Sunday, July 19, 2015

Book #29: The Speechwriter

A friend of mine drew my attention to this book shortly before it came out on Tuesday, and I knew in my soul, wonk that I am, I had to get my hands on it.

See, I find the intersection between language and politics fascinating. I also find memoirs fascinating because the way people choose to tell their stories can reveal more about them than they may realize. (True of blogs, too. Gulp.)

Barton Swaim was a writer for Mark Sanford when he was the governor of South Carolina, both when his name was floated nationally as a presidential hopeful and when he limped through the balance of his last term in the aftermath of, as Sanford himself began to refer to it, "that which has caused the stir that it has."

The book was thankfully short on juicy gossip, which was not what I was after, and it was satisfyingly long on discussion about rhetoric, which was what I was after.

Swaim covered the gamut, from choosing single words ("After I wrote the phrase 'hiking taxes' it occurred to me that 'hiking' would have to be changed to 'raising.'") to getting inside someone else's head and articulating their scarcely conceivable grand ideas ("I always find myself trying to communicate something larger," said Sanford. "And I don't know what I mean by it exactly. It's just--I feel there's something--larger--you know, just bigger--bigger than what I'm able to communicate in words. That's what I'm after.")

The book was also full of exploration about ego, both the ego of writers and the ego of politicians. Lots and lots of ego to go around. And it was full of exploration about creating illusion and about disillusionment, about connecting with virtual strangers, like constituents, and about disconnecting from loved ones, like wives. Lots and lots of illusion and disillusionment, connection and disconnection to go around.

Through it all everyone carries on, spinning their lives with the stories they tell like so many of us do.

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