Former Obama Speechwriter Reflects on White House Years

John Y Wang

Jon Favreau speaks at the Institute of Politics Wednesday on the language and legacy of presidential speechwriting. Favreau was formerly the director of speechwriting for President Barack Obama.

After leaving the White House earlier this month, former Director of Speechwriting Jon Favreau reflected on his eight years of working with President Barack Obama at the Institute of Politics Wednesday night.

In conversation with David Gergen, the director of the Center for Public Leadership, Favreau detailed the development of his relationship with the president, beginning with Obama’s opposition to having his own speechwriter.

At their first meeting, Favreau recalled Obama saying, “My adviser tells me I need a speechwriter. I don’t think I do, but you seem nice enough, so let’s give it a try.”

Through that decision, Favreau became the youngest person to ever hold the position.

The event featured clips of speeches throughout Favreau’s tenure, including President Obama’s 2008 Jefferson Jackson campaign speech, his speech after losing the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton, and his first and second inaugural addresses.

After each clip, Favreau shared the inspiration behind each speech.

“What makes a speech work is telling a story from beginning to end. It’s a narrative that holds throughout the entire speech,” Favreau said.

Victoria E. Wenger ’14, vice president of the IOP, said she admires the rhetoric of Obama’s speeches.

“The way this president has been able to galvanize a nation through words and knowing that Jon Favreau has written a lot of those words is fascinating,” Wenger said.

Favreau explained the collaboration process between him and the president, sometimes writing based off an outline and other times serving as an editor.

Sean Weller, a prospective student from Colorado Springs, Colo., was interested in hearing about actual process of speechwriting, having seen it dramatized on the television drama, “The West Wing.”

“You see the intensity that goes into making every word perfect,” Weller said.

After leaving the White House, Favreau started his own private communications firm and plans to write a screenplay based on his speechwriting experiences.

“I think going back into my own writing will be an interesting challenge,” Favreau said. “The way I write will always be a sort of shadow on the way [Obama] writes. Not as good, but an echo.”

With thoughts towards the future, Favreau said he knows his tenure in the White House will have a lasting impact.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do from here on out, but I’m sure that this will have been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life,” he said.