msnbc | February 09, 2013
>>> for an inside look at how much goes into the state -of-the- union address i'm joined by michael waldman who served as chief speech writer and assistant to bill clinton and now president of nyu's law school 's brennan center for justice . glad to have you here.
>> good to be here.
>> i love the behind the scenes . . for those of us who have watched " west wing " you think this what is happens when it goes into making a state -of-the- union speech. but give meet truth of it. what is it all about?
>> people don't walk around the halls and talk quite as much as in " west wing ." but the kind of chaotic all directions information coming in, that's pretty accurate. for any president, the state -of-the- union address, it's their big chance to talk to the whole country about their policy agenda. so every word matters. it's not just the speech, it's an agenda. now, president obama did just win re-election with a pretty clear case of what he wants to talk about. and he has a chance to lay some details out on the budget, on immigration, on voter reform. things he's talked about in recent weeks.
>> so are you saying then that second term state -of-the- union speeches are different in their tenor? are they more bold than they are first term? or less cautious or what?
>> that's a great question. i mean, a first term -- the first state -of-the- union that any president gives the theme is change. but of course, this team continuity. a lot of the same battles going on between the congress and the president. i don't think this is likely to be a time for just not saying much. i think there's big issues, big chances for cooperation. a big issues that haven't been flushed out. and a chance in a speech like this to really draw a line on something like the budget in full public view, where a lot of the polling suggests the president's positions on taxes or on spending are popular.
>> yeah. how would you rate president obama 's past state -of-the- union speeches?
>> i think that one of the most important ways to have a successful state -of-the- union speech is to surprise us a little bit with a new policy or a new argument. some of the speeches he's given have not done that. but i think his inaugural address this past term was powerful. surprising. and so maybe that suggests a newboldness in his second term.
>> but how about the rhetoric used if you will? i've heard it said that you wish the president would be a little less stiff with his prose, invoke a little more poetry into his speeches, as he did in this inaugural address . do you think he will do that in this state -of-the- union ? is that the place to do it?
>> well, look, any state of the union is something of an eloquent laundry list if you're lucky. there's a lot that goes into it. i'm less worried about the poetry and the words -- his speech writers used to talk about don't write to have words chiseled on the wall of the presidential library . i want to know what the ideas are. they should be powerful ideas. maybe they're not going to get it passed in this congress. let me give you a good example. president obama on election night and in his inaugural address talked about the great sweep of american history on voting and how we shouldn't have people waiting seven hours in line to vote. he can put out some new and exciting ideas about what we can do to deal with long lines, early voting , modernizing registration that will be new from him. it would stir some controversy. but i think it would be the kind of thing that would make a speech like this a success.
>> talk about your experience writing with president clinton . what was that like?
>> each one of these speeches is a place where presidential personality and politics and policy all come together. and bill clinton , as you can imagine, loved this format. he loved the chance to talk.
>> there you are. look at that.
>> with now justice elena kagan , supreme court , who worked on the speeches. you can see she was a policy aide and a lawyer. but she was working on the state -of-the- union address because it's not just a speech. it's really a critical political and policy document. so president clinton would reserve weeks to try to focus on it. one, sometimes two dozen drafts. he would write not alone with a laptop but he liked to write by talking, standing up. that's a photo in the family theater of the white house where he would rehearse and write from the podium. and we would try to keep up and catch his changes and catch his words. president obama is such a gifted writer. and my understanding is in addition to the in person rehearsals he's really sitting there with the text, fiddling with the words. each one of these presidents does it differently, and it's got to reflect their own style and approach.
>> i loft behind the scenes , michael waldman, thanks for bringing it to us.