Speechwriting

I didn’t have much speechwriting experience when I went to work in the U.S. Senate, but I did have a leg up on most people because I had loads of experience at writing news for broadcasters.  At UPI, I spent many work shifts on the broadcast desk, writing news for radio newscasters. “Writing for the ear,” we called it. As it turned out, “writing for the ear” applied perfectly to writing speeches – it even used the same punctuation – three dots instead of commas, for example, no abbreviations and no capitalization. Or, more accurately, ALL capitalization. The idea was to make the copy as easy to read as possible since the speaker would be reading the words out loud with little opportunity to try to figure out complicated syntax or sentence construction. Senator William Hathaway, my boss, delivered this speech to the Young Democrats State Convention in Augusta, Maine.  The theme – the ability to accept divergent views – was no accident. He was getting hammered by young people, many of whom were staunch environmentalists. Why? Because he was a longtime advocate of the Dickey-Lincoln Hydroelectric  project – a project favored by labor because of the jobs it would have created, but opposed by many environmentalists because of the thousands of acres of forest land that it would have destroyed. By the way, that project was ultimately abandoned.

IT IS ALWAYS A PLEASURE FOR ME TO APPEAR BEFORE A GROUP OF YOUNG PEOPLE – ESPECIALLY YOUNG DEMOCRATS. I SINCERELY BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE THE LIFEBLOOD AND THE FUTURE OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.

I HOPE THAT THERE WILL BE AN HONEST AND FRANK EXCHANGE OF OPINIONS BETWEEN US TODAY. I ALSO HOPE THAT YOU WILL ASK QUESTIONS AND… ON MY PART… I PROMISE TO EXPRESS MY VIEWS AS CANDIDLY AS POSSIBLE.

MOST IF NOT ALL OF YOU HERE TODAY CANNOT REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE A DEMOCRAT IN MAINE 25 YEARS AGO. THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IN MAINE WAS PRACTICALLY NONEXISTENT. WE WERE FEW IN NUMBER AND OUR INFLUENCE WAS NEGLIGIBLE. THE ENSUING TWO DECADES WAS A CLEAR STORY OF SUCCESS. AFTER NEARLY A CENTURY AS A MINORITY THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF MAINE CAME TO DOMINATE THE POLITICAL STRUCTURE OF THIS STATE. WHILE CHANGING THE FACE OF POLITICS IN MAINE WE MANAGED TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF MANY MAINE PEOPLE.

I BELIEVE WE WERE SUCCESSFUL IN THAT EFFORT BECAUSE WE WERE WILLING TO WORK TOGETHER AND TO HELP EACH OTHER. WE WERE WILLING TO OVERLOOK THE ISSUES THAT DIVIDED US AND INSTEAD LOOKED TO THE ISSUES THAT UNITED US. WE LISTENED TO EACH OTHER, AND WE CARED ENOUGH ABOUT WHAT WE WERE DOING TO WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM.

IT WASN’T ALWAYS AN EASY TASK. BUT WE NEVER LOST SIGHT OF OUR PURPOSE – TO MAKE MAINE AND THIS NATION A BETTER PLACE FOR ALL CITIZENS TO LIVE AND WORK… AND NOT JUST FOR THE WEALTHY AND THE WELL-TO-DO.

OVER THE YEARS, THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OFFERED THE VOTERS GOOD CANDIDATES, GOOD PROGRAMS AND A GREAT DEAL OF IMAGINATION. WE DELIVERED ON OUR PROMISES, TO THE BENEFIT OF THE VAST MAJORITY OF MAINE PEOPLE. AS A DEMOCRAT, I AM PROUD OF OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND YOU… AS THE SUCCESSORS TO THIS DEMOCRATIC TRADITION… CAN BE PROUD TOO.

BUT WE MUST CAUTION OURSLEVES AGAINST COMPLACENCY. THE TRIUMPHS OF THE PAST CANNOT BE RELIED UPON ON TO GUARANTEE OUR VICTORIES IN THE FUTURE. TO YIELD TO THAT TEMPTATION IS TO INVITE DEFEAT. OUR PARTY WILL NOT BE JUDGED BY ITS PAST PERFORMANCE… BUT RATHER BY ITS PRESENT POLICIES AND BY ITS FUTURE PROPOSALS.

BUT TODAY I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO YOU OF A SECOND DANGER THAT THREATENS THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.

THE DANGER TO WHICH I REFER IS THE INCREASING UNWILLINGNESS OF MORE AND MORE DEMOCRATS TO TOLERATE DIFFERING VIEWS WITHIN THE PARTY SYSTEM… IN ORDER TO PROMOTE A GENERAL POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.

TO A LARGER EXTENT THE PAST SUCCESS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO ITS ABILITY AND ITS WILLINGNESS TO ACCOMMODATE DISPARATE GROUPS AND DISSIMILAR VIEWS ON INDIVIDUAL ISSUES IN ORDER TO REACH AGREEMENT ON GENERAL VIEWS AND GENERAL ISSUES. THIS ATTITUDE OF TOLERANCE AND BROADMINDEDNESS… IN THE PURSUIT OF GENERAL GOALS AND OBJECTIVES… HAS BEEN THE HALLMARK OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND A MAJOR REASON FOR ITS STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE.

RECENTLY, HOWEVER, WE HAVE SEEN THE RISE OF WHAT ERIC SEVEREID CALLED “DANGEROUSLY PASSIONATE CERTAINTIES” IN A TIME OF NO EASY ANSWERS.

THESE GROUPS OR INDIVIDUALS ATTACH THEMSELVES TO A SINGLE INTEREST OR OBJECTIVE TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL GENERAL INTERESTS OR GENERAL OBJECTIVES. THEIR PASSIONATE COMMITMENT TO A SINGLE ISSUE ALLOWS FOR NO DEVIATION OR DIFFERENCE OF OPINION BY ANY POLITICAL CANDIDATE, POLITICIAN OR POLITICAL PARTY. THEY DEMAND A PURITY OF PERFORMANCE THAT IS VIRTUALLY BEYOND HUMAN CAPABILITY.

AS HUBERT HUMPHREY IN HIS BOOK, “THE EDUCATION OF A PUBLIC MAN,” WROTE: ‘THERE ARE THOSE WHO LIVE BY THE STRICT RULE THAT WHATEVER THEY THINK IS RIGHT, IS NECESSARILY RIGHT. THEY WILL COMPROMISE ON NOTHING. THEY INSIST THAT EVERYONE FOLLOW THEIR THINKING.’”

I BELIEVE, AND I HOPE YOU WILL SEE, THAT SUCH NARROW-MINDED DEVOTION TO A SINGLE ISSUE OR SINGLE OBJECTIVE IS A PRESENT DANGER TO OUR DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM. I BELIEVE THAT THE STRENGTH OF OUR PARTY IS IN ITS DIVERSITY, IN ITS WILLINGNESS TO TOLERATE DISSENT, AND IN ITS ABILITY TO COMPROMISE TO SECURE WORTHWHILE GAINS.

IN MY OWN PARTICULAR CASE… I AM CONCERNED BY SOME OF THE MORE RECENT LETTERS I HAVE RECEIVED ABOUT THE DICKEY-LINCOLN PROJECT. FOR EXAMPLE, THERE ARE THOSE WHO HAVE WRITTEN TO ME THAT THEY HAVE BEEN LIFELONG DEMOCRATS, THAT THEY HAVE ALWAYS VOTED FOR DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES, AND THAT THEY HAVE ALWAYS RESPECTED MY POLITICAL INDEPENDENCE AND INTEGRITY. BUT THEN THEY ADD THAT IF I DON’T CHANGE MY POSITION ON DICKEY-LINCOLN THEY ARE GOING TO… AS THEY PUT IT… “HOLD THEIR NOSE AND VOTE FOR MY OPPONENT.”

I MUST FRANKLY ADMIT THAT THIS DISTURBS ME. I AM NOT DISTURBED BECAUSE THEY ARE AGAINST DICKEY-LINCOLN.  NOR AM I DISTURBED BECAUSE THEY INTEND TO VOTE AGAINST ME – ALTHOUGH I DO NOT LIKE THAT PROSPECT. I AM DISTURBED BECAUSE THEY ARE GOING TO MAKE THEIR DECISION BASED ON THAT SINGLE ISSUE ALONE.

IT DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER THAT I HAVE SUPPORTED, FOUGHT FOR AND VOTED FOR NEARLY EVERY PIECE OF ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATION SINCE I WAS FIRST ELECTED TO CONGRESS. IT DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER THAT RALPH NADER RANKED ME NEAR THE TOP OF THE SENATE ON SUPPORT FOR CONSUMER AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES. NOR DOES IT SEEM TO MATTER WHAT POLICIES OR POSITIONS MY OPPONENT FAVORS OR OPPOSES, SO LONG AS HE IS AGAINST DICKEY-LINCOLN.

LET ME BE QUITE CLEAR. I AM NOT AGAINST FIRM AND OUTSPOKEN COMMITMENT TO PRINCIPLES AND CONVICTIONS. I AM NOT AGAINST TRYING TO CHANGE THE VIEWS OF POLITICAL CANDIDATES… POLITICAL PARTIES… OR POLITICAL LEADERS.

I AM AGAINST SINGLE-ISSUE CONSTITUENCIES THAT BELIEVE WE MUST SEE EVERY ISSUE AS THEY SEE IT… AND THAT ONLY THEIR VALUES AND THEIR VALUES ALONE MERIT ATTENTION.

THIS IS NOT AN EASY TIME FOR ANY POLITICAL PARTY OR ANY POLITICAL CANDIDATE.  WE LIVE IN A TIME OF UNCERTAINTY AND RAPID CHANGE. A TIME WHEN PEOPLE ARE DEMANDING MORE FROM THEIR POLITICAL CANDIDATES AND MORE FROM THEIR POLITICAL PARTIES.

I BELIEVE THE TEST OF OUR PARTY’S STRENGTH AND ABILITY TO ENDURE IN TIMES SUCH AS THESE IS WHETHER WE HAVE THE COURAGE  AND THE VISION TO CHANGE WHAT NEEDS CHANGING… AND TO PRESERVE THE TRADITIONS AND VALUES WORTH PRESERVING.

I BELIEVE THAT ONE OF THE VALUES WORTH PRESERVING…  AND ONE THAT MAY BE NECESSARY TO OUR SURVIVAL AS A POLITICAL PARTY… IS THE WILLINGNESS TO TOLERATE DIVERGENT VIEWS FOR THE SAKE OF ACHIEVING BROADER DEMOCRATIC GOALS.

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