Behind the scenes at the State of the Union address: Speechwriters’ secrets revealed
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Event Summary

How is the most-watched speech the president delivers each year prepared? At an AEI event on Tuesday, a panel of former White House speechwriters offered a peek behind the curtain of the State of the Union address. Jon Lovett, former speechwriter to Barack Obama, explained how when drafting the address, a speechwriter must mediate between disparate voices within an administration. Clark Judge noted that as a speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan, it was his primary mission to ensure Reagan's agenda was properly conveyed in the address. Michael Waldman, former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, revealed that Clinton saw the State of the Union as a strategic opportunity to prompt various government agencies to put forth innovative policies.

The panelists then turned to the substance of President Obama's 2014 address. Marc Thiessen of AEI suggested Obama's false pledge of, “if you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan,” has loomed over his 2014 address. Though he admitted that Obama's pledge perhaps should have been more carefully fact checked, Lovett dismissed the notion that Obama's pledge was intended to deceive the public. While each administration approached the address differently, panelists agreed that crafting the speech is, from start to finish, a largely collaborative effort.
--Justin Lang

Event Description

How is a State of the Union address prepared? Join Marc Thiessen, former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, as he takes you behind the scenes with a panel of former White House speechwriters from the Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan administrations. Panelists will walk you through the writing and preparation process of the most-watched speech the president delivers each year. 

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours. Registration is not required to view videos.

Agenda

11:45 AM
Registration and Lunch

12:00 PM
Panelists:
Clark Judge, Former Speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan
Jon Lovett, Former Speechwriter to President Barack Obama
Michael Waldman, Former Speechwriter to President Bill Clinton
 
Moderator:
Marc A. Thiessen, AEI Fellow and Former Chief Speechwriter to President George W. Bush

2:00 PM
Adjournment

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Justin Lang at [email protected], 202.862.5948.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Clark Judge is founder and managing director of the White House Writers Group. He also serves as chairman of the Pacific Research Institute’s board of directors. From 1986 to 1989, Judge was a speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan. From 1984 to 1986, he was a speechwriter to then–vice president George H.W. Bush. Before joining the White House speechwriting staff, Judge held administration assignments in government management, urban policy, and international economic policy. He has written extensively on a wide range of policy issues, including US politics, global security, health care reform, and the financial crisis and global economics. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, National Review Online, and many other prominent publications. Judge also appears frequently on major news outlets, including ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, and the BBC.

Jon Lovett is the cocreator and head writer of the NBC sitcom “1600 Penn.” He served as a member of President Barack Obama’s speechwriting staff for three years, drafting speeches on an array of public policy issues. Before joining the White House speechwriting staff, Lovett served as chief speechwriter to Hillary Clinton, working both on her presidential campaign and in her Senate office. He also worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004, and in the DC office of former Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ). Before working in politics, Lovett pursued comedy, performing stand-up routines at amateur comedy clubs in New York. In 2010, Lovett was dubbed “Washington’s Funniest Celebrity.”

Marc A. Thiessen is an AEI scholar and former member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush. As an official in the Bush administration, Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. Before joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC). He is a weekly columnist for The Washington Post, and appears regularly on Fox News and other news networks. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program, titled “Courting Disaster” (Regnery Press, 2010), was a New York Times bestseller. He is the coauthor, with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, of "Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge" (Sentinel, November 2013). At AEI, Thiessen writes about US foreign and defense policy issues and national politics for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

Michael Waldman
is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. From 1995 to 1999, he served as director of speechwriting to President Bill Clinton. In that capacity, he worked on nearly 2,000 speeches, including four State of the Union addresses. From 1993 to 1995, Waldman served as special assistant to the president for policy coordination. He is the author of several books, including “My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America’s Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama” (Sourcebooks 2003, 2010), “A Return to Common Sense” (Sourcebooks, 2007), “POTUS Speaks” (Simon & Schuster, 2000), and “Who Robbed America? A Citizens' Guide to the S&L Scandal” (Random House, 1990). Waldman was also a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government from 2001 to 2003, and appears frequently on major television and radio programs to discuss public policy.

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