They came out to the tune of George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” They looked like those guys in “Swingers.” Lovett wore tennis shoes! So money!
Two Obama administration speechwriters—Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett—and a spokesman, Tommy Vietor, who host a podcast called Pod Save America, came on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Wednesday night.
And they nailed it.
They had answers that matched Colbert’s questions about speechwriting.
Q. “What’s the biggest piece of crap you were ever asked to write a speech about?”
A. (By Favreau.) The Gulf oil disaster. “So the oil’s coming out of the ground and we can’t stop it, and someone gets the bright idea to do an Oval Office address, as if that’s gonna stop the oil spill.”
And then Colbert moved to the subject that Pod Save America is about, President Trump.
Lovett, known for his humor writing, was ready for this one. When Colbert asked what the speechwriters thought of the current White House communication crew, Lovett delivered a line he had clearly rehearsed before. “It’s not easy to, like, work for, like, a fascist hamburglar whose addled, racist, narcissistic mind has, like, picked up some information from the New York Post in 1987.”
“We’re on the fence,” Favreau interjected, also apparently according to script.
I’ve been feeling guilty about not listening to “Pod Save America,” and also about not listening to “The Ax Files,” David Axelrod’s interviews on politics that even my family members tell me I should follow.
I’m going to limit my guilt to “The Ax Files” from now on.
I don’t like the idea of speechwriters ranting. I don’t like the idea of speechwriters as wise guys. I don’t like the idea of speechwriters as smug know-it-alls.
I’m ambivalent about speechwriters as public figures, because I think almost any pose they strike will mislead people into thinking “that’s what speechwriters are.” (And I’m looking at you, too, Peggy Noonan, cuz you started this.)
When really, speechwriters in the end should be what their clients need them to be. And in order to get there, they need to be inquisitive listeners, not public characters. They need to be more open-minded than the next writer. They need to be measured. They need to be humble.
I don’t know Lovett or Vietor, but I really like Jon Favreau, who at just the right moment in time in both their careers, I introduced to a conference as “the Jennifer Lawrence of professional speechwriters,” and who really is a fine representative of our species in many ways.
And the speechwriters probably did exactly what they had to do, on the Colbert show, hardly a forum for contemplative conversation about modern White House rhetoric.
And I ain’t the boss of them anyway. Or of any other speechwriters, for that matter.
But I am the boss of the Professional Speechwriters Association, and aside from marking a rare speechwriting appearance on a late-night talk show, I wasn’t too terribly pleased about this.
I get encouragement from some PSA members to help make speechwriting and speechwriters more prominent in the public consciousness. They feel, or they hope, more speechwriters on TV would help them get more respect with their bosses in real life.
But I don’t think their bosses want for their speechwriters the Favreau or Lovett who we saw on Colbert.
So who will represent speechwriters entertainingly enough to get invited back, but responsibly enough to represent us right?
We’re still looking. —DM