NPR Political Junkie Ken Rudin recaps the week in politics. Paul Glastris, speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, and Peter Robinson, speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, discuss the strategy of inauguration addresses and how President Barack Obama's speech will likely differ the second time around.
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NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Rockefeller won't run again, Treasury kills the trillion-dollar coin, and the president calls on Congress to pony up. It's Wednesday, and time for a ...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Deadbeat.
CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)
RONALD REAGAN: There you go again...
WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad - where's the beef?
BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice...
LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy...
RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.
RICK PERRY: Oops.
GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.
HOWARD DEAN: (SCREAMING)
CONAN: The president proposes new gun laws, and signs 23 executive orders. Ken Salazar opens up another seat in the Cabinet. Mark Sanford will hit the campaign trail for Congress. Republicans retreat after House Democrats push through $51 billion for Sandy relief. And the presidential limo gets a Taxation Without Representation license plates. It's Wednesday. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as usual, to review the week in politics.
In a few minutes, we'll focus on the task of writing a second inaugural address with former presidential speechwriters Paul Glastris and Peter Robinson. Plus Iran's role in the upcoming confirmation hearings for would-be secretaries Kerry and Hagel. Zbigniew Brzezninski will join us.
But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here, as usual, in Studio 3A, and trivia in just a moment. Ken, we have two new stations to welcome today.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Yes. And I don't have that piece of paper in front of me.
CONAN: I do.
CONAN: It's KUT in Austin keeping Austin even weirder.
RUDIN: A great station, by the way.
CONAN: And Michigan's upper peninsula will join us. That's WGGL.
RUDIN: That's great.
CONAN: So how about that trivia question, Ken? Nice of you to prepare for that.
RUDIN: Yeah. Yes. The trivia question is why doesn't Ken doesn't know the new stations?
CONAN: That's right.
RUDIN: That's very exciting news. But the trivia question, at least what I know, is West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller announced last week he'll not seek a sixth term next year. Already we...
CONAN: How'd you pronounce that? Rockafella?
CONAN: As in most happy fella?
RUDIN: Well, you remember Nelson Rockefeller campaigning in New York? Hi ya, fella.
CONAN: Hi ya, fella. Where'd you go?
RUDIN: It's the way they talk.
CONAN: I might do that.
RUDIN: It's my New York accent. Already Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, has announced her candidacy and she has a good shot at winning the seat. No Republican, as you well know, has won a West Virginia senate seat since 1956. That's not the trivia question. The trivia question is who was the last female Republican member of the House to be elected to the Senate?
CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question - the last female Republican member of the House of Representatives to be elected to the United States Senate - give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, the winner gets not only a free political junkie t-shirt but that fabulous political junkie no-prize button.
RUDIN: Are there t-shirts being given out later today?
CONAN: Later today. Yes, indeed. There's going to be an event right here in Washington D.C.
CONAN: At the Sixth & I Synagogue Auditorium where it's going to be the Political Junkie Roadshow Inauguration Edition.
RUDIN: I'm going to be there. It sounds exciting. I'm going to listen in.
CONAN: You're going to pay - anyway.
CONAN: Oh, boy.
RUDIN: They'll pay, all right.
CONAN: Well, let's start with that seat in West Virginia. This is going to be one of those seats it may be difficult for the Democrats to hold onto. Again, the math gives them difficulty come 2014 holding onto the Senate.
RUDIN: That's absolutely true. I mean, of course we said that the Democrats would have difficulty holding on in 2012 and they did just very fine, thank you very much. And the point - and also in West Virginia, as I said, the Republicans haven't won a Senate seat there since 1956. However, of all the states it seems like West Virginia is turning more and more red, even if perhaps the country may be turning a little more blue as we saw in 2012 presidential election.
The state went 62 to 36 for Mitt Romney. President Obama lost every county in West Virginia, so Shelley Moore Capito, who's the daughter of former Governor Arch Moore, thought to be a very capable candidate. And she is. But conservatives are not crazy about her so there might be a challenge to her from her right.
There's also a bunch of Democrats, of course, who are talking about running Carte Goodwin who is briefly an appointee to the Senate after Robert Byrd died. Congressman Nick Rahall. There's a bunch of Democrats who are looking at that seat as well. But right now a good possible pickup for the Republicans.
CONAN: In the meantime, what the president said today about gun legislation, that's the kind of thing that will drive West Virginia Democrats up the wall.
RUDIN: Well, I think one of the Democrats absolutely to watch is Joe Manchin, who, of course, does not have reelection problems. He was reelected in 2012.
CONAN: To the Senate just this year.
RUDIN: To the Senate, yeah. Or as we call it, 2012.
RUDIN: But, I mean, look. We know where the House - the House is not going to pass an assault weapons ban. That's clear. And of course, Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer and from the urban states will, of course, keep proposing pro-restrictions on guns. But it isn't the Joe Manchins of the world. It's the Mary Landrieu's of Louisiana who are up in 2014. It's Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Prior of Arkansas.
And what about Harry Reid? When Harry Reid, the majority leader, was campaigning for reelection in 2010 he stood very strong with the NRA. A lot of the commercials showed him with a gun and all that. And, of course, he used a lot of that NRA support to win reelection in what was going to be a very tough race.
So Harry Reid has always opposed assault weapons bans but of course the president suggested other remedies, including the assault weapon ban.
CONAN: And he shares your political analysis. Even if it passes the Senate it could not get through the House of Representatives. And he said, given that, his priority is going to be on immigration reform and not gun laws.
RUDIN: Yes. But I also wonder, then, maybe he threw out everything possible. I mean, obviously people are still recoiling from the horror of Newtown. And you think of all the other horrific shootings in the past - Aurora and Columbine and Virginia Tech and all that - where you think maybe this time it made a difference.
But he did talk about increase on unilateral background checks. He did talk of closing loopholes. I wonder if there could be some kind of compromise with Republicans on that issue at least.
CONAN: And some people think that the big lobbyist, the NRA, are shooting themselves in the foot.
RUDIN: Ooh, I say that.
CONAN: Going over the edge. This is an ad that started to be aired, supported by the NRA, as of last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes but he's just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security. Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours.
CONAN: Most people's kids of course don't get specific death threats.
RUDIN: No. And most people's kids are not children of the President of the United States who deserve and get 24/7 security. The White House immediately went ball...
CONAN: Well, you see the problem. You see that problem.
RUDIN: Exactly. Today Jay Carney said it was repugnant and cowardly to try to hide behind the president's children. But I think the NRA was trying to make the point that this is not about safety, really, it's just about hypocrisy because the NRA does want an armed guard in every school. But then, what about an Aurora movie theater? Or what about a shopping center in Tucson? I mean, you can't have armed guards everywhere.
CONAN: Or the firefighters who responded to that in Webster, New York.
CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question and that is the last Republican member of the House of Representatives to be a female and also then be elevated to the United States Senate. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. We'll start with Sue and Sue's on the line from Boise.
CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Sue. Go ahead. What'd you guess?
SUE: Oh, my golly. I thought it was Barbara Mikulski. Then I thought it was Barbara Boxer and now I've realized I'm wrong on both counts because it's a Republican. So my apologies.
CONAN: That's OK. And you're right - you're wrong.
CONAN: That's OK, Sue. Try again. Thanks very much for the call. Let's see. And we go next to Joel. Joel's on the line with us from San Carlos in California.
JOEL: Yeah. I'm going to guess Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire.
CONAN: Kelly Ayotte.
RUDIN: Kelly Ayotte was the state Attorney General of New Hampshire when she was elected to the Senate, not a member of Congress.
CONAN: Could've had the kiss of death by appearing on this program, but won anyway. Thanks very much, Joel.
JOEL: OK. Thanks.
CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Audrey, and Audrey, excuse me, is on the line from Minneapolis.
AUDREY: Yeah. Hi. One of my goals in life is to get one of those Political Junkie t-shirts and be on the Wall of Shame. So I'm going to guess Margaret Chase Smith.
RUDIN: Margaret Chase Smith is an excellent guess. As a matter of fact, she was the first Republican female from the House who was elected to the Senate - as you well know, it was in Maine in 1948 - but not the last.
CONAN: Audrey, you know, those t-shirts are for sale. Just go to the NPR website.
RUDIN: She deserves, like, maybe a half a t-shirt for Margaret Chase Smith.
CONAN: Well, Margaret Chase Smith, that's a good one. Anyway, Audrey, thanks very much.
AUDREY: Thanks. Bye.
CONAN: Better luck next time. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Clayton, Clayton with us from Wichita.
CLAYTON: Yeah. I'm going to go with Olympia Snowe.
RUDIN: Olympia Snowe is the correct answer...
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: ...of Maine, of 1994.
CLAYTON: Whoa. My lucky day.
RUDIN: But what's interesting is that Margaret Chase Smith and Olympia Snowe, both from Maine, were the only female Republican House members elected to the Senate. How do you like that?
CONAN: Well, congratulations, Clayton. Stay on the line. We will collect your particulars and be bundling you off a t-shirt of the correct size, and, of course, that fabulous No-Prize button.
CLAYTON: And I'll send you a picture right away.
CONAN: All right. That'll be posted on our Wall of Shame.
RUDIN: Can you also send a picture of Audrey from Minnesota?
RUDIN: Because she really should be on the Wall of fame, even though she was...
CONAN: Thanks, Clayton. We're not going to hold you to that. All right, in the meantime, a political comeback: Mark Sanford on the - these jokes are going to be inevitable - comeback trail.
RUDIN: Yes. Well, yeah. I did smile when you said that earlier. Now, this is the seat that he previously held in Congress from 1995 to 2000. He left after 2000 and was elected governor in 2002. He was talking about a White House bid when, of course, he disappeared from South Carolina for six days in 2009, ostensibly hiking the Appalachian Trail, but really in South Korea to meet his Seoul-mate, mate.
CONAN: No, no, no, no. Buenos Aires, to meet the Argentine Firecracker.
RUDIN: Oh, yeah. His soul-mate. Right.
CONAN: No, no. That was another scandal.
RUDIN: Wilbur Mills. But anyway, so he did have a scandal, and a lot of people saying, well, South Carolina will never forgive him. Of course, South Carolina did vote for Newt Gingrich, the three-time married Newt Gingrich when he won the Republican presidential primary in 2012. But there is a primary on March 19th.
There is - about a bunch of candidates getting in. And Mark Sanford does have a good shot at finishing on top, because he has the most money and the most name recognition. The fear, of course, for him is that there will be an April 2nd runoff and one-against-one. That could be his defeat.
CONAN: In the meantime, President Obama criticized for too many white men appointed to his new Cabinet positions. He said, well, keep tune. Well, we're keeping tune. There's a new Cabinet position just opened up. Ken Salazar will step down as secretary of the interior.
RUDIN: Yes. And, you know, he is a Latino member, and he quit. Of course, today, the secretary of the interior, he announced it today. He is the sixth Cabinet official to leave. And, of course, one of them who is leaving, Hillary Clinton, has agreed to testify about Benghazi next week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
CONAN: And another who's up for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, got a big endorsement, Chuck Schumer of New York. Well, if Chuck Schumer is going to vote for him, that clears the way with most Democrats, wouldn't you think?
RUDIN: Well, the Jewish and Israel issue, yes. But it's really the Republicans who have the most problem with Chuck Hagel, and those are the people who will be watching, the - John McCains, the Lindsey Grahams, those types.
CONAN: Well, we'll have more on that later today when we talk with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security advisor who says those hearings for Chuck Hagel and John Kerry should be a good place to talk questions about Iran. Anyway, more on that later. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is going to stay with us here in Studio 3A. When we come back, we're going to be talking with our favorite presidential speechwriters, Paul Glastris and Peter Robinson, about the task of writing a second inaugural address. Stay with us.
I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. It's Wednesday. That means Political Junkie Ken Rudin is here. And, Ken, was there a scuttlebutton winner this past week?
RUDIN: Actually, I'm glad you asked, Neal. There was. There was a bunch of buttons. The first one was a picture button of Sinatra. And, of course, ultimately it came to: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn...
RUDIN: ...dealing with a Sinatra button. But most importantly, the winner was Del Atwood. Now, are you - I'm sure you're going to ask me: Is he the same Del Atwood who's a judge for the - on the provincial court and family court of Nova Scotia in Canada?
CONAN: I was about - that was on the tip of my tongue.
RUDIN: That is the same one.
CONAN: Same Lee Atwood?
RUDIN: Same Del Atwood.
RUDIN: So he is the winner.
CONAN: Not Lee Atwood?
RUDIN: No, no, no. He's a different fellow.
CONAN: OK. Anyway, congratulations to him. And, of course, those who solve the scuttlebutton puzzle, again, get that Political Junkie t-shirt.
RUDIN: But he'll be the first Canadian winner, and a lot of people consider Canada...
CONAN: But then we have to trim off 2 percent of that button when we send it to him.
RUDIN: Well, a lot of people consider Canada a separate country.
CONAN: That's true. And is there - did you manage to get a column up this week?
RUDIN: There is one. It's all about Mr. Chuck Hagel.
CONAN: Chuck Hagel. More about that. Anyway, you can see the new scuttlebutton puzzle and this week's column at political - npr.org/junkie. Our Political Junkie Road Show, again, is tonight, January 16th, here in Washington, D.C. You could join us for an evening of, well, elevated humor, and maybe a good one here and there, special guests including Ari Shapiro, Don Gonyea and Eric Deggans, plus, of course, trivia and scuttlebutton. Of course, Paul Glastris will be there, as well. If you'd like to attend the event...
PAUL GLASTRIS: Members of Congress.
CONAN: ...buy a ticket, send us an email with Junkie Road Show in the subject head and the address, of course, is firstname.lastname@example.org. Almost four years ago that President Obama was sworn into office the first time, some of us might like to think we remember that day and that speech fairly well.
But maybe the only memorable first inaugural moment happened as Justice John Roberts administered the Oath of Office.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION)
JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS U.S. SUPREME COURT: That I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That I will execute...
COURT: Faithfully the office of president of the United States.
OBAMA: ...the office of the president of the United States faithfully.
CONAN: An embarrassed Justice Roberts came back the next day to issue the oath with all the I's dotted and the T's crossed. And, of course, the actual swearing-in is Sunday. So, Ken Rudin, who's the last president who will be actually sworn in four times?
RUDIN: Well, of course, one would think it would be Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected four times. But because President Obama was - had a - sworn in, and then sworn in correctly, and then he'll be sworn in Sunday - which is, of course, a Sunday, and therefore, big public swearing in is on Monday...
CONAN: So ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: President Obama will be a four-time inauguree(ph).
CONAN: Monday, the festivities and the parade. Of course, the inaugural balls will take place, and the big speech. In a moment, presidential speechwriting duo Paul Glastris and Peter Robinson to talk about the hopes and challenges of a second inaugural address, but we'd also like to hear from you.
If you're a speechwriter who's had to write speeches for one person over a long time, how do you keep it fresh? Tell us what works and what doesn't. Our number: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. You can join the conversation on our website, as well. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And Paul Glastris and Peter Robinson are here with us again. Paul Glastris wrote speeches for Bill Clinton. He's currently editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly, with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back, Paul.
GLASTRIS: Great to be here.
CONAN: Peter Robinson is a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, and joins us from the campus at Stanford University, where he's a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Peter, welcome back to you, as well.
PETER ROBINSON: A pleasure.
CONAN: And Paul Glastris, let's start with you. What's the most important item for next week's speech?
GLASTRIS: Well, you know, there have been 16 second inaugural addresses in all of our history, and there's a certain pattern to them. And what I've noticed is they encapsulate the philosophy of the president at that moment in time. And I expect what we'll see from President Obama is an encapsulation of his idea of the role of government in American society, very much informed by his reelection and very much informed by the tussle with Republicans at this moment and the specific agenda items he has before him.
CONAN: So Peter Robinson, specific agenda items? Isn't that what he's going to wait for the State of the Union message for?
ROBINSON: Well, I'm hoping that Paul is correct. Sure, you put your laundry list of specific agenda items in the State of the Union address, but I'm hoping Paul is correct is that Barack Obama will tell us what he wants to do with this second term.
I just looked over some second inaugural addresses: Reagan's, Clinton's, George W. Bush's. Only one of them was better than the first address, and that was the address by George W. Bush, where he said: For half a century, America defended her own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, and then there came a day of fire.
Of course, what had happened between the first address and the second address was 9/11, and that gave shape and purpose to George W. Bush's second term, to his entire presidency. I myself - now, here I am. I'm a Republican. I'm a conservative. I'm a Reagan guy. I don't quite get what Barack Obama thinks he wants to do.
Since the election, he has - you'd expect people to be - a newly reelected president to be conciliatory, to embrace the other side, to say let us go forward together. And yet since the election, he's been quite sharp and quite aggressive and quite partisan. And so I guess what I'm saying is I hope - even as Bush placed his presidency in American history by saying I am now going to promote a freedom agenda throughout the world - I am hoping that Barack Obama tells us what he sees his second term as being about.
CONAN: Well, conciliatory, with malice towards none has been taken. But, Ken, you had a question.
RUDIN: Well, that's a good point, because I was thinking - I've also read a bunch of inaugural speeches - second ones - over the last couple of weeks.
GLASTRIS: He did his homework?
ROBINSON: You would, Ken. You would.
RUDIN: Except for those stations that have been brought on.
RUDIN: But I was thinking that, too, that, you know, I mean, even when Reagan had his, you know, inauguration in '81 and he never mentioned the hostages. Nixon never mentioned Vietnam or Watergate. But President Obama said to Republicans the other day, he said, you know, if I'm going to have a fight with you over the debt ceiling, if I'm going to have a fight with you over guns, I'm going to use the State of the Union - I'm going to use the inauguration as a bully pulpit. You don't see - I've not seen a president do that. Usually, they're far more conciliatory.
ROBINSON: Yeah. And, again, I think back to - it seems to me there's a lot of free-floating anxiety in the country right now. So some sense - here we have a central national moment. Will he use it to tell us how he intends to put the - will he use it to reassure us? There's the obvious anxiety that people are still terribly concerned about the economy, lots of people just out of work.
But I myself sense a kind of - a second sort of anxiety that, in one way or another, our fundamental institutions just aren't working, that the American project is getting old and beginning to break down. Will he address those? Will there be something as ringing and memorable and reassuring as Franklin Roosevelt's we have nothing to fear but fear itself?
CONAN: That was in his first inaugural...
CONAN: ...but Paul Glastris.
GLASTRIS: Well, you know, you can go back in time and find presidents who are much more feisty and pugilistic in their second inaugural addresses. Ulysses S. Grant is one...
CONAN: Oh, I'm sure Ken read that one.
RUDIN: No. I saw it on CNN.
GLASTRIS: But, in fact, Thomas Jefferson was very aggressive and slightly grumpy in his second inaugural address. He'd gone through a tough reelection. Things were, as they are now, very, very partisan, very, very bitter. It may be appropriate at this moment for the president to address the elephant that's in the room, the fact that our system is not in harmony, rather than gloss over it with the kind of usual boilerplate about us working together, when we know we're not right now.
CONAN: Come Monday, there will then be 17 American presidents who have enjoyed a second inaugural. You've had the good fortune to work for two of them. How did it work? Every speechwriting team is different. I get that. But, Paul Glastris, for Bill Clinton's second inaugural - did somebody draft a speech? Did they send it around? And who marked it? How does it work?
GLASTRIS: My old boss Michael Waldman had a heavy hand in it. I was not there at the time. But Bill Clinton takes a very, very direct role in his speechwriting, especially his big speeches.
CONAN: He wants to add a paragraph or two?
GLASTRIS: Oh, he'll rewrite every sentence as it's written. You know, he gets a draft, and he will mark it up. There will be several drafts after that. And then, over the course of several days, standing in front of a podium and a group of senior staff members, he'll read and revise and revise and revise until the speech is very much his own.
And that speech, his second inaugural, was very much a speech about the role of government, and encapsulated sort of the new Democratic philosophy that had won him the reelection.
CONAN: Peter Robinson, what about President Reagan's team?
ROBINSON: President Reagan was a different kind of figure from Bill Clinton, of course, in that he was a - he'd spent three-and-a-half or four decades as a public speaker, and, of course, was a professional, trained actor before becoming president. So that the second inaugural was - Ben Elliott the chief speech writer, Peggy Noonan, wrote a couple of drafts, as I recall.
Ken Khachigian came in from - so there were about three speechwriters. And it went to the president, and he made a few minor changes. I don't know that he even - I don't think there was a public rehearsal. He very seldom - if ever, actually, thinking back on it - did a public rehearsal.
The president would sit with the text, mark it up himself, and then he would be ready to go, even if it was a second inaugural address. He - where the entire world would be watching. One run-through in his mind with the text typically did the trick. It's - I'm struck - Paul mentioned that Clinton used his second inaugural address to talk about the role of government, and, you know, Reagan did a little bit of that too. He repeated his fundamental belief in limited government. So it was in a very quiet way, ideological or principled. He was laying out, as Clinton did, his understanding of the role of government. I want Barack Obama to do this for us. I'd like to know what's in his head.
RUDIN: Well, Paul and Peter just mentioned that both Presidents Clinton and Reagan had drafts to work from, but I've always thought the only person - president with a draft was William Henry Harrison. But that's not - but that's a great joke, but I'll describe it later. But here's the thing - because he died.
ROBINSON: Paul and I are laughing (unintelligible).
RUDIN: You're laughing inside. But anyway, my question is that...
RUDIN: ...we think of all these great, you know, we think of Kennedy - ask not what your country - and FDR. But for the most part, I can't recall - even great orators who were presidents - I can't recall their inaugural addresses, first or second. Why is that? And is it about me?
CONAN: And, of course, including the ones...
CONAN: ...you guys (unintelligible).
RUDIN: No. But I mean you think of great speeches but not the inaugural addresses so much.
CONAN: Other than Lincoln's.
GLASTRIS: I think there are probably more...
ROBINSON: Yeah. Because most of them are no good.
ROBINSON: Truly, if you read - if you just sit down, as you apparently have done, Ken, and, Paul, even if you read the inaugural addresses, they're interesting in one way or another. The historic Jefferson is fascinating to see what was in his head and how that played out in his term. But most of them, as rhetoric, are just remarkably dull speeches.
GLASTRIS: I think...
ROBINSON: (Unintelligible) stands out and Lincoln stands out.
GLASTRIS: I think that if State of the Unions are too close to the ground in terms of laundry list of policies, inauguration addresses are maybe too far above the ground, and they almost always aim to place the president in the grand scheme of American history, and that can be a little tedious.
CONAN: We're talking with former presidential speechwriters Paul Glastris - you just heard. Peter Robinson is with us from Stanford. We want to hear from those of you who have written speeches as well, particularly for people addressing the same audience over and over again, whether that's stockholders or the nation. 800-989-8255. How do you keep it fresh? What works? What doesn't? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. It's Wednesday. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as usual, and it's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go to Monica. Monica is on the line with us from Arkansas.
MONICA: Hi. Thanks so much for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead please.
MONICA: Well, I am a sports writer - excuse me, I am a speechwriter for a national sports and fitness figure, and I've written speeches for people, you know, for years but just started this more national account. And it's an interesting animal, because this person basically has the sports and fitness version of the political stump speech. It's more or less the same speech, given all over the nation, sometimes even in other countries. And I have to come up with ways to make it fresh, because oftentimes the same people are standing in the audience.
CONAN: Monica, Lance is going to need some serious help.
MONICA: You know, it takes a lot of effort as far as keeping that relationship with the person fresh, making sure that I'm in constant conversation with him, trying to get deeper and deeper into what he thinks, what he means, how he feels about certain issues.
MONICA: And then also, I use a lot of metaphors to try to get things across, new ways of saying the same thing, basically.
CONAN: Oh, Peter Robinson, the president has the same, I guess, advantage and by now his ideas are familiar. On the other hand, by now, his ideas are familiar.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Has he ever. When I was in the White House, I spent a year and a half working for Vice President George H.W. Bush before moving to the president's staff. And the vice president was - well, he was a dream to work for. He was difficult to work for in the sense that he was not the most talented giver of speeches, so you'd cringe sometimes to hear what he did with your text. But with the vice president, you can use the same material over and over again, because nobody ever paid any attention to what he said.
ROBINSON: You were safe. But with the president, man, every speech had to be fresh. That is a serious problem.
CONAN: Yeah, read my lips, you can't do that again, yeah. Paul Glastris, the same problem, keeping it fresh.
GLASTRIS: Well, that's right. We have one speechwriter in our office who had a T-shirt with a recycling sign on it because we use so many of the same phrases over and over again. Part of that is strategic because, sure, you may have given a speech 100 times, but 99 percent of the public still hasn't heard it. So repetition is very important in the role of speeches which is to move policy.
CONAN: Those who have stood behind the rope line in the press corps and heard that same speech 100 times...
CONAN: ...till they can recite it along with the candidate, they're rolling their rides a little bit. Monica, thank you very much for the call. Good luck with your speech.
MONICA: And thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email that we have from Jerry in Woodside, New York: I hate to say the number one thing that a speech needs - I have to say, he says - is some humor. Most people are not political junkies. They care a lot less about politics than we think we want them to. So the key is finding a way to engage them, even nonfunny jokes - Ken will know about that...
CONAN: ...show people you're trying to connect with them and they appreciate it. An inaugural address, though, it's a pretty formal occasion, Paul Glastris.
RUDIN: Laugh riot.
GLASTRIS: No, no. It is not a time for humor. I wouldn't advise using that. But, you know, maybe the two greatest second inaugural addresses, Abraham Lincoln's and FDR's, were both very focused. FDR's - Lincoln spoke about nothing but the war, right? And that's the speech that, you know, we remember - with malice toward none, with charity toward all. Roosevelt was completely and totally about the role of government breaking with the past, using government and meld it with science and democracy to lift the nation up. And that's where he talked about I see a nation ill-clad, ill-fed and so forth. So if President Obama can focus on one big thing rather than being diverted to a bunch of things...
CONAN: So this is a hedgehog speech. It's not a fox.
GLASTRIS: There you go.
CONAN: Yeah, there you go.
ROBINSON: I would agree. I go back to George W. Bush. He's an unpopular figure. The war went badly. We know all that. But as a speech, his second inaugural address, which is quite brief and very tightly focused on the freedom agenda, the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.
It's exactly what Paul said. If in the second inaugural address, you can achieve focus, this is what my presidency is about, this is where I intend to take the country, then Barack Obama will have given a good address.
CONAN: Thank you both, as always, for your time today. And we will look forward to the second inaugural address by President Barack Obama come Monday, after he's sworn in for the third time on Sunday, and fourth time on Monday. Of course, Paul Glastris was a speechwriter for former President Clinton. He joined us here today in Studio 3A. Peter Robinson, a research fellow at the Hover Institution, a speechwriter for former President Reagan. He joined us from a studio at the Stanford University campus. Ken Rudin, our resident Political Junkie, joined us here in Studio 3A as usual. See you tonight at the Sixth & I Synagogue.
CONAN: And, of course, again, right here next week with more sparkling dialogue in all the stations that have joined us. After a short break, former National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, will join us after with some tough questions for Cabinet hopefuls. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.