All the Presidents' Words

Carol Gelderman, Author
Carol Gelderman, Author Walker & Company $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1318-6
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Gelderman approaches her subjects as a college English professor (University of New Orleans) rather than a political scientist, in this concise, fact-filled history of modern presidential speechifying. Before Teddy Roosevelt, Gelderman notes, American presidents did not go to the people directly to advocate their positions but rather spoke to Congress. And although TR invented the phrase ""bully pulpit,"" Woodrow Wilson, advocating the League of Nations, was the first to use it actively. After a brief look at TR and Wilson, Gelderman skips on to FDR and then--chapter by chapter, often relying on interviews with former presidential speechwriters--she examines how speeches have been crafted through succeeding presidencies, including Clinton's. At first, the writers were presidential advisers for whom speech-writing was only a sideline. Then Nixon hired a professional staff of ghost writers who had little to do with policymaking. Clinton, who never had a speechwriter before and preferred to speak from outlines rather than fully crafted texts, has combined the two systems, with advisers again playing a role. The rise of ""wordsmiths,"" as Gelderman calls them, combined with the fact that presidents are speaking more than ever--Clinton gave 600 formal talks during his first year in office--has resulted, she observes, in bland, contentless speeches and a cynical public. (Mar.)
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