Ever since watching The West Wing I’ve been fascinated with speech writers and the process of speech writing. I know, The West Wing is a drama series, it doesn’t show how it actually happens. But fact is that for politicians so much depends on their speeches, but their writing and delivery. When we watched the inauguration of Obama last Tuesday I was ver impressed with his speech. Who wrote it? I wondered, did he write it himself?
In composing the high notes of the speech, Obama has leant on Favreau, whom he discovered almost by chance four years ago when the younger man was working on John Kerry’s failed presidential bid. “Favs” has since studied Obama’s speech patterns and cadences with the intensity of a stalker. He memorised the 2004 speech to the Democratic national convention which first brought Obama into the limelight. He is said to carry Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father, wherever he goes. As a result, last November when Favreau sat down to write the first draft of the inaugural address, he could conjure up his master’s voice as if an accomplished impersonator.
That skill had been put to almost daily use in the 18 months of brutal campaigning on the presidential trail. Favreau would be up most nights until 3am, honing the next day’s stump speeches in a caffeine haze of espressos and Red Bull energy drinks, taking breaks to play the video game Rock Band. He coined a phrase for this late-night deadline surfing: “crashing”.
He crashed his way through all Obama’s most memorable speeches. He wrote the draft of one that helped to turn Iowa for Obama while closeted in a coffee shop in Des Moines. For the presidential election, he wrote two speeches: one for a victory, one for defeat. When the result came through, he emailed his best friend: “Dude, we won. Oh my God.”
That must be the best job ever.