Erfaringer fra Det Hvide Hus: Speech Writing as a Strategic Tool

I USA har talen historisk set haft en betydelig og vigtig plads. En af de største taler i amerikansk historie, The Gettysburg Address, holdt af præsident Abraham Lincoln i 1863, blev brugt til at undersøge de amerikanske værdier i lyset af den blodige borgerkrig og til at forsikre befolkningen, om at de faldne ikke have ofret deres liv forgæves. Men hvordan betragtes talen og dens betydning i den samlede kommunikation, der flyder fra Det Hvide Hus i dag?

Vinca LaFleur var Bill Clintons taleskriver i tre år og fortæller på Logograf 2012 om sine erfaringer fra Det Hvide Hus. Vi har talt med hende om hvilken betydning taler og taleskrivning har i Det Hvide Hus i dag. Samtalen er her bragt på engelsk.

How does The White House value speeches?
“Every speaking opportunity is a moment to connect, to share a message, to inspire, to educate or to persuade. The Clinton White House placed an enormous value on the power of the spoken word ­ and, clearly, the Obama White House does as well.”

Bill Clinton is highly valued as a speaker in Denmark – how was he to work for?
“Writing for President Clinton was a privilege and a joy. In addition to being extremely intelligent, he is genuinely curious and interested in subjects of all kinds ­ from ancient history to modern technology; popular culture to science to sports. It made me feel like there were no limits to where I might look for creative inspiration! He has an extraordinary ability to connect to the audience, and to express complex ideas in a compelling, straightforward way, as we saw most recently in his speech to the Democratic Convention. I loved to write for him, and I still learn by listening to him.”

Is there a specific speech writing situation that stands out?
“On Air Force One, a route to Belfast in November 1995, the President asked me to find a passage from the Bible to add his speech at the Christmas Tree Lighting in front of Belfast City Hall.  This was pre-Google, pre-iPhone, practically pre-Internet, and it wasn’t easy to search the Bible for the perfect quote!  I did my best, but couldn’t find anything that I thought would be a good fit with the text we had, so I didn’t change it.  When he saw the final draft, he wasn’t happy about it; and so he ad libbed a Biblical quote of his own:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth.”  I later checked the passage and discovered that the actual line, from Matthew 5:9, is “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  It’s the meek who inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).  But it didn’t matter!  The crowd of several hundred thousand Catholics and Protestants cheered and clapped anyway.  One more moment of grace and goodwill, on an unforgettable trip. “

Does Bill Clinton write speeches himself?
“As president, it is almost impossible to find the time to write a major speech; your day is scheduled from dawn to dark.  The Clinton White House generally had 3-4 foreign policy speechwriters and 5-6 domestic policy speechwriters ­ and we were all kept busy, most of the time!  There was plenty of work to be done.  That said, President Clinton did care deeply about his speeches, and his most significant addresses all reflected his guidance and input from the outset.  He was a thoughtful and incisive editor, both substantively and stylistically; and also had a rare gift for adding material on the spot. We sometimes described him as a jazz musician; he improvised on what his speechwriters provided, and made it his own.”

Which speech is your most important speech?
“The two highlights of my time in the White House were the speeches I wrote for the President’s visits to Belfast in 1995 and to Bucharest in 1997. The latter speech was especially meaningful to me because of the work I had done at the Helsinki Commission; I had visited Romania many times in the early 1990s, and was thrilled to be returning with the President of the United States.”

Where do you find material and information when writing a speech?
“For the Belfast speech, I collected information from a wide range of sources—policy experts at the National Security Council and the State Department; U.S. diplomats overseas; history books; poetry; travel guides; and more!”

Writing for the president must be the highest you can get as a speechwriter – how did you become speechwriter for Bill Clinton?
“I was a foreign policy speechwriter for President Clinton from the summer of 1995 through the summer of 1998.  Previously, I had been a speechwriter for the U.S. Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and before that I had spent four years monitoring human rights in post-communist Romania and Hungary as a staff member of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (more commonly known as the Helsinki Commission).  Most of the Clinton White House speechwriters had either worked on the campaign, served in another U.S. government agency, or come from journalism.”

Mød Vinca LaFleur på Logograf 2012, og hør endnu mere om talerne fra Det Hvide Hus: Hvordan kan de bruges som led i en større strategi? Hvilke kriterier skal en tale leve op til for at være en god tale? Hvorfor er amerikanerne bare så knaldgode til at skrive og holde taler?

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