The speechwriter’s paradox

Late speechwriter Bill Gavin said your strength lies in your individuality, yet you need the advice of people "whose literary skills are, to put it in the mildest terms, questionable."

William Gavin, speechwriter to Presidents Nixon and Reagan, died last month. Gavin, author of the fine speechwriting book Speechwright, put down one profound and painful truth about this work, in The American Spectator, back in 1974:

A political speech is such a mystery, such an unpredictable thing, that it very often happens a semiliterate, old-time political hack will be able to smell out a rotten part of a speech draft while someone with a doctorate in English will not. Thus, a paradox: a speechwriter whose strength lies in his individuality, in his own crazy, unique way of looking at the world must at the same time not only tolerate but welcome the advice of others whose literary skills are, to put it in the mildest terms, questionable.

Just one of the reasons why the speechwriter must be, beyond emotionally intelligent—an emotional genius. Thanks, Bill Gavin, for describing—and doing—this difficult work so well. —DM

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