Hillary Clinton’s speeches don’t work. Obama’s former speechwriter explains why.


Jon Favreau wasn’t a fan of “Trumped-up trickle-down.”

Barack Obama’s unlikely rise to the presidency can be traced back to a single speech — the one he gave in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention, which announced him as a contender to a national audience.

It’s hard to pin down a similarly memorable speech that shaped the campaign of the Democrat who hopes to succeed him, Hillary Clinton. Just ask former Obama wunderkind-speechwriter Jon Favreau.

“Having seen her now for a year and watched her very closely, there are times when I think she’s very effective, and those times are when she’s telling stories,” Favreau said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “When she doesn’t put a lot of spin on the ball and try to use the snappy lines — speaks directly to people — she’s much better.”

“I think [her campaign] would love it if she did that all the time,” Favreau added. “But once you get going on a campaign, and it’s every single day and all you’re doing is just, ‘What’s the topper on the stump for tomorrow?’ — there’s a million other things you have to think about on a campaign.”

Favreau first came to work for Obama when both were young up-and-comers: They first teamed up 2005, when Obama was Illinois’ newly-minted junior senator,; later Favreau served as his chief speechwriter from 2009 to 2013. Since leaving the White House, he has continued to advise White House staffers on Obama speeches for events like this year’s Democratic National Convention, and he has offered his support to the Clinton campaign.

He said the president was an unusual candidate, who broke long-established rules about political speechwriting.

“The running theory is that speeches are a collection of applause lines and quotable lines for the press,” Favreau said. “Get your soundbite, get your applause line at a rally. A lot of the language he wanted to use was just very different; it sounded more conversational.”

By contrast, Clinton’s big line from the first presidential debate — “Trumped-up trickle-down” — fell flat because her campaign didn’t have a gatekeeper policing her political tone, Favreau said.

“If I had been there, I’d say, ‘Let’s not go with that one, guys,’” he said.

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