The “sayings” of our U.S. presidents, lifted from their speeches, are some of our most treasured sound bytes, and yet in many cases they weren’t products of the presidents’ minds at all. Not often remembered is the role of the presidential speechwriter, that anonymous figure who quietly pens the great and grandiose language that will cause the nation and the world at large to ooh and ahh.
It’s a matter of debate, in many cases, exactly how much of their great speeches a president is responsible for. Especially in the case of a president like Ronald Reagan, who was famous for his at times controversial speeches and his eloquences, people have been going back and forth on how much of them he himself wrote for years.
Turns out he was more of a writer and a thinker than many in popular consciousness gave him credit for. A book published a while ago, entitled Reagan In His Own Hand, made public an extensive collection of the president’s own writings and proves that he had a powerful vision for the country and heavy influence over what he said in his speeches. His characterization of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” for example, was his own (he actually had to sneak it past his own speechwriters).1 And his speech firing the striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO), in August 1981, was lifted directly from an earlier writing of his in which he laid down his beliefs in the difference between public and private employment.2
Either way, in the case of presidential speeches, it’s not exactly worth splitting hairs over who wrote what. Presidents always have some degree of influence over what comes out of their mouths and reaches the people, and regardless of the level of collaboration, a speech delivered by the leader of the free world in person becomes a part of history.
Speechwriting is a fascinating science of political PR.
Cannon, Lou. “Reagan in His Own Hand.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Feb. 2001, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/entertainment/books/2001/02/04/reagan-in-his-own-hand/c21b737c-667e-44f5-9a0e-cc8c3a0ae192/?utm_term=.d2cba7c31ebc.