Barack Obama. A master speechwriter and the speech that helped him defeat Hillary Clinton in 2008

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By MxM

Barack Obama, undoubtedly has a gift of the gab. His eloquence and masterful, inviting and assertive delivery of speeches ranks him, arguably,  among the best orators of all time-living or dead.

President Obama’s attention to details in the speechwriting process compels his speechwriters to go beyond the call of duty and ensure that their content comes close to their boss, an attribute Jon Favreau, Obama’s first speechwriter realized when he was hired to be Obama’s speechwriter.

Favreau first worked as a speechwriter for  John Kerry. After Kerry lost the 2004 presidential election to George Bush,  Robert Gibbs, who he had worked with in the Kerry campaign, hired him to work with then then newly elected Senator Obama. Hitherto to hiring Favreau, Obama had never worked with a speechwriter. He had written all his speeches.

Favreau knew too well that the man he was working for was in a world of his own-speech-wise. He watched Obama give the much acclaimed 2004 DNC keynote speech. Favreau, in an interview later on, would reckon that at first he was uncomfortable working with Obama out of the realization he could never help write a better speech better than the Obama had given.

On speech delivery, Obama’s additional asset is in the use of the teleprompter. However, in some instances, he has been forced memorize a speech word for word.  For example in 2008 during Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa, an important event that was crucial to Obama’s candidature against Hillary Clinton as it came a few days before the Iowa Caucus, each candidate was to deliver a ten-minute speech without a prompter.

As part of preparing for the speech, Favreau notes:

“So he practices that speech, practices memorizing that speech more than I had ever seen him do before, because he’s never really had to memorize a speech word for word. Like when we were at a hotel in Des Moines a couple weeks before the speech, if you walked by Obama’s hotel room you could hear him practicing the speech to himself and the mirror, just trying to memorize it.”

When the time came to deliver the speeches, Hillary went second to last, and Obama went last.  Hillary gave her  speech and the crowd went quiet. After all she was the front-runner. Her speech was was premised on the slogan: “Turn up the heat, turn America around.” The supporters in the stands were supposed to yell, “Turn up the heat!” It flopped.

Favreau and Obama had agreed on the need for the speech to distill the Obama-Clinton contest and make a case for why Obama and not Hillary. At that time, Clinton was leading in polls and many in Obama’s team thought that they could not catch up with an opponent who had  a name recognition and millions of dollars in donations from campaign financing.

Eventually it was Obama’s turn and the mastery of his delivery and the tone sent the crowd completely insane. Even some of the other candidates’s supporters were going nuts:

“This part of Jefferson and Jackson and of Kennedy and Roosevelt knows that we’re better off when we lead not by polls but by principle; not by calculation but by conviction. And that’s what this party’s about…. I will never forget that I would never be where I am right now unless someone somewhere stood up for me when it was hard. You know, when it wasn’t easy. And then because that one person stood up, a few more stood up, and then a few thousand more stood up, and then millions more stood up, and because they stood up we changed the world.”

This paragraph helped link the history of Obama and the made the case for the possibility of him being the first black president.

Undoubtedly, that speech in Iowa made America believe there was something special in Obama. The rest is history.

 

  • President Barack Obama meets with Jon Favreau Director of Speechwriting in the Oval Office to review a speech 

President Barack Obama meets with Jon Favreau Director of Speechwriting in the Oval Office to review a speech April 14, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

  • Obama reviewing a speech with Ben Rhodes

Ben_Rhodes_and_Barack_Obama

  • Obama and Jon Favreau going through details of a speech

Jon_Favreau_reviewing_a_speech_with_Obama_cropped

  • Obama goes through last minute edits of his speech to Congress with Cody Keenan

Obama giving ideas to Cody Keenan

  • Obama making edit suggestions to Jon Favreau 

 

Obama goes Over changes he has made in a speech he gave to Congress

  • Obama going through 2012 acceptance speech with Jon Favreau.

Obama on Acceptance Speech with Jon Favreau

  • Obama on his way to Tucson, Arizona going through a speech Cody Keenan

Obama on his way to Tucson, has a chat with Cody Keenan

  • Obama listening to his staff on ideas for a speech to Congress.

Obama speech

 

  • Obama going through his 2012 State of the Union Address speech with Favreau

Obama speech writing 2012 State of Union Address

  • Obama with Ben Rhodes preparing speech on violent extremism

Obama with Ben Rhodes Working on Speech on Violent Extremism

  • Obama making speech suggestions to Cody Keenan

Obama with Director of Speech Writing Cody Keenan

  • Obama going through speech to Congress with Jon Favreau

Obama with Jon Favreau

  • Obama going through a speech with Favreau aboard Air Force one en route to Paris

President Barack Obama with Head Speech Writer Jon Favreau aboard Air Force One enroute to Paris on June 5, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way or used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

  • Obama listening to speechwriter Laura Dean.

Obama with Laura Dean, Speechwriter preparing for 2012 DNC Speech

  • Obama going through edits to his address to America in 2010 with his team

June 15, 2010 "It's always interesting to see how involved the President is with editing his speeches. A few hours before his first nationally televised address to the nation, the President works on edits with aides Carol Browner, David Axelrod, and Jon Favreau in the Outer Oval Office." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

  • Obama laughing at edits to his White House Correspondents Dinner Speech, 2010

President Barack Obama laughs with, from left, Senior Advisor David Axelrod, Associate Director of Speechwriting Jonathan Lovett, and Director of Speechwriting Jon Favreau, while reading a draft of his remarks for the White House Correspondents Association dinner, in the Outer Oval Office, April 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

  • Obama can make so many edits

obama-speech scribbled