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[Opinion] Speechwriter

Posted May. 12, 2005 23:38,   


“A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The 16th president of the U.S., Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech is transcribed in world textbooks as a dictionary definition for democracy. I remember thinking with curiosity, “Who actually wrote this?” when I was memorizing the speech in English. Recently, a former American journalist asserted that former President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration speech, which is famous for the quote, “Do not ask what your country can do for you,” was written by the president’s advisors. The relationship between a president and his speechwriter is similar to that of protagonist and supporting actor. A speechwriter is a supporting actor in history tuning a president’s “words,” but if he performs well, the protagonist, the president, shines.

The debut of presidential speechwriters in the U.S. came with 29th President Warren Harding in 1921. Naturally, Lincoln wrote all his speech drafts including the Gettysburg speech by himself. With an exploding workload, it is said that they are subject to the serous work of being able to sleep only one or two hours during a president’s tour abroad.

The relationship between a president and his speechwriter differs according to the president’s style. Having had a splendid history, former President George Bush did not like sumptuous modifiers. Nonetheless, he read faithfully what his advisors wrote for him. Contrastingly, former President Bill Clinton, who only had the experience of a governorship in Arkansas, spoke impromptu for more than 50 percent of his informal speeches, but he did not make serious mistakes thanks to his innate wit.

In Korea too, Cheong Wa Dae’s speech secretary writes up various presidential speeches. Although former President Kim Dae Jung was more of an improvisational speaker, he often remarked that a “politician does not have to feel ashamed of speaking from a text.” He meant that it is better not to make mistakes. Meanwhile, President Roh frequently makes extemporaneous remarks that are not his advisors’. Harsh comments like “I will crush the family and the person himself who gets caught asking for favors” or “I cannot be president anymore” are all results of such comments.

Lee Dong-kwan, Editorial writer, dklee@donga.com