CAROL GELDERMAN, All the Presidents' Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency (New York: Walker, 1997), 221 pp., $23.00 hardcover (ISBN 0-8027-1318-1).
Carol Gelderman offers an examination of the process of speech writing from the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration through the first term of Bill Clinton. Employing a case study approach, the work attempts to illustrate the impact of separating speechwriters from presidents and how it "has changed the functions of the speeches--and, to some extent, the very nature of the presidency" (p. x).
Although Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to use the office as a bully pulpit, Gelderman regards his cousin Franklin as the prototype president for the modern rhetorical age. Because of his gift of teaching and his careful attention to the content of words, the four-term president was successful at changing the nation's mood from isolation to mobilized participant in world affairs. Several of Roosevelt's speeches over the period from 1937 to 1940 are analyzed to verify the latter achievement including the quarantine speech in October 1937 and the arsenal of democracy fireside chats at the end of December 1940.
The subsequent four chief executives--Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John E Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson--closely followed Roosevelt's collaborative method of choosing wordsmiths, but the procedure broke down in the Richard Nixon administration. What Nixon did was to expand the government public relations network by establishing the offices of communication, public liaison, and public affairs as well as by centralizing control over the information apparatus. This dual change meant that speechwriters no longer were at the forefront of the speech composition process.
Whereas Ronald Reagan and Clinton used the communications structure effectively in speechwriting tasks, other chief executives such as Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush did not, according to Gelderman. The author credits Reagan's vision for America and the astuteness of his top assistants as the reason for speechwriting success, whereas Clinton's performance in the latter area is attributed to national tragedies and to his comebacks from political defeat and personal scandal.
On the other hand, Ford, Carter, and Bush "kept their writers at a distance and allowed them little involvement in policy" (p. 116). This chasm turned a potential resource into a liability. Employing selected...