Former speechwriters anticipate Obama inauguration

On Tuesday, President-elect Barack Obama will deliver a highly-anticipated inaugural address that will likely go down in history, and three former presidential speechwriters said in a panel discussion Thursday they have high expectations.

The fifth and final installment of the “What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President-Elect” series featured Raymond Price, Walter Shapiro and Michael Waldman who wrote the inaugural addresses for former presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively.

“I hope that [Obama’s speech] is a series of imagery and a new approach to an inaugural address that we have not seen before,” Shapiro said at the event, held in the Jack Morton Auditorium.

Marvin Kalb, host of the Kalb Report and GW’s James Clark Welling Presidential Fellow, moderated the event, along with Stephen Hess, a research professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs and a former speechwriter for President Dwight Eisenhower.

Waldman said Obama’s inaugural address can potentially improve consumer confidence and improve the economy.

“He can inject confidence in the public through psychology in the celebration of the new presidency,” Waldman said.

Hess said that he expects Obama to use fresh material, rather than quoting past speeches, adding that he hopes in future speeches “people will be quoting Barack Obama.”

The speechwriters also explained the process of creating and drafting the inaugural addresses throughout the various administrations.

“[I] didn’t write for Nixon, but with him,” Price said.

Waldman said Clinton would write while standing at a rehearsal podium, and Shapiro said Carter was an “engineer” who saw speechwriting as “an orderly process of government.”

Hess said that Eisenhower preferred straightforward facts and little flourish in his speeches.

In addition, the panel discussed effective techniques to create a successful speech, which they said incorporates both policy and style.

“During the Clinton administration, speechwriters came from a policy background, and those with policy background often came from speechwriting,” Waldman said.

Each of the panelists discussed the diverse professions of past speechwriters – which have included playwrights and poets – and the qualifications required for candidates in speechwriting.

“I think the best speechwriters are those ones who understand the rhythm of spoken speech and really have a sense of how to channel the actual person who they are writing for,” Shapiro said.

Attendees of the event in Jack Morton Auditorium expressed their own expectations for Obama’s inaugural address.

Sophomore Tristan Lewis said, “From next Tuesday’s speech, I would like to see Obama show the people that he is ready for the presidency and assures the American people of what he plans to accomplish.”

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