September 21, 2017

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Speechwriting, nerves, and manners: Inauguration

Speechwriting, nerves, and manners: Inauguration

What a Tuesday it has been. Regardless of one’s ideological bent, witnessing the peaceful transition of power should always be something to marvel at. That it carried so much additional historical significance this time around makes it that much more tremendous, and it truly is something to celebrate.

I thought the inaugural address was solid, and struck a good balance between demonstrating an understanding of the seriousness of the challenges faced by the country, with an optimism and reassurance that this too, shall pass. That a gifted 27-year old speechwriter (who graduated from neighboring state Massachusetts’ Holy Cross–NE, represent) had a hand in the writing of this is remarkable. It is a reminder that words mean things, and that well-crafted words can move people, inspire confidence, instill a sense of duty, and more. If he’s this good at 27, I look forward to hearing more of his work. Good luck Mr. Favreau.

What truly disappointed me was the sniping that occurred before and after the swearing in. I don’t know why it still surprises me, but it does. From the childish and disrespectful booing at President Bush, to laughing at Vice President Cheney’s state in a wheelchair, to snide remarks about a layoff at the White House, it’s just…such bad manners. (And, this last one is pretty insensitive to those who actually have been laid off.) When I read this post by journalist Kevin McDermott of the Post-Dispatch describing how someone in the crowd was appealing for respect, I thought “well, there’s hope for a better tone in America yet.” Turns out the person trying to maintain some level of civility is an Italian immigrant named Alvin Muladdic.

After the swearing in, it took, oh, I don’t know, nanoseconds, before the finger pointing about flubbing the oath started flying. I watched, and here’s what I saw: the Chief Justice started, Obama started to repeat the oath before Roberts was ready, Roberts got flustered and messed it up. Obama very skillfully recited the oath as it should be. I chuckled and thought “ah, nerves–Roberts must be kicking himself.”

Well, no need for him to do that when social media will do it for him. I saw tweets implying that Roberts did it “on purpose” (huh?) and worse. Is this “authenticity”? If so, keep it. Give me grace, and diginity, and empathy, and an understanding that this moment was stressful and that all of the participants’ worst fears was that they would stumble and that happened to one of them. I wonder how many of the people commenting stumbled during their wedding vows, for instance–in front of a much smaller crowd. (With one exception, as I pointed out to Scott Monty: Lady Diana Spencer messed up Prince Charles’s name, reversing two of the dozen or so names he has during their vows. Again, huge crowd, huge pressure.)

President Obama has had dinner with conservative columnists, and paid tribute last night to his defeated rival for the White House. Take a page from his book, time to truly reach out, be gracious in victory.

Or, as Pat Fusselman’s mom used to say: “Now, don’t be ugly.” If you can’t say something nice in 140 characters, don’t say it at all.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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