Saturday, February 5, 2011

State of the Union - The Writers

Far too many people have already commented on the content and delivery of President Obama's recent State of the Union message, as well as the Republican and Tea Party responses; so I won't bore you with my own blow-by-blow on the subject. Besides, history has continued on its course and the speech has already been supplanted in the news by world events in Egypt and the blizzard recently experienced across much of the Midwest and the East. 

In point of fact, the latest SOTU was pretty a typical and forgettable example of recent ones delivered by presidents of both parties; long on rhetoric and short on details. It may have broken no new policy ground, but neither did it create new controversy. It simply went over much of the same doctrine that has been espoused by President Obama since he began campaigning for office, and was just another in a string of fairly well-written and well-delivered political speeches by a president who does pretty well reading off of a teleprompter. 

In going over my own thoughts on the SOTU however, I found them drifting to "The West Wing", an Aaron Sorkin series that has been off the air for a couple of years now. While Mr Sorkin's political views are for the most part diametrically opposed to my own, his skill (and that of the other series writing contributors) in crafting the show in general, and in particular the political speeches given by President Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) always captured me. The more I thought about it, the more the words of the latest SOTU faded away, to be replaced by the soaring rhetoric of a fictional president on a canceled TV series.  

I realized that even while we can disagree with the politics of the person speaking, we can nevertheless appreciate a well-written, well-delivered line. While there were a couple of episodes covering the SOTU that I could have used to illustrate my point, I chose another speech instead from the episode entitled "20 Hours In America". It's short enough to make my case and good enough to illustrate the necessity of really good speech writers to craft the soaring rhetoric of political speeches. 

Besides, I was particularly taken by the comment made by Bruno Gianelli (played by Ron Silver) to Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe), one of the president's principal speech writers. I have always viewed it as the ultimate compliment to a writer and something to aspire to one day about my own humble efforts.

So I would ask those of you who found the speech a particularly effective one (apparently so, since the president got a 90% approval rating for the speech) and even those who didn't; to instead of judging the president on his message, consider instead the people behind the scenes who sweated for weeks over every word and turn of phrase to create it. Remember as well that the best actor in the world can only perform as well as the script he is given.

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