Democracy Arsenal

« The Clerisy Did Its Job Yesterday | Main | A Bizarre Anti-TNR Missive »

August 23, 2007

How is Speechwriting Like Sausage-Making? Not for the Squeamish
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I admit that I dropped everything to read the smackdown of Bush speechwriting deity Michael Gerson by his erstwhile colleague Matthew Scully in this month's Atlantic.  Every current and reformed speechwriter I know did the same (you too, Michael Cohen, 'fess up.)

I expected a good dose of Democratic Schadenfreude, and I got it. (Best-ever definition of Schadenfreude?  These lyrics from Avenue Q.) I expected some flashbacks to my own least-pleasant speechwriting experiences, and I had those too.

But at a certain point, it was actually too much.   

I expected to be giggling with glee, and instead, I felt... nauseous.  It reminded me of nothing so much as my high-school exchange student visit to a cheesemaker's in rural France.  The cheese they made was perfectly good, but the smell of rotten milk was everywhere and overpowering.

There's no broader point to be gleaned about the Administration -- or even, really, much insight into the psyche of the much-lauded Gerson.  There's no exploration of what drives a deeply religious man to be unable to "do unto others."  There's not much about how this dynamic affected speeches and policy.

There's just a very grown-up, high-flying version of "Dear Diary:  today I was jealous of the popular kid whom all the reporters love.  And the president still loves him best.  NOT FAIR."

Yes, it is unbelievably tacky for Michael Gerson to have described his own speechwriting work as "the fine china" saved for special occasions, compared to that of his colleagues.  And the "liberal" church I attend doesn't teach congregants to take credit for colleagues' work, or to back away and let subordinates take the blame when things go wrong.

Matthew Scully is a talented writer who, from his books at least, wouldn't allow to happen to an animal what he did to Gerson in the article.  (But then, he wrote speeches endorsing far, far worse for people who should've been under the protection of US law.  Contradiction duly noted.)  But when I was finished reading his piece, my first emotion was to wish I hadn't read it at all -- and my second was to wonder about his sanity, not Gerson's.

I keep trying to draw some partisan moral from this:  are Democratic operatives just a little more laid-back?  Do we hash out our conflicts more at the time, or get more therapy afterward?  Can we expect more of this sort of bloodletting, or is Scully a one-off (according to Peter Baker of the Washington Post, Scully wrote a similarly savage critique of his Bush I colleagues in 1993)?

But the only moral I've come up with is a personal one:  for sane people of any or no religious tradition who don't want to die of heart attacks there is such a thing as letting go and moving on.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How is Speechwriting Like Sausage-Making? Not for the Squeamish:


Yeah, you're probably right. The actual piece felt off, although I didn't work it through as well as you did. The Baker piece really reinforced that idea.

I suspect this kind of thing could happen in any administration. Human nature really.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use