October 27, 2012


George Herbert Walker Obama (ANDREW FERGUSON, 11/05/12, Weekly Standard)

The news readers from NPR were mum-mum-mumbling in the background the other morning as I was putt-putt-puttering around the house when .  .  . all of a sudden .  .  . running counter to every fiber of my being .  .  . pulling against my every natural inclination .  .  . I began to pay attention! President Obama, one of the news readers said, was giving a speech in the Midwest to road-test a new theme for the campaign's final weeks: "trust."

"There's no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust," the president said. "Trust matters!" The Midwesterners cheered.

At these words my attention loosened and my mind, what's left of it, flew backwards in time, 20 years almost to the day, and I was sitting in a room in the White House, in 1992, huddled with two other speechwriters around a little speaker set on a table in a high-ceilinged room. We were listening to a closed-circuit transmission from a campaign rally in the Midwest. A different president was desperately seeking reelection. This was President Bush--the first President Bush, I mean, the one that Democrats hated but later pretended to like after they decided they hated his son more. 

We speechwriters were anxious that afternoon because--well, because presidential speechwriters are always anxious--but we were particularly anxious because at this rally in the Midwest, the president was going to road-test a new campaign theme. 

One issue surpassed all others, President Bush said. "It's called trust. When you get down to it, this election will be like every other. Trust matters!"

The Midwesterners cheered. We looked at each other across the tiny speaker, satisfied. We had our new theme! The president's senior staff, at their daily meeting the next morning, gave the chief speechwriter a standing ovation.

It was only over the next several days that we began to suspect that the theme wasn't working.

Posted by at October 27, 2012 7:55 AM

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