A speech writer's take on important speeches, and the craft of writing for an audience.
Friday, June 25, 2010
A General Sacked
Speech By: President Obama Title: Resignation of General McChrystal Date: June 23, 2010 Location: Rose Garden Occasion: Resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal
These remarks are not a case of how well something is said, but rather, the substance of what is said, and how decisively the words are delivered. By that measure, these remarks meet the standard admirably well.
Let’s start by not mincing words - General Stanley McChrystal was fired, he did not just resign. Let’s take it one step further - he should have been fired.
The Bully Pulpit has covered the controversy between Gen. McChrystal and the President, beginning with the General’s speech last Fall in which he indicated 40,000 more troops were needed in Afghanistan. It came close to crossing the line of insubordination, but was not overtly political. Still, the speech did serve to put unwelcome political pressure on the General’s ultimate boss - the Commander in Chief.
In response, the Commander in Chief went directly to West Point - to speak in front of those who would have to carry out whatever decision he announced - to deliver his reply.
It is the highest tradition of the American military, that its members ultimately take their orders from civilians. That they do this without public challenge, has given us a nation worthy of the lives they are willing to expend in its defense.
The most notable exception to this honored tradition was General MacArthur’s public challenge of President Truman during the Korean War. While it cost him political standing, Truman’s response, to fire MacArthur, ultimately strengthened the nation, and the Presidency itself.
While General McChrystal’s staff antics - speaking with open contempt of elected civilian officials in the presence of a reporter for Rolling Stone - may not quite rise to the same level as MacArthur, they are egregious enough. Given the previous history, there really seemed no choice. The President’s swift, decisive action in this case, is in the high tradition of President Truman, and America itself.
A veteran writer, researcher and lecturer, with more than 25 years experience in politics, political communications, and public relations. I’ve studied speech writing at NYU, and authored a number of published articles on the practice of lobbying as well as topics in American history.
My lecture on the War of 1812: 1812 – Uncle Sam’s First War, is now a lecture in the New York Speakers in the Humanities bicentennial commemoration series.