A fascinating, inside baseball-y look at President Obama as a writer, and the process behind his speeches, in GQ magazine. (Yeah, I know! GQ!) Particularly interesting is what happened to lead up to his big speech on race last spring.
"When the subject isn’t policy but Obama’s personal values, says Frankel, 'you just wouldn’t presume to write something for him. He has thoughts nobody can characterize.'
This was especially true last March 13, when the incendiary sermons of Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, blew up all over the cable networks. On that Thursday, Obama had spent the entire day and evening in the Senate. That Friday, after enduring a series of tough interviews, Obama informed Axelrod and campaign manager David Plouffe, “I want to do a speech on race.” And he added, “I want to make this speech no later than next Tuesday. I don’t think it can wait.” Axelrod and Plouffe tried to talk him into delaying it: He had a full day of campaigning on Saturday, a film shoot on Sunday, and then another hectic day campaigning in Pennsylvania on Monday. Obama was insistent. On the Saturday-morning campaign conference call, Favreau was told to get to work on a draft immediately. Favreau replied, “I’m not writing this until I talk to him.”
That evening, Saint Patrick’s Day, less than seventy-two hours before the speech would be delivered to a live audience, Favreau was sitting alone in an unfurnished group house in Chicago when the boss called. “I’m going to give you some stream of consciousness,” Obama told him. Then he spoke for about forty-five minutes, laying out his speech’s argumentative construction. Favreau thanked him, hung up, considered the enormity of the task and the looming deadline, and then decided he was “too freaked out by the whole thing” to write and went out with friends instead. On Sunday morning at seven, the speechwriter took his laptop to a coffee shop and worked there for thirteen hours. Obama received Favreau’s draft at eight that evening and wrote until three in the morning.
He hadn’t finished by Monday at 8 a.m., when he set the draft aside to spend the day barnstorming across Pennsylvania. At nine thirty that night, a little more than twelve hours before the speech was to be delivered, Obama returned to his hotel room to do more writing. At two in the morning, the various BlackBerrys of Axelrod, Favreau, Plouffe, and Jarrett sounded with a message from the candidate: Here it is. Favs, feel free to tweak the words. Everyone else, the content here is what I want to say. Axelrod stood in the dark reading the text: 'The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made.… But what we know—what we have seen—is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope—the audacity to hope—for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.'
He e-mailed Obama: This is why you should be president."