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Confessions of a Presidential Speechwriter

Craig R. Smith

Publication Year: 2014

An avid high school debater and enthusiastic student body president, Craig Smith seemed destined for a life in public service from an early age. As a sought-after speechwriter, Smith had a front-row seat at some of the most important events of the twentieth century, meeting with Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon, advising Governor Ronald Reagan, writing for President Ford, serving as a campaign manager for a major U.S. senator’s reelection campaign, and writing speeches for a contender for the Republican nomination for president. Life in the volatile world of politics wasn’t always easy, however, and as a closeted gay man, Smith struggled to reconcile his private and professional lives. In this revealing memoir, Smith sheds light on what it takes to make it as a speechwriter in a field where the only constant is change. While bouncing in and out of the academic world, Smith transitions from consultantships with George H. W. Bush and the Republican caucus of the U.S. Senate to a position with Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca. When Smith returns to Washington, D.C., as president and founder of the Freedom of Expression Foundation, he becomes a leading player on First Amendment issues in the nation’s capital. Returning at long last to academia, Smith finds happiness coming out of the closet and reaping the benefits of a dedicated and highly successful career.

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

I was the first person with a degree in communication studies to be hired as a full-time presidential speechwriter. This memoir explores the training for that post and its execution. The memoir provides lessons I have learned that will give the reader an understanding of the nuances of various structures in our society...


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pp. xi

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Chapter One. Meeting Richard Nixon and Robert Kennedy

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pp. 1-7

Nineteen sixty seven was another magical year for me. I would complete my master’s degree and begin work on my PhD. In March, quite by accident, I would have drinks with Senator Robert F. Kennedy. As fall ended, my request for a meeting with Richard M. Nixon would be granted. When I met with Nixon to present...

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Chapter Two. Geography Lessons

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pp. 9-30

On a clear night in April of 1775, William Dawes and Paul Revere rode their steeds from Boston along the road to Lexington and Concord, warning farmers that the British were coming. The next day, April 19, a thousand British redcoats marched on the same road seeking the revolutionary Minutemen and their ammunition...

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Chapter Three. From Student Body President to CBS News

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pp. 31-60

As Joe Lagnese had promised, I made it to the finals of the state tournament in extemporaneous and impromptu speaking, taking third place in each. Back on campus, attention turned to the student body elections for our coming senior year. The only announced candidate for student body president was a very popular cheerleader. He had been elected King...

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Chapter Four. First Job Syndrome

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pp. 61-84

In early 1969, I had been wooed by several universities. There was a shortage of professors at the time, even though many young men were going into teaching because of the war in Vietnam. However, graduate deferments had just been canceled, and unless you were a professor, you were eligible for the draft. Many graduate students defected to Canada; others entered...

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Chapter Five. Working at Mr. Jefferson’s University

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pp. 85-100

Back in San Diego, I received a call out of the blue from a friend with whom I had gone to graduate school. He had left Penn State to take a job teaching rhetoric and public address at the University of Virginia. He had not completed his PhD and so he was not retained. He called to ask me if I would like to replace...

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Chapter Six. Writing for President Ford

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pp. 101-122

Back in D.C., I took a studio apartment on Virginia Avenue in Foggy Bottom, the home of the State Department.1 I could walk to work, not worry about parking, and sleep a little later in the morning. (I learned that...

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Chapter Seven. Writing for President George H. W. Bush

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pp. 123-141

Having lived in Virginia as a child and then as a professor, I suffered under the impression that the South was homogeneous. Anyone who spends some time traveling in the South quickly realizes that it has very diverse pockets of culture within other pockets of culture. Inside the colorful Miami environs lie Cuban, African American, Haitian...

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Chapter Eight. Working for the United States Senate

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pp. 143-163

On January 5, 1979, I received a letter from George Bush informing me that he had put together the “George Bush for President Committee.” Jim Baker was named committee chair. Then Bush added, “Needless to say, I want and need your help in this. . . . It would be great to have you...

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Chapter Nine. Running a Senate Campaign

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pp. 165-185

I flew to Portland to open a campaign headquarters. By the time my plane landed, I had dissolved the last remaining doubts about taking the job. It was an existential plunge. This job would both advance my career and expand my mind. As long as I was learning something new, anything could be tolerated...

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Chapter Ten. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee

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pp. 187-203

A few days after the election, Mary Hasenfus and I wrote a report on the important tri- county Portland vote. We concluded that we had turned out as much of our vote as possible, that Libertarian Toni Nathan had cut into the Packwood vote, and that despite our advertising efforts, the voters...

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Chapter Eleven. Living Large with Lee Iacocca

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pp. 205-223

Over Easter break I took a vacation in Maui, and then stopped in California on my way home, where Michael Douglas invited me to an Academy Awards party at Danny DeVito’s house with the cast of the television comedy series Taxi. Michael had befriended Danny while they made the film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. During the early evening, Michael...

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Chapter Twelve. President of a National Foundation

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pp. 225-243

On Super Bowl weekend in 1983, I left Detroit, drove a rented car to my Pennsylvania house, and had a heart- to- heart talk with John Macksoud about my future. At age 38, my life could be described as restless. I’d worked on three campuses, held several political positions, moved to Detroit, and done some moonlighting with the networks...

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Chapter Thirteen. Protecting Broadcasters’ First Amendment Rights

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pp. 245-264

One day in early August of 1986, my realtor called to say that an elderly woman who lived on the 12th floor of my building, in a condo with a south- and west- facing wraparound balcony, wanted to sell her place without listing it. She wanted a quick sale, providing enough money to get her into a retirement home in Williamsburg...

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Chapter Fourteen. The Rise and Fall of George Bush

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pp. 265-282

The trip to New Orleans for the Republican Convention interrupted my course preparations, the first I had done in over a decade. By the oddest of coincidences, when I changed planes in Dallas, I was seated next to Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana for the short flight to New Orleans. He seemed happy that I remembered...

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Chapter Fifteen. The Fall of Bob Packwood

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pp. 283-303

I had witnessed the fall of Richard Nixon from a distance. The revelations hurt me personally— how could I have been so wrong about the man? The resignation speech touched me emotionally because I identified with Nixon’s California roots, experience in debate, and rise from the lower class. In the case of Bob Packwood, I was on the inside and an advisor...

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Chapter Sixteen. There’s More Politics in Education Than Education in Politics

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pp. 305-328

Before I even started looking for a place for us, the former chair who had hired me, Dick Porter, and his wife Rosemary invited me to their home for dinner. Their Spanish- style duplex was built in 1923, one block off a bay with a swimming beach and two blocks off the ocean with a very wide and long beach. The ocean...

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Chapter Seventeen. Last Lessons out of the Whirl of Events

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pp. 329-345

While managing the mess in the Film Department, I continued to maintain my academic publishing. In a law- review article entitled “Violence as Indecency: Pacifica’s Open Door Policy,”1 I attacked a bad, but still standing Supreme Court decision from 1978. It upheld the right of the Federal Communications...


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pp. 347-370


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pp. 371-374


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pp. 375-381

E-ISBN-13: 9781609174033
E-ISBN-10: 1609174038
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611861136
Print-ISBN-10: 1611861136

Page Count: 393
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1st

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Subject Headings

  • Smith, Craig R.
  • Communication in politics -- United States.
  • Speechwriting -- United States.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Political oratory -- United States.
  • Freedom of speech -- United States.
  • Freedom of the press -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-1993.
  • Speechwriters -- United States -- Biography.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Staff -- Biography.
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