Ten Days of Grace: A former White House speechwriter remembers a critical period that shaped the Obama presidency.

AuthorEdmonds, Terry
PositionCody Keenan's "Grace: President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America"

Grace: President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America

by Cody Keenan

Mariner Books, 320 pp.

President John F. Kennedy once remarked at a White House dinner for Nobel Prize winners, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House--with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." It took a lot of chutzpah to pull off that joke. Five decades later, another supremely confident politician, Barack Obama, quipped, "I think that I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters." While not disputing his boss, in his new memoir, former Obama chief speechwriter Cody Keenan describes the daunting task of putting words in the mouth of the man some called "the smartest person in the room": America's first Black president.

With an equal measure of wit, humility, and heart, Keenan takes us on a private tour of presidential speechmaking during 10 legacy-defining days of the Obama administration--from the successful fight to save Obamacare to the victory for marriage equality to a soul-stirring eulogy following the murder of nine Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Along the way, Keenan paints a picture of an exceptionally collegial, scandal-free, and committed White House staff stocked with people he would come to view as one of the most extraordinary collections of talent, human knowledge, and humanity ever assembled at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Though Keenan's story is not solely about race, he is fully aware of the ironic challenge of capturing the voice of the first leader of the free world who dared to drop the mic and break the centuries-old Oval Office color barrier. How could a 35-year-old white kid from the North Side of Chicago possibly be equipped to write speeches for the first Black president--a man who spoke the language of both the South and North Sides of the Windy City and who found his muse in the music of Miles, Coltrane, and Ray Charles?

Keenan tells us his parents met at a New York City advertising agency. His dad was "a surfer jock" from Southern California, his mom "a farm girl from central Indiana." He describes them both as having "good Midwestern sensibilities." Keenan candidly admits that, unlike Obama, "I did not inhabit two worlds; I inhabited one ... Everything I knew of other people's hardships came from books I checked out of the library." This is not altogether true. For his first...

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