It’s nice to see that in the Obama White House, they spread the spirit of delusional self-regard around instead of just focusing it on the president. He certainly produces enough of it to share, and now his speechwriter is the recipient, in the form of a ludicrously self-congratulatory nickname broadcast in a New York Times fanboy piece.
First, do you remember any particularly moving or effective speeches from President Obama over the second term? No? You’re not alone, though no one could tell it from this piece. This is the headline on a profile of the writer of those speeches heading into the State of the Union:
Obama’s ‘Hemingway’ Draws on Friends, Empathy and a Little Whisky for State of the Union
They needed a new Favreau, and so they’ve created one. Favreau smartly took his lofty prose out of the White House and into a high-paying private gig as the president and his own writing began to flag in the face of the realities of governing. Basing a presidency on flowery writing alone really ran its course by the end of the first term.
So, now we have workmanlike, tough-guy intellectual Cody Keenan who delivers “gritty, Everyman prose” the New York Times calls his “trademark,” though it has been so very unremarkable as to need the Times to announce this to us. He played football and drinks scotch!
The paper of record dubs him Hemingway, offers sundry flattering details, and then opens the door to two Obama devotees—Axelrod and Favreau himself— to slobber all over him.
“He reminds me of some of the folks I grew up with in the old days in Chicago journalism — those hard-bitten, big-hearted, passionate writers who brought the stories of people to life,” said David Axelrod, a longtime adviser to Mr. Obama and a former newspaper reporter.
Mr. Keenan, who is not shy but did not want to talk about himself on a day when attention is on the president, declined to be interviewed for this article.
There are typically two ways that Mr. Obama — the author of the highly regarded “Dreams From My Father” who writes large parts of his own speeches — responds to one of Mr. Keenan’s first drafts. If the president likes it, he will lightly mark up the original copy with lines through sentences and words in the margins.
In the worst-case scenario, Mr. Obama will take out a yellow legal pad and, in his neat penmanship, rewrite the entire speech.
And now Favreau:
Mr. Favreau described Mr. Keenan as the type of person who gets choked up over a really good car commercial. “You would think in a past life, Cody was the head of the United Auto Workers and grew up in Detroit and worked in a factory,” Mr. Favreau said in an interview.
In fact, Mr. Keenan, born in Chicago, went to high school in the wealthy town of Ridgefield, Conn., in Fairfield County, where he threw more interceptions than touchdowns, voraciously read spy novels and was president of the student body. He graduated from Northwestern University, and rolled into Washington at the age of 21 with just a fraternity brother’s couch to crash on and a cocky attitude.
Favreau has written a little profile within a profile for Keenan—describing him as the son-of-blue-collar, populist type of Middle America Democrat Obama’s team likes to fancy itself cozy with (and which they’re losing in decent numbers). But the Times reveals he’s not that at all. He’s just another elite Chicago type with a knack for producing a reasonably convincing facsimile of such populism. Huh, reminds me of someone else in the White House.
And, look, there’s nothing wrong with the guy, really. He’s going to execute a second State of the Union address, which is no small thing on a writing resume, though it’s also not likely to be scintillating, by the speech’s very nature. There’s nothing wrong with being a hard-working young guy from a well-off family who made good post-college. But must we deify him and fantasize that he has the pulse of the working man and what-not?
Maybe he’ll blow me away. He didn’t last year, when he also wrote the laundry list. But in case he doesn’t, we’ve also got Dan Pfieffer and Obama in this piece to assure us that he is, indeed, Hemingway:
“He’s a brilliant writer,” Mr. Obama added. “He’s relentless. His girlfriend and I are glad he finally got rid of the Hemingway beard.”
White House aides say that for the second year in a row, there was no need for a yellow legal pad for Mr. Obama to rewrite Mr. Keenan’s first draft.
“Two years in a row is very impressive,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president. “A lot of times in the first draft that doesn’t happen. Not all speechwriters can just do that in the State of the Union.”