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January 23, 2007

SOTU, an expert's view, Pt. 2

Posted by David Postman at 5:24 PM

More on crafting a State of the Union address from former White House speechwriter Clark Judge. Turns out he was at the White House Monday for a briefing on tonight's speech and may have better information about what the speech will focus on than some of what's been in the news.

I asked him:

How much outside input does the White House get for a State of the Union? Do the speechwriters meet with Republican congressional leadership, or RNC people or interest groups?

I wonder what you think about this take from TIME Magazine's political blog about lesson's for Bush from Bill Clinton's 1995 speech?

Twelve years later, aides to George W. Bush are studying the ways previous administrations salvaged presidencies that seemed to some to be beyond salvation. One of the lessons of the Clinton recovery, both in 1995 and later, during Monica, in 1999, is that Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them.
Which is why, according to leaked previews, Bush won't spend much time tonight talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror. Instead, he'll put forward what for him will be progressive and bold policy proposals on health care, the environment and immigration reform.

And a question about those "leaked previews." Are those all authorized leaks designed to build interest in the speech?

Judge responds:

Re. Outside input: The White House is in some respects a giant ear — listening to everything and everyone it can around the country. That's what polling is about. That's what offices of congressional relations and offices for interest group relations are about. For that matter that's what the press office is about. So for the State of the Union as for everything else there is an attempt to respond to what the White House is hearing. Tonight's speech is an example. The president and his staff have heard and understood the criticism of the administration. On a number of fronts, they will be trying to respond.

Having said that, it is best to shield the speechwriters themselves from most of this consultation. The writers get readings of the public from the various White House offices and may be encouraged to talk with a member of Congress, a professor or someone else who might offer valuable insight. But if everyone in Washington had direct access to them, no speech would never get written.

Re. The Time blog: Yes. The President's agenda should and must focus on matters of interest to the American people. On the other hand, from what I heard at a White House briefing I attended yesterday, contrary to Time magazine, half the speech will be about the Middle Eastern situation.

Re. Authorized leaks: I am not sure what leaks there have been. The White House has conducted numerous briefings over the last week, but these are so public and so complete, I wouldn't call them leaks. The purpose is to seed discussion wherever it occurs, to build understanding of proposals and official thinking, including, for example, in blogs.

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