As the dust settles on the recent US election it’s fascinating to read the draft acceptance speeches that were penned by Democratic pundit Bob Lehrman and Republican Aram Bakshian. Bob was Al Gore’s speechwriter and Aram used to write for President Reagan.
Note that these speeches were written 36 hours before the results were known and are ‘what if’ exercises by two professional writers asked to imagine what kind of victory speech Clinton and Trump should give.
Of course, we now know which candidate actually delivered a victory speech in the early hours of November 9th. But both of these drafts are great examples two masters of the art of craft of speechwriting worthy of study.
Bob writes a speech that Hillary would have delivered if things had turned out differently. She opens with a subtle nod to the glass ceiling the first woman to become President would have broken. She covers the thanks she would have expressed to her husband; to Obama who had broken the racial barrier that previously kept black men out of the Oval Office (save the slave laborers who helped build it); to her supporters. She does not pull punches in criticizing Donald Trump for debasing the tone of political debate (in a country we now know was base enough to value each midnight tweet, every ‘ugly insult’). She reaches across the divide to embrace the ‘deplorables’ she’d previously dismissed (who we now know did not forgive that blunder, no more than they previously forgave Romney).
Bob employs many of the techniques he explains in his excellent book The Political Speechwriters Companion.
It’s instructive to compare with the victory speech President Obama gave back in 2008.
However, as we all know, this speech, or the version of it that Hillary’s own speechwriters had drafted, was not delivered. Both, together with the candidate, have been consigned to the dustbin of history.
Instead we heard…
Aram writes a speech that deserves to be read in parallel with the one President-elect Trump actually delivered. What’s immediately apparent is that there are certain required elements in these speeches that any candidate, even one as contrarian as President-elect Trump, must touch on. Thus, thanking your opponent and your supporters; calling for unity; avoiding going off-script … OK scratch that. It’s obvious that Aram’s draft is entirely too coherent for the unique style of this winning candidate. Contrast the measured repetition of
The best trade negotiators…
The best resources for law enforcement…
…the best judges…
with the randomness of
And Lara, unbelievable job, unbelievable.
Rudy Giuliana. Unbelievable, unbelievable. He traveled with us…
Governor Chris Christie, folks, was unbelievable.
Speechwriters are often judged on how well they capture the ‘voice’ of the speaker. I’d venture to suggest that no speechwriter can truly capture The Donald’s voice. However, Aram fails to even include the word ‘beautiful’ which his candidate used frequently during the campaign and again on election night:
Tremendous potential. I’ve gotten to know our country so well — tremendous potential. It’s going to be a beautiful thing.
We’re going to dream of things for our country and beautiful things and successful things once again.
…if Secretariat came in second, Secretariat would not have that big, beautiful bronze bust at the track at Belmont.
He also severely underestimates the use of the all-purpose adjective ‘great’ which he used only three times in the whole speech, whereas it appears that many times in a couple of short sentences:
We’ll have great relationships. We expect to have great, great relationships. No dream is too big, no challenge is too great.
That said he does include the campaign slogan ‘make America great’ which the actual speech omitted.
The differences in the speech prepared by the Bush-era professional and that delivered by the President-elect are highlighted by comparing the visual representations below:
Click to enlarge – Image by Wordle.
Click to enlarge – Image by Wordle.
Indeed, applying Lehrman’s recommendation, Word returns an 8th grade Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score (a 13-year-old level of understanding) for Aram’s draft, while Trump delivered a speech at was scored at a 4th grade, or typical 9-year-old’s, level of understanding. ‘Nuff said!
I find it fascinating that as a candidate Donald Trump broke so many of the rules of politics, including the speechwriting nostrums in Bob Lehrman’s book, and in so doing destroyed the hopes and ambitions of political professionals of both parties. Perhaps this bears out the truth H.L. Mencken’s trenchant observation.
Hey, it’s all part of the rich tapestry of life in the good ole’ US of A.