One quick disclaimer – My life’s goal has been to be a character on The West Wing. Anyone who knows me will confirm this fact for you. When I interned on Capitol Hill, I used to walk away humming the theme song. In hindsight that may not have been the ideal way to make friends, or come across as vaguely cool. But, for better or worse, it happened.
When I moved to Los Angeles six years ago I thought I was putting that dream behind me. I had been accepted into the Screenwriting Program at USC and I was quite certain that the only real place for politics was Washington D.C., where I grew up. However, as they say, God has a way of closing a door but opening a window.
Five years later, in a thoroughly unexpected turn of events, I had been hired onto a local campaign in Los Angeles as a Communications Deputy. My start date was June 11 but on the first of the month I got a phone call from my boss to be. The candidate was delivering a commencement address on my first day and she wanted me to write it for him. She asked if I was game?
As anyone who has written political speeches will tell you anything in excess of 1,000 words is the always the most fun. It’s really the only time you get to play with language in an exciting way, as opposed to just hitting main message points. So, I did and on my first day we rolled into the University. When the candidate arrived he looked at me – we were 20 minutes before the speech was set to begin.
“You’re Bret?” I nodded.
“And you wrote this?” I nodded again, now with a little trepidation.
“This has way too many words. We need to take out some of these words.”
This is what I’d call a “make your heart go pitter patter” moment. The candidate flagged down the President of the University and asked to borrow her office. We rushed in and I took over the computer. He broke out the pen and started going through – doing copy edits on the speech and handing them to me to make the changes on the computer. The clocked ticked down from 15 minutes to 10 minutes to five minutes. With each ticking minute he handed me page after page, edit after edit. Finally, the procession was beginning – we were out of time. I hit print and we bolted out of there to make it to the commencement as the President introduced our candidate.
He got up there and started reading the speech text – verbatim. I’d written speeches before, but nothing that was delivered to multiple thousands of people. It was greatest professional rush I’ve ever experienced. It was my official introduction into professional politics.
I was half hoping that my Bruno Gianelli would lean over any say “did you write that last part in the car? Freak” But alas, we were not proclaiming that the streets of heaven were too crowded with angels, we were congratulating the new graduates of a local university. So, it turns out, that sort of rhetoric may have been seen as hyperbolic.