Speechwriters, if you don’t have anything smart to say, don’t say anything at all

Almost 20 years ago now I was attending a meeting of the now-moribund Chicago Speechwriters Forum, and a veteran libertarian speechwriter twice my age and thrice my intellect was railing against President Clinton’s speeches for being disingenuous.

Disgusted at the lack of rhetorical evidence he was offering and embarrassed by the rest of the group’s meek acquiescence to this windbaggery, I turned to him with my best Ronald Reagan and said, “Well, there you go again.”

“Am I being attacked?!” he demanded.

No, he was just being reminded, albeit by a callow whippersnapper, that neither I nor anyone else had come to a meeting of speechwriters to hear his political opinions.

I thought of that uncomfortable day as I read this post-game analysis of President Obama’s Correspondents Dinner speech, in The Washington Post:

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama’s] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

And if you’re a speechwriter, realize that you’re being quoted in order to tell us exactly what in the speech didn’t work. More partisan pundits, we don’t need. More intellectual discipline, we do.

Readers, what was your analysis of Obama’s speech?

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