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Confessions of a Presidential Speechwriter

Confessions of a Presidential Speechwriter

Craig R. Smith
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 394
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  • Book Info
    Confessions of a Presidential Speechwriter
    Book Description:

    An avid high school debater and enthusiastic student body president, Craig Smith seemed destined for a life in public service from an early age. As a sought-after speechwriter, Smith had a front-row seat at some of the most important events of the twentieth century, meeting with Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon, advising Governor Ronald Reagan, writing for President Ford, serving as a campaign manager for a major U.S. senator's reelection campaign, and writing speeches for a contender for the Republican nomination for president. Life in the volatile world of politics wasn't always easy, however, and as a closeted gay man, Smith struggled to reconcile his private and professional lives. In this revealing memoir, Smith sheds light on what it takes to make it as a speechwriter in a field where the only constant is change. While bouncing in and out of the academic world, Smith transitions from consultantships with George H. W. Bush and the Republican caucus of the U.S. Senate to a position with Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca. When Smith returns to Washington, D.C., as president and founder of the Freedom of Expression Foundation, he becomes a leading player on First Amendment issues in the nation's capital. Returning at long last to academia, Smith finds happiness coming out of the closet and reaping the benefits of a dedicated and highly successful career.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-403-3
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Meeting Richard Nixon and Robert Kennedy
    (pp. 1-8)

    Nineteen sixty seven was another magical year for me. I would complete my master’s degree and begin work on my PhD. In March, quite by accident, I would have drinks with Senator Robert F. Kennedy. As fall ended, my request for a meeting with Richard M. Nixon would be granted. When I met with Nixon to present him with a copy of my master’s thesis, he had come out of his winter of discontent. He was a rich and comfortable lawyer in New York City, but he still lusted for the presidency that had eluded him. He had lost it...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Geography Lessons
    (pp. 9-30)

    On a clear night in April of 1775, William Dawes and Paul Revere rode their steeds from Boston along the road to Lexington and Concord, warning farmers that the British were coming. The next day, April 19, a thousand British redcoats marched on the same road seeking the revolutionary Minutemen and their ammunition depot. On the way the “lobsterbacks” encountered resistance at Lexington Green. Among the ten Minutemen assembled to defend the Green was Isaac John Muzzy, a thirty-one-year-old patriot. He hoped to stall the British on their way to Concord, where a stash of weapons and powder was being...

  7. CHAPTER THREE From Student Body President to CBS News
    (pp. 31-60)

    As Joe Lagnese had promised, I made it to the finals of the state tournament in extemporaneous and impromptu speaking, taking third place in each. Back on campus, attention turned to the student body elections for our coming senior year. The only announced candidate for student body president was a very popular cheerleader. He had been elected King of Hearts for the junior prom due to his good looks. He was the odds-on favorite to win the presidency of the student body and was backed by most of the faculty and the counselors. Our gang didn’t like the idea of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR First Job Syndrome
    (pp. 61-84)

    In early 1969, I had been wooed by several universities. There was a shortage of professors at the time, even though many young men were going into teaching because of the war in Vietnam. However, graduate deferments had just been canceled, and unless you were a professor, you were eligible for the draft. Many graduate students defected to Canada; others entered Officer Training School or the National Guard; others feigned homosexuality or maimed themselves. Part of the reason for these actions was that the war was graphically depicted every night on the evening news, with body counts being prominently featured....

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Working at Mr. Jefferson’s University
    (pp. 85-100)

    Back in San Diego, I received a call out of the blue from a friend with whom I had gone to graduate school. He had left Penn State to take a job teaching rhetoric and public address at the University of Virginia. He had not completed his PhD and so he was not retained. He called to ask me if I would like to replace him; he would be glad to recommend me to the department. I agreed, and on a cold but clear late November day, I found myself in Charlottesville, Virginia, interviewing for the job of debate coach...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Writing for President Ford
    (pp. 101-122)

    Back in d.c., I took a studio apartment on Virginia Avenue in Foggy Bottom, the home of the State Department.¹ I could walk to work, not worry about parking, and sleep a little later in the morning. (I learned that one measure of your clout in the White House was how close to your office you got to park, and how close your office was to the Oval Office of the president.) Our speeches were “staffed” to relevant departments, bureaucrats, and Cabinet secretaries who often went beyond their job of reviewing policy to suggest language that should be inserted.² Butler...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Writing for President George H. W. Bush
    (pp. 123-142)

    Having lived in Virginia as a child and then as a professor, I suffered under the impression that the South was homogeneous. Anyone who spends some time traveling in the South quickly realizes that it has very diverse pockets of culture within other pockets of culture. Inside the colorful Miami environs lie Cuban, African American, Haitian, and Jewish enclaves, to name but four. Atlanta sports a large Jewish community, a thriving city center, and a remarkable number of suburbs, each unique unto itself. When I arrived in Birmingham in the fall of 1976, it was a thriving city with special...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Working for the United States Senate
    (pp. 143-164)

    On January 5, 1979, I received a letter from George Bush informing me that he had put together the “George Bush for President Committee.” Jim Baker was named committee chair. Then Bush added, “Needless to say, I want and need your help in this…. It would be great to have you involved.”¹

    While Jim Martin had lost his Senate race, he had made a strong showing; in other states, the Republicans had done quite well, picking up enough seats to make the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee into a hero. His name was Bob Packwood, former boy...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Running a Senate Campaign
    (pp. 165-186)

    I flew to Portland to open a campaign headquarters. By the time my plane landed, I had dissolved the last remaining doubts about taking the job. It was an existential plunge. This job would both advance my career and expand my mind. As long as I was learning something new, anything could be tolerated—even defeat.

    The day after I landed in Portland, the Senator sent me a memo “re:headquarters.” My first task was to locate a proper “storefront” to rent as a campaign headquarters. Satellite offices would open later in Eugene, Medford, Salem, Baker, Pendleton, and other cities where...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee
    (pp. 187-204)

    A few days after the election, Mary Hasenfus and I wrote a report on the important tri-county Portland vote. We concluded that we had turned out as much of our vote as possible, that Libertarian Toni Nathan had cut into the Packwood vote, and that despite our advertising efforts, the voters did not have an emotional connection with Packwood.¹ Instead, they admired his smarts and his clout in the Senate. After we sent the report to Packwood, I took a month off to drive across the country, visiting friends and family along the way in the hope of restoring my...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Living Large with Lee Iacocca
    (pp. 205-224)

    Over Easter break I took a vacation in Maui, and then stopped in California on my way home, where Michael Douglas invited me to an Academy Awards party at Danny DeVito’s house with the cast of the television comedy seriesTaxi. Michael had befriended Danny while they made the filmOne Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. During the early evening, Michael toggled back and forth between the national champion basketball game and the awards show, clearly showing more enthusiasm for Georgetown’s basketball team than Oscar nominees. I hate basketball, so I sat between Christopher Lloyd and Danny’s wife Rhea watching...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE President of a National Foundation
    (pp. 225-244)

    On Super Bowl weekend in 1983, I left Detroit, drove a rented car to my Pennsylvania house, and had a heart-to-heart talk with John Macksoud about my future. At age 38, my life could be described as restless. I’d worked on three campuses, held several political positions, moved to Detroit, and done some moonlighting with the networks and George H. W. Bush. Sometimes I had to move on, as in the case of San Diego State, the University of Virginia, and Ford’s loss of the presidency. But in other cases, such as leaving Birmingham, I had made the decision to...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Protecting Broadcasters’ First Amendment Rights
    (pp. 245-264)

    One day in early August of 1986, my realtor called to say that an elderly woman who lived on the 12th floor of my building, in a condo with a south- and west-facing wraparound balcony, wanted to sell her place without listing it. She wanted a quick sale, providing enough money to get her into a retirement home in Williamsburg. I had 24 hours to make a bid before it went public. It took me five minutes to OK the deal. I moved up to the top floor of Madison House and once again looked down the Potomac and into...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Rise and Fall of George Bush
    (pp. 265-282)

    The trip to New Orleans for the Republican Convention interrupted my course preparations, the first I had done in over a decade. By the oddest of coincidences, when I changed planes in Dallas, I was seated next to Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana for the short flight to New Orleans. He seemed happy that I remembered who he was, a second-term senator who had won his seat from the redoubtable Birch Bayh by beating him in a statewide televised debate in 1980. Quayle had easily won reelection in 1986, in the same cycle with Senator Packwood. We had a pleasant...

  19. CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Fall of Bob Packwood
    (pp. 283-304)

    I had witnessed the fall of Richard Nixon from a distance. The revelations hurt me personally—how could I have been so wrong about the man? The resignation speech touched me emotionally because I identified with Nixon’s California roots, experience in debate, and rise from the lower class. In the case of Bob Packwood, I was on the inside and an advisor through the crisis, albeit from California. And even though I had warned Packwood about some of the tactics he was using, his fall would prove gut-wrenching.

    It began two weeks after the election on November 22, 1992, when...

  20. CHAPTER SIXTEEN There’s More Politics in Education Than Education in Politics
    (pp. 305-328)

    Before I even started looking for a place for us, the former chair who had hired me, Dick Porter, and his wife Rosemary invited me to their home for dinner. Their Spanish-style duplex was built in 1923, one block off a bay with a swimming beach and two blocks off the ocean with a very wide and long beach. The ocean, calmed by a breakwater, was often filled with dolphins, seals, and once a misguided baby whale. The air was full butterflies, seagulls, pelicans, hummingbirds, and a pair of green parrots. Both units of the duplex were two bedrooms, one...

  21. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Last Lessons out of the Whirl of Events
    (pp. 329-346)

    While managing the mess in the Film Department, I continued to maintain my academic publishing. In a law-review article entitled “Violence as Indecency:Pacifica’s Open Door Policy,”¹ I attacked a bad, but still standing Supreme Court decision from 1978. It upheld the right of the Federal Communications Commission to reprimand a radio station for broadcasting a monologue by comedian George Carlin. The fcc then expanded its power to censor implied indecency based on context instead of specific words. Rulings based on context had become fairly arbitrary, which by most lights meant they were unconstitutional. For example, the fcc fined the...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 347-370)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 371-374)
  24. Index
    (pp. 375-381)