This post is courtesy of Sam Stein and originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
January 24, 2013
It is surprisingly difficult to write speeches for President Barack Obama, one of the most gifted orators in recent political history.
Yes, written words tend to sound better when he's reciting them. But the sheer number of speeches he's delivered and the magnitude of the moments in which they are given make it tough to be original and even harder to be memorable. The speech-writing process can be arduous and time consuming; it provokes self-doubt.
In his first interview since helping write the president's second inaugural address, Jon Favreau, director of speechwriting for the White House, acknowledged grappling with all these challenges. The speech, which Favreau said would probably be one of the last he will write in his current post, was praised as crisp, bold and assertive -– a standout in Obama's already rich canon of past addresses. But getting to that point was difficult.
"It was one of the hardest speeches I've written," Favreau said.
And he's written quite a few. Favreau has worked with Obama since 2005, helping his boss speak about his greatest triumphs, his public humiliations, dicey political topics and complex policy negotiations. The second inaugural address, an affirmation of sorts of the work they've done together, was conceived through a now familiar routine.
The process started in early December. After sharing ideas with the president, Favreau looked back at a number of second inaugural addresses to figure out what has worked in the past. Several speeches stood out -- some were obvious choices, others not.
"Lincoln's second inaugural was very specific to the time and space he was in," recalled Favreau. "I actually thought that [George W.] Bush's second inaugural was quite good as a rhetorical exercise. I obviously didn't agree with a lot of the policy in there. But he kept to a theme, which was, the success of liberty here depends on the success of liberty everywhere."
He also gathered a dozen or so of Obama's best addresses -– "a binder full of speeches" –- and mined them for inspiration, memorable turns of phrase and compelling themes. At the top of the list was the commencement speech Obama delivered at Knox College as a senator in 2005, when he spoke generally about the need for collective action in a global society.
"We always go back" to that speech, Favreau said.
He then set out to write a draft.
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