Oratory should blow doors off the place

05Dec09

For longer than anyone can remember, these artists of prose have transformed their bosses from bumbling wonks into statesmen and orators. They humble crowds. Their words are transformative, their speeches timeless. Delivered perfectly, their masterpieces should, to quote a fictional scribe, “blow the doors off the place.”Needless to say, I am presently reading about speechwriters. In particular, I am wading through White House Ghosts, a tome of sorts that received much press upon its 2008 release. It was written by Robert Schlesinger, the journalist and son of Kennedy speechwriter Arthur M. Schlesinger.

Schlesinger wrote a chapter that more or less chronicled the relationship between former president John F. Kennedy and his right-hand scribe Ted Sorensen. They met in 1953, when Kennedy was a Congressmen representing Massachusetts. Sorensen did much of the research for (or, according to some, even ghost-wrote) Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage. And then, when Kennedy was elected president, Sorensen became a senior advisor and speechwriter. He became famous for penning Kennedy’s inaugural address (mp3).

What’s the point of all of this? One quotation jumped out at me a few minutes ago. Schlesinger wrote about the relationship between Kennedy and Sorensen:

It seems safe to assume that forced to operate solo, John F. Kennedy would not have produced his inaugural address — but it is as safe to conclude that the Ted Sorensen who walked into Representative John F. Kennedy’s House office suite in January 1953 would also not have produced that speech. Inasmuch as he wrote the first working draft of the speech, Sorensen was operating from intense and intimate exposure to his boss’s mind over eight years. Indeed, except for Samuel Rosenman and Franklin Roosevelt, Sorensen and Kennedy were a production team unique for their longevity and its attendant familiarity — and that shows through in the quality of the prose.

It’s all very historic and impressive and eloquent. And that got me to thinking. Who are prime minister Stephen Harper’s speechwriters? Without too much further analysis, here is the current incarnation of Harper’s speechwriting team:

Paul Bunner is one of two managers of speechwriting in Harper’s correspondence unit (he was once the solo manager). Before enlisting at the PMO, Bunner penned columns for the Western Standard, AlbertaVenture.com and Alberta Report.

Bunner now shares speechwriting management duties with Nigel Hannaford, a former Calgary Herald columnist and editorial board member who was appointed to his PMO position earlier this year (much to the chagrin of Xtra).

Speechwriter Meredith McDonald was, in 2004, the volunteer correspondence secretary for Harper when he was running for the leadership of the new Conservative Party of Canada. She now works in the PMO.

Another writer, Gemma Collins, was a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary who seems to have specialized, or at least took particular interest in, copyright issues. She co-authored a story entitled “Creators vs. consumers” with Tom Flanagan that appeared in Canwest papers on March 27, 2006. Collins also co-authored a piece on file sharing with Flanagan (and others) for the Fraser Institute.

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