BOSTON – Call in the speechwriters to carry the load? No way. Tap on a keyboard? That won't do. Dictate? Don't mention it.
The only way to write the speech of your life, it seems, is to do it yourself.
On a legal pad.
John Kerry's (search) aides said his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention (search) on Thursday night was written in his own hand, over several weeks, on a legal pad. They said he cut and pasted, apparently meaning literally.
Presidential candidates and presidents themselves like people to know they are savvy about technology. But all those communication whizbangs are set aside, as they tell it, when the time comes for an important address — an inaugural speech, a State of the Union speech, or a speech trying to escape a very big jam.
Invariably, it is said that the speaker worked on the speech until the last minute. The professional speechwriters may be credited with fine-tuning.
But it's basically man and pad, they say.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, author of "Packaging the Presidency," thinks there is a bit of hokum in the history of the politicians' legal pad.
"I suspect that the candidates outlined key ideas that were then handed to ghosts who translated the ideas into memorable or not so memorable phrases," she said.
Among presidents, Richard Nixon was known for his devotion to the legal pad. In fact, his writings, including a draft of his "Silent Majority" speech, were the subject of an exhibit a few years ago, "Nixon in His Own Hand."
The legal pad was the medium of choice for President Clinton's August 1998 speech to the nation admitting an improper relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky. He wrote a first draft and turned it over to his lawyer, then a speechwriter, then political aides, who persuaded him to tone down attacks on prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
President Reagan spent two days with a yellow legal pad working on his August 1987 Oval Office speech on the Iran-Contra affair that was dogging his presidency. But the heavy lifting was by outside speechwriter Landon Parvin.