Speaking for the presidentIt isn’t easy to put words in the mouth of the president of the United States, but the White House stable of speechwriters does that almost every day. The frustrations of such a prestigious post are painfully recalled by Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, in his new book “Speech-Less.” The subtitle of the book is “Tales of a White House Survivor.”
By: Helen Thomas, Hearst Newspapers, The Jamestown Sun
WASHINGTON — It isn’t easy to put words in the mouth of the president of the United States, but the White House stable of speechwriters does that almost every day.
The frustrations of such a prestigious post are painfully recalled by Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, in his new book “Speech-Less.” The subtitle of the book is “Tales of a White House Survivor.”
Latimer’s book divulges rich insights into the Bush White House. The rivalries, the egos, the fears and the trepidations of having written a prime-time speech only to have it rejected by the president are hard to take. Too many aides have their own ideas about what the speech should say. But pleasing the president is the singular goal.
Only an insider like Latimer could provide an account of Bush’s acid references to the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates.
After one of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s speeches criticizing the Bush administration, Latimer wrote: “The president had a very human reaction: He was ticked off. He came in one day to rehearse a speech, fuming. ‘This cat isn’t remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue, I promise you.’”
Bush also made a disparaging sexist crack about then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. — who he believed would be the Democratic nominee. “Wait till her fat bottom is sitting at this desk,” Bush said, according to Latimer, who added that the president didn’t actually say “bottom.”
Not to leave anyone out, the author said Bush “didn’t think much of” then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., later to be elected vice president.
He quoted Bush as saying “if (expletive) was currency, Joe Biden would be a billionaire.”
Latimer writes that Bush was uneasy with the Republican Party’s selection of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to be its 2008 presidential nominee; he seemed to prefer former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“If the president was cool to McCain, the feeling was certainly mutual,” Latimer writes. “McCain treated Bush like a dim-witted nephew he had to hide from the public.”
Latimer also wrote:
“The president talked about criticism he received. ‘I haven’t watched the nightly news one night since I’ve been president,’ he said, unbelievably. ‘My mood is important — and I can’t go around all day being angry at everyone. I don’t read editorials either.’”
Latimer went on to quote Bush: “I have enough of my mother in me and enough of Texas in me to say that if The New York Times thinks it’s lousy, it’s probably great.”
The author also claimed that Bush’s speechwriters “articulated the concepts most associated with the Bush presidency, for better or for worse: ‘You are with us or you are with the terrorists,’ ‘axis of evil’ and ... ‘the war on terror.’”
All modern presidents have had speechwriters. The late New York Times columnist William Safire was a speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew, coining for Agnew the description of his critics as “the nattering nabobs of negativism.”
Theodore Sorensen gained fame writing speeches for President John F. Kennedy.
President Lyndon B. Johnson also had a speechwriting team. One day Johnson asked for a speech to be prepared for delivery in a rural area.
A speechwriter brought him the first draft, and Johnson took a quick look and noted that it cited a statement by Voltaire, the 18th-century French philosopher.
“Voltaire? Voltaire? The people I’m going to talk to don’t know who Voltaire is!” the president exclaimed.
After which he grabbed a pen, scratched out “Voltaire” and scribbled in, “As my dear old daddy used to say ...”
(Helen Thomas can be reached at 202-263-6400 or at the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org).
(c) 2009 Hearst Newspapers
Distributed by King Features Syndicate