She said / He said …

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.

The Hillary Clinton Victory Speech

Hillary Clinton by Andy FriedmanBob 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…

The Donald Trump Victory Speech

Donald Trump by Andy FriedmanAram 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:

As scripted

Aram Bakshian Draft Wordle

Click to enlarge – Image by Wordle.

As delivered

Trump Victory Speech 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.

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Of course, Bob and Aram were not alone in crafting ‘what if’ speeches for the two contenders for the Presidency. I was amused by these alternative drafts from Joe Bolster in Esquire.

His Trump acceptance speech starts with a bang and goes on from there:

Thank you! Thank you so much! Thank you! I did it, folks. Trump is a winner. I told you I’d win. Right? Did I tell you? I told you. But this isn’t about winning or losing. This is about me winning and Crooked Hillary losing.

The opening of the spoof attributed to Hillary is no less pithy:

Thank you! Thank you so much! We did it! It was a long, hard, sleazy, disgusting, shocking, terrible, horrible, no-good-very-bad election, but I heeded the advice of my campaign manager, who told me every day, “Just take it one semi-accurate potentially career-ending accusation at a time.” And now we’re basking in an historic moment! The ultimate glass ceiling has been shattered. And I will do my best to ensure that the cleaning women who sweep up the shards will be paid the same as their male counterparts.

Esquire goes one further in printing spoof concession speeches which are equally spot-on.

I have to say, in my opinion, the Trump acceptance speech is closer to what was actually delivered in tone, if not substance, than Aram’s.

Also, NBC News reported that the Trump campaign drafted both an acceptance and concession speech, and put far more energy into the concession option until late Tuesday night. Perhaps this explains the incoherence of some of the remarks, or not.

Here’s an interesting analysis by David Roberts in Vox of the most commonly used words in Hillary Clinton speeches. There’s also a ‘word cloud’ of what people say they heard between July 17 to September 18 about the two candidates
Trump and Clinton

Roberts comments:

Virtually everything the media said about Clinton was about corruption, one way or another. None of it was about policy. None of it was about her actual priorities, as reflected in her speeches and her agenda.

You can critique the Clinton campaign in all sorts of ways, but excess rhetorical attention to identity politics simply isn’t one of them.

Wise words from wordsmith Jane Genova on the power of using simple words, as Donald Trump does:

It would be easy to assume that Trumpism means the dumbing down of language. Actually, it could only result in a much needed simplification in communications.

A new op-ed from Bob Lehrman looks more closely at the Flesch Readability Score of Presidential speeches from George Washington to George W. Bush, Obama and Trump. He makes the telling point:

…as we approach Inaugural Day, hasn’t the lesson of 2016 been that those focusing on “dumbing down” are wrong? It wasn’t simple language that made so much of the election dispiriting. It was the staggering amount of unsupported assertions, ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, apple and orange comparisons, and massive, unapologetic lying. That would survive no matter what kind of diction presidents use to dress them.



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