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The many useful purposes of a speech--and of a speechwriter!
Former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer had an op/ed in the Washington Post last week in which he opined that presidents give too many speeches these days and that the White House should eliminate office of speechwriting.
His argument has been thoroughly and effortlessly countered by several of the Podium Pundits, former White House scribes who know of what they speak.
But the timing of Latimer's op/ed was the greatest rebuttal of all. It came a few days ahead of two speeches by President Obama—the schools talk on Tuesday and the healthcare address on Wednesday—that were serving as the sparks and the substance of two separate and arguably very useful national conversations.
I won't touch the first one, as there's really no way to do it without starting a pointless tire fire.
But as I write this, hours before Obama's healthcare address, it appears to me that the speech—the occasion of the speech, the need to for the speaker and his audience to get their heads together physically and rhetorically—is actually creating, all by itself, the best chance of passing some kind of healthcare reform.
Today—for the first time in the course of the healthcare debate—the cable news shows are full of members of Congress making conciliiatory statements, laying the groundwork for compromise, actively trying to figure out what if anything they each can sell to their constituencies.
Meanwhile, you know that the president and his speechwriters are even at this late hour gauging what is politically possible and looking for artful ways to use this speech to argue for it.
It's no sure thing that the speech—or the discussions ahead of it or behind it—will lead straight to healthcare reform. But without the occasion of this speech, healthcare reform would already be dead on the ground, receding in the rearview mirror.
Speeches matter because of their substance; they also matter because they are occasions to come together and have everybody shut up and listen to one person and then react to what we all heard here together.
Speeches will never lose their importance. And speechwriting will always be a vialble trade.