The rise of the media presidency through radio and television broadcasts has heightened the visibility and importance of presidential speeches in determining the effectiveness and popularity of the President of the United States. Not surprisingly, this development has also witnessed the rise of professional speechwriters to craft the words the chief executive would address to the nation.
Yet, as this volume of expert analyses graphically demonstrates, the reliance of individual presidents on their speechwriters has varied with the rhetorical skill of the officeholder himself, his managerial style, and his personal attitude toward public speaking. The individual chapters here (two by former White House speechwriters) give fascinating insight into the process and development of presidential speechwriting from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration to Ronald Reagan’s. Some contributors, such as Charles Griffin writing on Eisenhower and Moya Ball on Johnson, offer case studies of specific speeches to gain insight into those presidents. Other chapters focus on institutional arrangements and personal relationships, rhetorical themes characterizing an administration, or the relationship between words and policies to shed light on presidential speechwriting.
The range of presidents covered affords opportunities to examine various factors that make rhetoric successful or not, to study alternative organizational arrangements for speechwriters, and even to consider the evolution of the rhetorical presidency itself. Yet, the volume’s single focus on speechwriting and the analytic overviews provided by Martin J. Medhurst not only bring coherence to the work, but also make this book an exemplar of how unity can be achieved from a diversity of approaches.
Medhurst’s introduction of ten “myths” in the scholarship on presidential speeches and his summary of the enduring issues in the practice of speechwriting pull together the work of individual contributors. At the same time, his introduction and conclusion transcend particular presidents by providing generalizations on the role of speechwriting in the modern White House.
What Readers Are Saying:
“. . . important. . . a fascinating and useful work that presents some of the best material ever produced on the subject.” --Choice
“Editors Kurt Ritter and Martin J. Medhurst have assembled a collection of essays that nicely trace the contemporary history of presidential speechwriting, covering the presidencies of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan.” --Rhetoric & Public Affairs
“Most satisfying are those chapters that take the reader through a detailed exploration of how presidential speechwriting operates by examining a specific speech text and poring over the archival material relevant to that text.” --Rhetoric & Public Affairs
“...Presidential Speechwriting is an excellent contribution to the existing treatments of the critical activity of presidential leadership. Medhurst’s introductory essay- an examination and debunking of ten “myths” about presidential speechwriting- should be required reading for president, their speechwriters, and all of us who research and/or teach this subject. Many of the chapters are very illumination, telling us much about the processes and outcomes of presidential speechwriting across several administrations.” --Rhetoric & Public Affairs
“...this volume is quite useful in its tracing of presidential speechwriting throughout recent history.” --Rhetoric & Public Affairs
“It is a rare pleasure, indeed, to read a book written by multiple authors of such consistently high quality.” --Argumentation and Advocacy
“In my opinion, this chapter constitutes one of the best available pieces in scholarship about speechwriting.” --Argumentation and Advocacy
“All the authors write in an accessible way. The book could constitute a textbook for students or a scholarly work for futre researcher.” --Argumentation and Advocacy
“I predict that Presidential Speech-Writing will become a landmark book. Its first-rate scholarship, penetrating insights, provocative questions, and clear writing make it a book that should interest students in a variety of fields including speechwriting, presidential and political communicatiion, rhetoric, political science, history, cultural studies, and eight presidents from Roosevelt through Reagan.” --Argumentation and Advocacy
“The essays on the modern presidents and their speechwriters are revealing and documented in ample endnotes.” --Journal of American History