The Corner

Ben Rhodes: Special Guy

The New York Times profiles Cody Keenan, Obama’s speechwriter. Even for a classic “sweetener” piece, it’s pretty obsequious. Particularly given the fact that Obama’s speeches — and speechifying — are the most overrated in modern memory. For instance, Obama dubs Keenan “Hemingway.” But that’s not the funny part. Maybe Obama is being ironic, like calling a big guy “Tiny.” Or maybe Keenan just loves The Old Man and the Sea. I don’t know and don’t really care. Frankly, I’d never heard of Keenan until this story.  It’s this part (in bold below) that causes the reader to stop short:

WASHINGTON — One night last week Cody Keenan, the chief White House speechwriter President Obama has christened “Hemingway,” knew he needed help.

Mr. Keenan had spent 15 days holed up in a hotel room in Honolulu as the president vacationed nearby, and seven more in a windowless office in the basement of the West Wing trying to turn a blank computer screen into a 6,000-word State of the Union first draft. The lonesome process had finally gotten to him.

So the burly 34-year-old former high school quarterback left his White House office and trudged in the freezing rain to the nearby apartment of one of his closest friends in the administration, Benjamin J. Rhodes.

It was after midnight, but Mr. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and the writer of many of the president’s foreign policy speeches, was up reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” to his 4-week-old daughter. The two men poured two single-malt Scotch whiskies and, with the baby resting quietly, began triage on Mr. Keenan’s prose. By 5 a.m., a more succinct draft was on its way to the president.

Really? I mean: really?

He’s reading To Kill a Mockingbird to his 31-day-old infant (give or take a day)? And here’s the great part. If you read on, the Times reveals this tidbit didn’t come from Keenan:

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.

In other words, it was Rhodes who told the Times he was reading To Kill a Mockingbird to his one-month old daughter — at least until weighty affairs of state (and a few single malts) intervened. Look, maybe he was reading it to her. Maybe it’s the most important book in his life. Good for him, it’s a great book. Maybe it makes her fall asleep. I used to sing the old Good and Plenty theme song to my daughter (“. . . choo-choo-Charlie was his name I hear . . .”). Whatever works. But it takes a special kind of pomposity to want the Times and her readers to know this — or at least think this — about you.

In fact, it takes exactly the kind of pomposity that would make these guys right at home in this White House.


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