Good political speechwriting is the synthesis of broad intellectual reasoning and creative writing skills. A single, brilliant speech has the ability to rally a nation, heal wounds, or articulate daring, new societal goals.
We will trace the origins of modern political speechwriting to the ancient concept of rhetoric and explore how rhetoric and political leadership are tightly linked. We will examine the crucial role political rhetoric and speechwriting have played in times of domestic crises, world wars, social movements and political campaigns.
We will explore how public opinion is affected by political speech and how the technological advancements of the last century have contributed to the development of the press as a “Washington institution.” We will study how the press interprets political rhetoric and how presidents have used the press to “go public” in direct appeals to the people.
Finally, we will explore how the speechwriter is integrated into the broader apparatus of policymaking, and discuss the unique political and interpersonal constraints of expressing someone else’s ideas in a genuine fashion under narrow conditions
BOOK ASSIGNMENTS: In addition to the readings found in the photocopied packet, the principal textbooks for the seminar are:
• Greene, Richard. Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events, New York: Prentice Hall, 2002.
• Hauser, Gerard. Introduction to Rhetorical Theory, 2nd ed., Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 2002.
• Lakoff, George. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
• Medhurst, Martin J. and Kurt Ritter, eds. Presidential Speechwriting, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003.
• Noonan, Peggy. On Speaking Well, New York: Regan Books, 1999.
• Safire, William, ed. Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.
Below is a brief description of the speeches we will explore each week. (The text limits present on Amazon.com prevent me from listing the reading requirements in full detail; however, if you would like a full, expanded copy of the syllabus, which does include other, non-speech readings about the art of speechwriting from some good sources other than the books listed above, please contact me at LeahKuchinsky@gmail.com.)
Week 1---Rhetorical Theory
Speeches: “Pericles Extols the Glory That Is Greece at the Funeral of Its Fallen Sons”; “Mark Antony Urges Mourners to Vengeance over the Body of Julius Caesar”; Cicero Rails against Catiline and His Conspiracies; “Socrates, Condemned to Death, Addresses His Judges” (S) for all the previous
Week 2---Rhetorical Leadership
Week 3---Historical Evolution of Presidential Speech
Week 4---Knowing the Audience
Speeches: Kennedy’s Berlin Speech (WTSW); Barbara Jordan’s Speech to the House Judiciary Committee on the Impeachment of Richard Nixon in (WTSW); Reagan D-Day
Week 5---Message from the Stump
Speeches: Nixon’s “Checkers” speech; Mario Cuomo’s 1984 DNC Speech (WTSW);“Adlai Stevenson Makes the Model of a Concession Speech”; “Candidates Nixon and Kennedy Meet in the First Televised Presidential Debate”; “Senator Douglas Differs with Lincoln on the ‘Popular Sovereignty’ Decision on Slavery”;(S) for all the previous; Eisenhower’s “I Shall Go to Korea” Speech; Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” 1964 RNC address on behalf of Goldwater; FDR’s 1932 Commonwealth Club Speech
Speeches: Lincoln I, Lincoln II , JFK I, Reagan II, Clinton I, Clinton II , FDR I; (S) for many of the previous
Week 7---Political Rhetoric in Times of Sorrow
Speeches: Reagan’s Challenger Speech (WTSW); Bush’s Columbia Speech; Clinton’s Oklahoma City Bombing Speech, available at http://www.tamu.edu/scom/pres/speeches/clintonoklahoma.html; Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address,
Week 8---Political Rhetoric in Times of War & Crisis
Speeches: George W. Bush’s 9/20/01 Address to Congress (WTSW); FDR after Pearl Harbor; JFK on the Cuban Missile Crisis, available at http://www.tamu.edu/scom/pres/speeches/jfkcuban.html ; Winston Churchill “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”; Eugene McCarthy “An Indefensible War”;Jimmy Carter “Crisis of Confidence” available at: http://www.tamu.edu/scom/pres/speeches/jccrisis.html
Week 9---The Soundbite
Speeches: William Jennings Bryan “Cross of Gold”; Churchill’s “Iron Curtain”; George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil”; George H.W. Bush’s “Read My Lips”, available at http://www.tamu.edu/scom/pres/speeches/gbaccept.html; Goldwater at the 1964 RNC
Week 10---The Rhetoric of Social Advancement & Diversity
Speeches: Lincoln’s Lyceum Address; Frederick Douglass Independence Day Address, King “I Have a Dream; Robert Kennedy’s “Ripples of Hope”; LBJ’s “The American Promise,” available at http://www.tamu.edu/scom/pres/speeches/lbjovercome.html; Eleanor Roosevelt speech before United Nations General Assembly on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; “Susan B. Anthony Argues for Women’s Rights”
Week 11---Policy Speeches: “A New Word Order”
Speeches: Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace,” available at http://www.tamu.edu/comm/pres/speeches/ikeatoms.html; LBJ “The Great Society,” available at: http://www.tamu.edu/comm/pres/speeches/lbjgreat.html; Woodrow Wilson on the League of Nations, available at http://www.tamu.edu/scom/pres/speeches/wwleague.html
Week 12---State of the Union
Speeches: Clinton’s “The era of big government is over”; FDR’s Four Freedoms, available at
Week 13---Rhetorical Teratology
Speeches: “Hitler Declares Germany’s Intentions”; Goebbels’ “Total War” Speech; Osama bin Laden speech excerpts, available at: http://www.september11news.com/OsamaSpeeches.htm
Week 14---(Tentative Guest Lecture) Speechwriting in Real Time
Week 15---Outlook for the Future
My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America's Presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush (Book & CD)
Great American Speeches (Library of Freedom)
Introduction to Rhetorical Theory
Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events
Presidential Speechwriting: From the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution and Beyond (Presidential Rhetoric Series)
Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think
On Speaking Well: How to Give a Speech With Style, Substance, and Clarity
Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History (Updated and Expanded Edition)