State of the Union likely to be policy plus personal stories, say former speechwriters

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This is the template of the modern State of the Union presidential speech: A laundry list of political objectives intertwined with stories of ordinary Americans so those watching can empathize with a call to action, a group of former presidential speech writers said on the morning of the annual address.

Speaking at a Bipartisan Policy Center panel, Adam Frankel, a former senior speechwriter for President Obama, said short stories about people presidents have met or who are in the crowd break up blocks of texts about policy. The narratives make the speech feel shorter, he said.

Not every speech is going to be historic, he added--the address is for setting out the president's agenda in a way that is easy to follow and makes sense.

Frankel said speechwriters don't need to know the ins and outs of policy because there are people available to explain it to them. Their job is to "make sure we stay true to what the president wanted to say" and to capture his voice.

Don Baer, a former speechwriter to President Bill Clinton, said that president wouldn't finalize the language of the address until he reached the podium. In contrast, Frankel said Obama will do "as little last minute tinkering as possible" and that the writing process likely began a few months ago.

For more:
- go to the event page for an archived video (the panel starts at the 27 minute mark)

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