Monday, February 7, 2011

Tear Down This Wall - Back Story

How does a Presidential speech get written? As I’ve mentioned here, or here, a Presidential speech is almost never a case of one writer, no matter how talented, sitting down at a desk and whipping up some stirring rhetoric. It almost always involves input from various departments of a very large government.

Each of those has specific, and to their mind at least, quite convincing arguments about why the President should say what they want the President to say. Most often, they get their way.

In fact, it’s a wonder a President ever has anything to say that’s even worth listening to.

Today I ran across a fascinating blog post by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who was one of President Reagan’s speech writers for his “Tear Down This Wall” speech.

He describes the strategy the President’s speech writers employed to get the speech past powerful figures like Secretary of State George Schultz, and General Colin Powell. Rohrabacher and his colleagues knew that the phrase “Tear down this wall,” would be problematic for the senior advisors who normally have enough influence to get things taken from a speech.

By getting their draft into the President’s hands before it could be watered down by his advisors, the speech writers managed to create something powerful, and memorable.

Today, the line they had to fight so hard to preserve, is what is most memorable about that speech.
Just imagine if Reagan had gone to Berlin and merely said “we think this wall is a really bad idea,” rather than hurl his unmistakable challenge to Gorbachev, with the whole world watching.

Bonn might still be the Capitol of a nation known as West Germany!

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

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