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Matt Latimer, Struck 'Speech-less' By The D.C. Noise
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross.
When the economy was on the verge of collapse in 2008, my guest, Matt Latimer,
was one of the presidentâs speechwriters, assigned to write a speech for Bush
announcing his plan to deal with the crisis. It was, as you can imagine, one of
Latimerâs toughest assignments.
Matt Latimer dreamed of writing speeches for an American president, but when he
got that chance with President Bush, it left him cynical and disillusioned.
Latimer has written a memoir called âSpeech-less: Tales of a White House
It tells a story of how the son of two liberal schoolteachers became a
conservative, worked on Capitol Hill, served three years as the chief
speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and went on to become the
deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush. Several quotes from the
book have already made news.
Matt Latimer, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, the press has picked up on several
quotes from your book. Iâm just going to run through them quickly. President
Bush said: This is a dangerous world, and this cat â meaning Obama â isnât
remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue. You think I wasnât
qualified? I was qualified.
About Sarah Palin: Iâm trying to remember if Iâve met her before. What is she,
the governor of Guam? This woman is being put into a position she is not even
remotely prepared for. She hasnât spent one day at the national level.
And about Hillary Clinton, President Bush said: Wait âtil her fat bottom is
sitting at this desk â and he didnât use the word bottom.
Okay, so those were the news take-aways from the book so far. Is that what you
expected would be the take-away moments from your book?
Mr.Â MATT LATIMER (Author, âSpeech-less: Tales of a White House Survivorâ):
Well, Iâm not sure what I expected to come from the book, from those excerpts.
So theyâre just excerpts from one chapter of the book. And those quotes from
the president have had a variety of reactions. Some people have actually said
that the president looks smarter and more funny than they expected him to come
across, and more insightful.
I mean, what he said about Sarah Palin, for example, I think proves true, and
it doesnât mean that he liked her or didnât like her, but what he was saying
was Iâm not sure sheâs prepared for what the McCain campaign has done with her,
which was to thrust her in the national spotlight, and her family, with very
little preparation, so it appeared.
GROSS: Some people who were in the Bush administration are attacking the book.
Ed Gillespie, for instance, who was a counselor to the president, told
Politico: A lot of people just didnât know who Matt Latimer is. A lot of us are
going: Who is this guy again? Who is this writing a book? Itâs not within most
peopleâs view of how you serve the public or be an honorable person, but thatâs
And about quoting President Bush as saying, about Sarah Palin: Who is she, the
governor of Guam? You say in the book, with a twinkle in his eye, who is she,
the governor of Guam? But Ed Gillespie takes that kind of literally and says:
Bush knew exactly who Palin is and that she was the governor of Alaska.
And he goes on to say: A lot of this just doesnât ring true with me. It doesnât
strike me as an accurate portrayal. So are you prepared for the kind of
negative response that people from the Bush administration who have written
books that say some negative things about it have gotten?
Mr.Â LATIMER: I was prepared for it, yes, but my book isnât all about President
Bush. And if they had bothered to actually read the book before reacting and
plotting strategy against it, they would see, you know, that itâs actually my
memoir; my story about a kid from Michigan who had two liberal parents in a
union family, came out to Washington trying to advance and realize the cause of
what I thought was a Reagan revolution, and came to Washington and saw some
funny things, some strange things, some interesting things, but it wasnât at
all what I really expected. And maybe that was just naÃ¯ve on my part.
You know, Ed and all the others - they say, you know, I was a nobody, I was a
no-name, or I was just the quiet guy in the room, but sometimes the quiet guy
is listening and paying attention and taking notes and may have something to
say. And I wasnât trying to push myself to become the most important person in
the room. I wasnât worried about my assignment on the motorcades. I just wanted
to tell people what I saw.
GROSS: You know, there was a time, as you point out in your book, where
speechwriters used to be invisible, and there was a code that basically said
they wouldnât take credit for their work because it was â people wanted to
think that the president actually wrote what he said, thought what he said.
Now, speechwriters are taking more credit, and theyâre also leaving and writing
memoirs, like you did, in which the people they served and the people they
served with donât always come off looking good. Has the speechwriting code
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, you know, I donât know if I necessarily want to take credit
for some of the speeches I wrote in the Bush administration. I actually â one
of the things I was disappointed about was the quality and the level of
speeches, because what weâve done with presidencies, is weâve turned them into
sort of infomercials where presidents go out and constantly talk all the time,
I mean, every day, to try to get on the news and respond to cable news and talk
radio, and itâs actually, I think, diminished the presidential voice.
But you know, thereâs a long, wonderful tradition - not only of speechwriters
but other presidential aides - who have written about their times in the White
House, going back to Peggy Noonan and Bill Sapphire and other aides like George
Stephanopoulos. And many people in the Bush administration have done books like
that, as well. And I think theyâve added a little bit to a mosaic of who a
president is. Itâs a piece of a larger pie.
Iâm not trying to say Iâm writing the definitive book on anyone, but I think my
observation, my vantage point, was helpful to add to a fuller description of
the president. And I think itâs valuable to do that.
GROSS: Your book starts with the economy crashing and you being told to write a
speech for president explaining what was going on. What a strange position to
be in, because what was going on was such a mystery, and putting together - you
know, explaining the problem and explaining the response is a Herculean task.
What did you have to do before sitting down and writing this speech?
Mr.Â LATIMER: It really was a very frightening moment because I was one of a
handful of people in the entire United States that had this information about
what was happening to our country.
GROSS: What was the information that you had that nobody yet had?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, what happened was, I was - we were in the speechwriting
office, and we were told that the economy was on the verge of a complete
collapse; that banks would be able to stop lending money, that people wouldnât
get car loans, that companies may not be able to do business because they donât
have commercial paper. The entire economy of the United States could come to a
complete halt, and a long, deep recession was, at best, what we could hope for
in the near future.
And we were asked to get in touch with Treasury officials and other economic
advisors to find out what was happening, and it was a terrifying situation.
I mean, I thought, immediately about, as other writers did, you know, about our
own bank accounts, and are they still protected by the government? Because it
sounded like this was it. This was, like, you know, America was done. I mean,
that was how frightening it was.
So we had to get briefed by Treasury officials, get briefed by other economic
advisors and craft something that the president could say. He was going to make
an announcement about what his plan was. He had already been formulating some
sort of plan, and we knew nothing about any of it. It was very complicated, and
there were a lot of complicated terms thrown around: mortgage-backed securities
and commercial paper and a lot of things that were hard for us, the
speechwriters, to understand; and Iâm sure equally hard for Americans to
understand. These were things that I knew nothing about.
GROSS: So what was your strategy in the speech. What did you write?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, we did many, many speeches in that period. The biggest one,
of course, was the address to the nation. And the strategy was to, in a way,
reassure people that we had a plan. Everybody liked to use the word bold. The
president had a bold plan. They liked to say that he was bold, and we wanted to
We also wanted to, at the same time, alarm people in a way, to sort of let them
know how serious this problem was an how important it was for Congress to act
immediately. And it was sort of a delicate thing to do, to offer reassurance,
the countryâs resilient, but at the same time, we have a terrible, terrible
situation here that we have to act imminently to do something about or weâre
all going to basically be doomed.
GROSS: At the last minute, the McCain campaign called Josh Bolten and said that
McCain was going to phone the president and urge him to call off the address
and instead hold an emergency economic summit in Washington. So how did the
White House decide what to do, take McCainâs suggestion or give the speech?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, what they ended up doing, and I wasnât on the phone call,
but from my vantage point, what they ended up doing was sort of doing a little
bit of both. You couldnât really cancel the speech because it had already been
announced, and so the president basically gave a speech that was a little bit
more generic in terms of hereâs what I want to do.
We didnât specifically outline a particular plan in as much detail as the
president would have liked, and then we also held the summit, and so we sort of
did a little bit of both.
GROSS: Did you get the idea that the president really comprehended what was
going on financially in our country during the meltdown and that he
comprehended what the proposed solutions were?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, it was very hard for anyone to comprehend, is my belief. I
donât know what his own â how much he knew about those things at all or not,
but I do know that what he thought we were going to do as a solution, and what
he kept telling us we were going to do, was in fact not what we were doing.
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, he thought we were going to do was - the government was
going to buy up all these toxic assets, these bad basically mortgage-backed
securities and all these things that are basically based on bad home mortgages,
buy them up at a low price because they were basically worthless - and then
sell them high, for a profit, for the American taxpayer.
He kept saying buy low, sell high; buy low, sell high. Thatâs his strategy. And
it sounded logical to me, and the president kept saying that. I believe he said
that to people outside the administration.
It turned out that thatâs not at all what we were going to do. Secretary
Paulson basically wanted to do just the opposite, in fact, at the time, which
was to buy these assets at a high price and take a loss so that we could keep
banks and other mortgage institutions going, from what I could tell, but that
plan kept changing.
So I donât know what was actually in anybodyâs mind at the time, but what the
president told us we were going to do, it turned out we werenât doing. And the
president was annoyed when he learned that, because he said, well, why am I
supporting a plan that I donât even understand.
GROSS: And the response he got was what?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Silence. And then eventually, somebody said well, itâs all being
worked out. And of course, when we were rehearsing the speech, the economic
speech, the treasury secretary was not there, and I donât recall if any
treasury officials were there. So they were sort of off negotiating and talking
to Congress and operating, and meanwhile, we were working on a speech to the
nation, and they werenât there while he was asking these questions.
GROSS: That actually sounds very frightening.
Mr.Â LATIMER: It was frightening, and unfortunately, you know, the people who
always get the brunt of the criticism and the blame for a speech are the
speechwriters. And so the president sort of looked at us, and we were sitting
in the family theater, and weâre doing what we were told to do, and he said â
he took a sip of water, and he said, you know, Iâve got to tell you something.
He said something to the effect of, you know, Iâm pretty disappointed in this
speech. Iâve got to be honest with you. And he sort of looked at us, and we
didnât want to throw anybody under the bus, but what are we going to say? We
just sort of nodded, but there was an uncomfortable silence, and then finally,
Ed Gillespie or somebody spoke up and said, well, you know, weâre going to work
on this, and weâll get in touch with the Treasury and find out whatâs going on.
GROSS: And did you find out?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, what we ended up doing was writing a speech that was sort of
worded in such a careful, complicated way that I donât think people well
understood what we were doing. But we did eventually craft a speech with the
input from Treasury that everybody was satisfied with.
GROSS: What I hear you saying is since you didnât understand, you had to use
fudge words so no one else would understand, either, but it wouldnât be wrong
on the other hand.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, I donât think we communicated that issue very well to
people, because it was a very difficult issue to communicate. And what I always
asked myself was, how did we ever get into this situation in the first place.
GROSS: Well, sure. You said that you kept being told, you know, write speeches
about how the economy is resilient, and American prosperity is great; and
meanwhile, people, friends of yours in the Office of Management and Budget were
saying things really arenât that good.
Mr.Â LATIMER: Right. There were mid-level people who were warning the economy
wasnât as great. Like, I had friends in OMB who said, you know, sell your
stocks. Donât, you know - be careful, the economyâs really â this is all built
on some bubble, but nobody is listening. And the president seemed, himself, to
know that the economy was not as wonderful as he was being told to say,
constantly, in speeches, and he seemed to be a little more alert to the
problems. And eventually, we had all these wonderful statistics we kept citing,
including the stratospheric heights of the Dow, to show how wonderful the
economy was doing. Then, of course, one by one, each of the wonderful
statistics we kept citing in all the speeches kept having to be taken out of
the speech because they werenât true anymore.
GROSS: So if Bush wanted more details, who was making the decision about what
details were going to be in and what werenât? Obviously, it wasnât he president
who had the final say there. Who did?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, from my vantage point, Ed Gillespie, who was the presidentâs
counselor and oversaw the message and communication strategy, was telling us
what would go in the speech, not â and I donât know if he consulted the
treasury secretary or not, but thatâs the person who told us what to put in and
what not to put in.
GROSS: And he could overrule the president?
Mr.Â LATIMER: Well, it wasnât overruling the president as much as it was
persuading the president that this was what we had to do because, well, first
of all, what he thought we were doing wasnât actually what we were doing, and
second of all, we wanted to help the McCain campaign as best we could by giving
him this opportunity to come down and make a show of, at least, of being
involved in this.
GROSS: The economic summitâ¦
Mr.Â LATIMER: The economic summit, exactly.
GROSS: My guest is Matt Latimer, and he was a speechwriter for President Bush
and chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld. Heâs written a new memoir called
âSpeech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor.â Letâs take a short break here,
and then weâll talk more about your experiences. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Matt Latimer. Heâs the former
deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush. He was also the chief
speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld, when Rumsfeld was secretary of defense.
One of the things that you say in your book thatâs been picked up in other
articles is you were writing a speech for the president to give to CPAC, the
Conservative Political Action Committee, and you mentioned something about the
conservative movement, to which Bush said: What is this movement you keep
talking about in the speech? Let me tell you something. I whipped Gary Bauerâs
ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement. Look, I
know this probably sounds arrogant to say, but I redefined the Republican
Can you talk a little bit about what that exchange was like, and what you meant
when you wrote something in your speech, and what you think he interpreted that
Mr.Â LATIMER: Yes, that was a very important moment for me to sort of get a
sense of President Bush, and I donât mean it in a negative or a positive way.
Just he was a different president than I thought he was in terms of his
ideology, and I was sort of surprised by that.
I had come, as I said, from Michigan. I was a child of the Reagan years, and I
liked Ronald Reagan. I came out here, and the conservative movement to me was,
you know, William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and other
people, and they believed in, you know, smaller government, lower taxes, strong
So I put a reference to the conservative movement and its origins, or at least
itâs latest â you know, in the 20th-century origins of the Goldwater-Buckley
vein into this speech, and the president said to me, as youâve quoted, whatâs
all this movement stuff youâre talking about? I mean, whyâs that all in here?
I said, well, you know, Mr.Â President, the conservative movement. Iâm just sort
of crediting all of that, Buckley and Reagan and Thatcher and people like that.
And he said, you know, take all that stuff out. Then, as you said, you know, I
redefined the Republican Party, and I remember thinking to myself â I didnât
say this, of course. I just nodded, of course, yes, Mr.Â President. I remember
thinking: Redefined it into what? And it wasnât really being redefined into
something that I was comfortable with.
GROSS: Your dream was to write for the president, and you got to write for
President Bush. What was President Bushâs style of editing the speeches that
Mr.Â LATIMER: The president had taken a class at Yale about how to write a
speech, and I forgot who the professor was, but there was a very strict way
that we were supposed to do all the speeches - and I was told this a number of
times when I came to the White House. And the Yale school of speechwriting was:
you give an introduction, Point A, Point B, Point C, a prayeration(ph), and a
GROSS: A prayeration is what? Whatâs a prayeration?
Mr.Â LATIMER: I was just going to say Iâm from Michigan, so you know, I never
heard the word prayeration before. I didnât know. I think itâs a summary of
what the points were or something. But in any event, it was a very strict
logic. At one point, we even had to underline topic sentences of each paragraph
so the president could follow it. And when I was told this, I said to myself:
You know, thatâs not really a recipe for an eloquent speech. Itâs just sort of
a flat speech, if youâre just following this rigid logic, and I was told by the
speechwriter: Oh, thatâs okay. The president doesnât care if the speech is
flat, as long as it follows this logic.
And that just seemed to me an odd way to try to communicate with the American
people, and it surely wasnât following the tradition of Kennedy and Reagan. I
would imagine youâd never have seen John F. Kennedy say: Why donât you
underline this topic sentence?
In fact, the speeches got so bad at some point, that we were basically just
giving the president information to satisfy him. You know, we would write basic
things about his audience into the speech so that he knew why he was there.
So at one point we were saying, you know, something to the effect of, when he
visited a base in Alaska, which is near a pipeline: You are near a pipeline.
Oil comes from pipelines. Oil comes from the ground. And it because so basic
and insulting to people that it really did not, I donât think, do anyone a good
GROSS: Bush is an oil man. I mean, surely you didnât need to inform him about
Mr.Â LATIMER: Thatâs right. There was another line in another speech the
president read, and this is referring to the pope, and somebody had written:
The pope believes in a higher power. And the president laughed and said well, I
certainly hope so.
GROSS: Are you trying to demonstrate here the level to which you had to explain
things, that you were explaining things that didnât even need to be explained?
Mr.Â LATIMER: What Iâm trying to explain is the strategy of writing speeches was
to make it as simple, easy for logic to follow as possible, and it became a
situation where we just were trying to make the president from getting mad or
upset. If the president was uncomfortable with the speech, you didnât want to
hear from him. So we would write it in a very basic way, and the introductions
of the speeches became written in a way that sort of basically were meant more
to inform the president about why we were giving the speech than actually
talking to the audience. And the most important thing of a speech is to
remember your audience, and our audience became the president. It didnât become
GROSS: Matt Latimer will be back in the second half of the show. His new memoir
is called âSpeech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor.â Iâm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross back with Matt Latimer, author of the
new memoir "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor." He was deputy
director of speechwriting for President Bush and before that spent three years
as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's chief speechwriter. When we left off,
we were talking about the structure and style of writing President Bush wanted
in his speeches.
Now, you write that Karl Rove did a lot of editing and vetting of speeches.
What was his process?
Mr. LATIMER: I donât think anybody was more interested - this is a compliment
and also a concern. There was sometimes, there was nobody more interested in
the president's speeches than Karl Rove and I worked with him in the White
House, you know, for six or seven months, but during that time he commented on
everything, and it was very rare to have a moment when he wouldnât have
extensive comments on a speech or at least some comment. And I had said in my
mind early on that I was going to do everything I could to write a speech that
Karl Rove had no comment on other than I really liked it.
GROSS: You say Rove was something less than a fanatic for the truth when
editing speeches. What do you mean by that?
Mr. LATIMER: Well, there is one instance where I had written a speech and it
was something that Karen Hughes and I think Condi Rice perhaps had suggested.
It was for announcing the appointment of an Islamic envoy to the Middle East
and the president would've be the first president to do that, as I understand
it. And Rove kept - didn't like the speech, didnât want to do it, from what I
was told. And I also knew that he tended to have a rivalry with Karen Hughes
and Dan Bartlett and other longtime Bush aids. And what I was told by the chief
speechwriter at the time was, you know, Rove will hate this speech because it's
So he kept trying to change the - a placement of one paragraph in the speech,
and the way he wanted to replace this paragraph made the speech I think not -
sort of wrecked speech, made it not interesting and sort of buried the news of
the announcement that these people had wanted the president to make, and the
president had wanted to make. And so we didnât move the paragraph that he
wanted us to move. But he went around everywhere through the White House to
insist that that paragraph be moved.
He called our 24-year-old head fact checker who had never heard from Karl Rove
and directly told him to move this paragraph. He went to Steve Hadley, the
National Security Advisor. He went to Raul Yanes, the Staff Secretary. He went
to a lot of the speechwriters demanding that this paragraph be moved, and it
was really just a paragraph. It really didnât really matter where it was. But I
think where he wanted to moved it sort of buried its importance. So eventually
he claimed the president wanted to have the speech moved, the paragraph moved,
and we actually did a little investigating of this and it turned out - he
claimed that both the president and Steve Hadley, the national security
advisor, wanted the paragraph moved.
So we did a little investigating of this and Steve Hadley reported back that,
you know, he couldnât care one way or the other where the paragraph went, and
he had a lot of other things to do. He was actually, you know, trying to help
protect the country. And the president was asked about this and the president
said I have no idea what youâre talking about. I never talked to Rove about
this - this is at least what was reported back to me - and Iâm fine with the
speech the way that it is. So I was somewhat startled by the fact that Karl
Rove apparently had misrepresented this whole issue with this paragraph of this
speech not once but twice at least to my knowledge.
So the next day we all prepared to go to the president to talk about this
speech and Rove was determined to come. He asked what time the meeting was
because he was going to fight again. And somehow, and I speculate this, somehow
the meeting was changed at the last minute and I speculated that it was the
president and Dan Bartlett who changed it on purpose because they knew Karl was
going to come in and be all upset in an over-caffeinated moment and push for
moving this paragraph, and they just didnât want to deal with it.
And so we went to this meeting in the Oval Office with the president and Dan
Bartlett and we didnât even talk about the speech. He just said something like,
well, I guess I'm going to talk to the Muslims today and laughed and then
talked about football and then we were out of there.
GROSS: My guest is Matt Latimer and he was deputy director of speechwriting for
President Bush and he was Donald Rumsfeld chief speechwriter. He's written a
memoir called "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor."
I'd like to talk with you a little bit about writing for Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld. You were with him when the Abu Ghraib story broke. What were
you asked to do in terms of writing about Abu Ghraib and defending Donald
Mr. LATIMER: Yeah. It shows you my sort of luck because I came into this job
with the chief speechwriter for the secretary, I came into the Pentagon and
almost immediately this big huge scandal breaks that there were many people who
thought I'd be out of a job within a few weeks, and the secretary as well. And
I was asked to write his address to Congress, his testimony to Congress, which
was going to be national news, international news.
You know, soap operas were interrupted so they could show it live. And Rumsfeld
used to call it my baptism by fire, and I got know him really well really
quickly, and I had to get talking points from everybody and different ideas and
the White House had ideas for how to write this speech and Rumsfeld had many,
many ideas for it, and I had to sit down and put together a speech that in a
lot of ways, you know, determined whether Secretary Rumsfeld would stay at the
Pentagon or not.
GROSS: What did you come up with that youâre most proud of for that speech?
Mr. LATIMER: Well, you know, we were asked by the White House to do a Richard
Clarke moment. And Richard Clarke, your listeners will probably remember, is -
was the anti-terrorism expert in the early years of the Bush administration who
after 9/11 - testified in the 9/11 Commission saying, you know, we failed you,
and he took responsibility. And people loved that because how rare in
Washington is it for anyone to ever take responsibility for anything? So they
wanted Rumsfeld to take responsibility and do a Richard Clarke moment. And they
assumed that if he did the same thing Richard Clarke did, he would be admired
by people and the media would praise him for doing this.
And I wrote something that Rumsfeld edited and worked on and it was basically
him saying that, you know, these things happened on my watch and as secretary
of defense I'm accountable for them. He took responsibility for what had
happened. The thing that was interesting as I talk about in my book is, you
know, many people asked why Secretary Rumsfeld just didnât resign. I mean why
put the president through this ordeal? Why just not, just leave? I donât know.
If youâre taking responsibility, a person who's the head of a department and
says he's responsible, steps down.
And I was in one of the meetings when we were working on this testimony and the
president called Rumsfeld, and the secretary asked me and others to leave the
room for a moment, but as we were leaving, some of us overheard him say to the
president, you know, I just donât want to be a rock in your knapsack. And what
he was saying was, I donât want to be a burden to you. And in fact what had
happened was, we found out later, he had just offered to resign and he offered
to resign twice to the president during the Abu Ghraib crisis, scandal, and he
never really said that at the time.
I mean reporters asked him, members of Congress asked him, why donât you just
resign? Why don't you leave? Why donât you help the president? And he never
said, and he could have said, you know, I did, I tried to leave but the
president wanted me to stay. He never did that, and whether that was wise or
not wise, I was always struck by that. And he knew in doing so that he was
going to be a lightening rod for the administration. But then again, a
president can use a lightening rod. A lightening rod has its usefulness, and I
think Rumsfeld knew that he was going to do that.
GROSS: So you left the White House before the Bush administration was
completely over. When did you actually leave?
Mr. LATIMER: I left just before the November election in 2008.
GROSS: Why did you choose that as the time to leave?
Mr. LATIMER: Well, I had been wanting to leave for a couple of months and that
was a great disappointment to me because, as I say, ever since I came to
Washington and went to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, my dream was to be a
presidential speechwriter, and I never - and I was so honored to have the
chance to do that. But I never in a million years thought I'd ever want to
leave early, and I did, and it's because a lot of reasons. I didnât like the
way speeches were being done. I didnât think I was contributing anything to the
president, to the country. I was feeling burned out. We were doing a, you know,
hundreds of speeches all the time and they weren't effective.
I would watch people erasing speeches that I had written from their mind as the
president was delivering it. I also didnât sort of like the drift of the
administration. I didnât really enjoy, I didnât think we were advancing ideals.
I was disappointed in the 2008 campaign and in the candidate we had chosen to
lead the party, and I wanted to do something else.
GROSS: So you left the White House right before Election Day and you reveal in
your book that on Election Day, it was the first time you weren't really sure
would you vote Republican or Democrat, and you ended up voting - I'll let you
say - how?
Mr. LATIMER: I ended up, well, I actually leave the answer unclear at the very
end of the bookâ¦
GROSS: Not to me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I thought it was clear. Maybe I'm crazy.
Mr. LATIMER: But I actually...
GROSS: I think you clearly say you voted for Obama.
Mr. LATIMER: Actually, I didnât vote for Obama.
Mr. LATIMER: No. I, but I was, I came close to doing that and I never thought I
would. I mean all these people, you know, in the Bush administration said, you
know, who are you, youâre a nobody or whatever. I paid my dues with the
Republican Party from, you know, good times and bad and I found myself in a
position where I didnât know how I was going to vote.
I couldnât find myself voting for John McCain and the Republican Party because
I donât think, I didnât think at the time they were representing what I
believed in anymore. And I thought about voting for Barack Obama very seriously
because he was offering something different. I mean he offered, he promised to
be a fresh voice that was not Washington, and that was, I think, the secret of
his appeal in the primaries.
He was not - while he was a senator he was still himself. And I talk about my
nephew Michael, who was a mixed race child being raised by white grandparents
and he's growing up in an environment, near an inner city, Flint, Michigan,
which is troubled, and he was inspired by Obama and that touched me. So I was
very, very - had a very difficult dilemma deciding who to vote for and I went
up and down the voter dials. I actually even looked at Ralph Nader for a
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LATIMER: I just thought, hey, why don't I - I could vote for any single
person on this ballot because I didnât really believe in anybody in politics
anymore, and it was a sad moment for me. So ultimately I made a decision that I
was happy with and I sort of like a Sopranos-style ending where you donât
really know what that answer was.
GROSS: So youâre not telling?
Mr. LATIMER: I'm not telling yet.
GROSS: Oh, youâre going to tell somebody else?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: All right. Have it your way.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I'm thinking maybe you waited online for an hour and decided not to
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LATIMER: No, I voted.
GROSS: Okay. All right. Call me. No. Okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Thanks so much for talking with us. Thank you very much.
Mr. LATIMER: Thank you, Terry. I really appreciated it.
GROSS: Matt Latimer is the author of the new memoir "Speech-less: Tales of a
White House Survivor."
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
John Fogerty 'Rides Again'
TERRY GROSS, host:
When John Fogerty released the first "Blue Ridge Rangers" album in 1973, it was
his first solo album after parting with Creedence Clearwater Revival. He played
all the instruments himself and covered other people's songs, since at the time
he was embroiled in a legal battle over the publishing rights to his Creedence
Clearwater compositions. Now Fogerty has released "The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides
Again." He's collaborating with other musicians, but again on a collection of
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "Change in the Weather")
Mr. JOHN FOGERTY (Musician): (Singing) Change in the weather, change in the
weather, somethin's happenin' here...
KEN TUCKER: In 1973, John Fogerty's "Blue Ridge Rangers" album was at once his
first collection of cover songs and the most freeze-dried music Fogerty has
ever made. Always a studio perfectionist, Fogerty used the occasion to take the
idea of a solo album literally. Freed from the humans known as Creedence
Clearwater Revival, Fogerty got perfectionism out of his system. One beneficial
result is that now, 36 years later, he's turned the Blue Ridge Rangers into a
free-form, shifting group of studio musicians, and his pleasure in
collaboration is palpable.
(Soundbite of song, "Never Ending Song Of Love")
Mr. FOGERTY: (Singing) I've got a never ending love for you. From now on that's
all I wanna do. From the first time we met I knew I'd have a never ending love
for you. I have got a never ending love for you. From now on thatâs all I want
to do. From the first time we met I knew, Iâd have a never ending love for you.
TUCKER: One thing this new collection proves is that for as much of a classic-
rock artist as heâs been pigeonholed, a big part of Fogertyâs heart and mind
resides in country music. This was always true to some extent. On Creedence
albums ranging from Bayou Country to Cosmoâs Factory, heâs often phrased lyrics
like a country singer. And here, on songs made famous by country singers as
different as Buck Owens and Ray Price, Fogerty sings with a new expansiveness.
His standard scratchy bark is loosened, lubricated by relaxing into the loping
melodies heâs selected.
(Soundbite of song, âIâll Be Thereâ)
Mr. FOGERTY: (Singing) Well, there ainât no chains strong enough to hold me,
ainât no breeze big enough to slow me, never have seen a river thatâs too wide.
There ainât no jail tight enough to lock me, there ainât no man big enough to
stop me. I'll be there if you ever want me by your side.
TUCKER: Fogerty is an open-minded musician. He doesnât hold mere prettiness or
sentimentality against what he deems a good song. He hears past the cultural
baggage a hit may carry. Thus he approaches John Denverâs âBack Home Againâ or
Pat Booneâs 1961 number one hit âMoody Riverâ with an aim to juice up the
music, scraping away its status as an oldie.
(Soundbite of song, âMoody Riverâ)
Mr. FOGERTY: (Singing) Moody river, more deadly than the vainest knife. Moody
river, your muddy water took my babyâs life. Last Saturday evening came to the
old oak tree, it stands beside the river where you were to meet me. On the
ground your glove I found, with a note addressed to me. It read, dear love,
Iâve done you wrong, now I must set you free.
TUCKER: Among the honorary Blue Ridge Rangers riding along with Fogerty are
drummer Kenny Aronoff and the guitarist Buddy Miller, whom Fogerty credits with
bringing the Ray Price hit âFallinâ Fallinâ Fallinââ to his attention. It turns
out to be one of the high points of the album, in Fogertyâs arrangement a tight
little piece of rocking western swing.
(Soundbite of song, âFallinâ Fallinâ Fallinââ)
Mr. FOGERTY: (Singing) My heart is breaking darling and many tears are falling,
falling, falling, falling just for you. My eyes are burning darling while my
heart is sad and yearning, yearning, yearning, burning just for you. Oh you
didnât have to go and leave me all alone. Iâm sure you think that breaking
hearts is fun. But someday you may find out when your new love is gone that
deep down in your heart Iâm still the one. I need you with meâ¦
TUCKER: Itâs also nice to hear Fogerty and Bruce Springsteen - providing a
hoarse, high harmony â take back the Phil Everly song âWhen Will I Be Lovedâ
from the squishy 1974 hit record Linda Ronstadt made out of it. Fogerty returns
to the song the Everly Brothersâ sense of urgency and even heedless
(Soundbite of song, âWhen Will I Be Lovedâ)
Mr. FOGERTY: (Singing) Iâve been cheated, been mistreated. When will I be
loved? Iâve been pushed down, Iâve been pushed round. When will I be loved?
TUCKER: Ultimately, âBlue Ridge Rangers Rides Againâ is John Fogertyâs version
of a party album. And for all its smiley cheerfulness, it centers around its
creatorâs intensity. That maybe because for a once-and-future control freak,
Fogerty derives pleasure from bearing down hard on light music. He demonstrates
that pleasure can bear the weight of discipline and history.
(Soundbite of song, âWhen Will I Be Lovedâ)
Mr. FOGERTY: (Singing) When I found a new girl that I want for mine, she always
breaks my heart in two, it happens every time. Iâve been cheated, been
mistreated. When will I be loved? When will I be loved? Tell me, when will I be
loved? Tell me, when will I be loved?
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed John
Fogertyâs new CD, âThe Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again.â
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
A Waltz Through Depression-Era Art And Culture
TERRY GROSS, host:
Ever since the economy began nose-diving, weâve been hearing a lot about the
Great Depression. Coincidentally, the distinguished literary scholar, Morris
Dickstein, has been at work for years on a book about the culture of the
Depression era. Itâs just come out and itâs called âDancing in the Dark.â
Book critic Maureen Corrigan says Dicksteinâs timing and much else in this new
book is near perfect.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Morris Dicksteinâs new cultural history of the Great
Depression, called âDancing in the Dark,â is one of those everything but the
kitchen sink kind of books â except in this case the kitchen sink does make an
oblique appearance, given that Dickstein discusses art deco, industrial design,
as well as the dance extravaganzas of Busby Berkeley, the novels of Zora Neale
Hurston, Henry Roth, and of course John Steinbeck, gangster movies and
screwball comedies, the music of Bing Crosby, and the photography of Dorothea
Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. The knee-jerk way to review a colossus like
this is to chip away at it, to whittle it down to oneâs own intellectual size
by regretfully pointing to what Dickstein left out.
What about comic strips or radio shows or doggerel poetry? See? Iâm not above
such tricks. But Dickstein puts a stop to this kind of gamesmanship at the
outset when he tells readers that he made no effort to cover everything.
Instead, he says, this was a series of personal choices focusing on work that
genuinely engaged me. You earn the right to take that kind of approach if
youâre Morris Dickstein, whoâs not only one of Americaâs most perceptive
literary critics, but also one of our best critical writers. What other
literary scholar of such eminence would use the adjective nutty as he does at
least twice here? His zesty voice, as well as his lightly-worn erudition, make
Dicksteinâs âDancing in the Darkâ a thrill to read.
As a work of cultural history, itâs the equivalent of a Fred and Ginger dance
number. It makes all the sweaty scholarly steps and difficult leaps of
interpretation look easy. Dicksteinâs aim here is nothing less than to fathom
the inner history of the Great Depression through the art that gives us
singular keys to its dream life, its unguarded feelings about the world.
Throughout his book, Dickstein keeps executing a critical two-step. First, he
wants to illuminate the art in Depression-era works that have been valued
mostly as political reportage - novels, for instance, like Mike Goldâs 1930
âJews Without Money.â About that book and the widespread awareness of urban
poverty that it helped usher in, Dickstein tartly says the poor may always be
with us, but we seem to notice them at 30-year intervals, like spoilers at a
party for people of good conscience. The Depression was one of those moments of
The second step here is to reveal the social consciousness lurking in movies,
music and dance of the period that have been dismissed as escapism. Of course,
this aspect of Dicksteinâs book is more fun. Who wouldnât prefer spending time
in the company of Cary Grant rather than the Joads?
I suspect even Dickstein feels this way because his insights are particularly
dazzling in the swankier sections of the book. Hereâs one of them. In a chapter
where he discusses music and the road movies of the â30s â gems like âIt
Happened One Nightâ â Dickstein makes this distinction between the serious
reportage of the period â which was all about being down-and-out and stuck â
and popular entertainment. He says the fantasy culture of the â30s is all about
movement. The look of the great â30s musicals is everything that Dorothea
Langeâs photographs - âMigrant Motherâ or âWoman of the High Plainsâ - both so
angular and static, are not. Itâs all circle and swirl, all movement and flow.
Think of it, Dickstein urges - the rose-petal effect in Berkeleyâs big dance
numbers, the sweepingly elegant curvature of the Art Deco sets, the brilliance
of Astaire and Rogers. Add to that, as Dickstein does, the brisk repartee of
screwball comedy, the scampering lyrics of Porter and Gershwin, and you see
that heâs really onto something. Itâs the American Dream of mobility, encoded
in even, say, a fantasy about picking yourself up after a dust storm, finding
your courage, and following that yellow brick road. Dicksteinâs title, âDancing
in the Dark,â refers to another one of those works of popular entertainment, a
1931 ballad sung by Bing Crosby about a man and a woman clinging to each other
as theyâre surrounded by uncertainty, darkness.
Dickstein reads this image as emblematic of the impulse toward community the
Depression would re-awaken in Americans. If I can belabor the dance metaphor
one more time, though, Iâd say that a penetrating work of cultural history like
this one also gives the reader who holds it fast a sense of dwelling in a
circle of illumination amidst all the shadows.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed âDancing in the Darkâ by Morris Dickstein. You can download podcasts
of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.