even if what you write doesn’t change the world. I mean, you’re part of a team. Let’s say you’re a marking back on a soccer team. Do you have to score to think it was worth going all out?

What’s your favorite speechwriting arena—from what type of professional merde do you insist on being spared? —DM

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