Moments after Sarah Palin had finished her barnstorming acceptance speech to the Republican Convention, the media spinning began: sure, she can use a teleprompter or read a speech written by a gifted speechwriter like Matthew Scully. Big deal. So could anybody.
Two facts make me uniquely qualified to comment on these claims.
First, I used to be a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher. Second, as editor of National Review I hired Matt Scully to be assistant editor and introduced him to the world of conservative opinion journalism.
But the truth about speechwriting is strictly bipartisan.
There are cases of politicians simply reading a speech written by someone else — one senator even read out the attached press release, including the line “the Senator was repeatedly interrupted by applause in the course of his remarks.”
But no major politician does that. Those who do soon cease to be major politicians.
Mrs. Thatcher went over every line, comma, and paragraph break in her speeches. They sometimes went through five drafts. Speechwriting sessions could last days.
But Mrs. T did everything we did — and ran the country too.
So, when asked, I always say truthfully: No one writes speeches for Margaret Thatcher; they write speeches with Margaret Thatcher.
I am told that Governor Palin was similarly involved.
She would have been foolish not to be. Speakers have to make speeches their own. They have to feel the sentiments and know the facts. After all, if they get something wrong, it will be quoted against them for years — these days on YouTube.
Even then the most sincere speaker may lack the skills to put across a good speech well. Matt Scully is a superb speechwriter, but his best work was sometimes awkwardly delivered.
Not this time.
I devised a small test while watching.
Matt has a slightly aggressive sense of mischief. How would Mrs. Palin deliver his mischievous thrusts? So whenever I heard a hint of Matt’s mischief in the words, I would check out the Governor’s expression.
Invariably there was a glint of mischief in her eyes.
Matt, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
– John O’Sullivan is author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister. This was first published by the New York Post and is reprinted with the author’s permission.