Want a job with good health insurance? Want to see your words—heavily edited, rigorously vetted, endlessly fretted over—mouthed by the Commander in Chief himself?
One: Get all Contrasty.
The antithesis—the not-this-but-that figure—is a speechwriter’s best friend. Obama’s Second Inaugural contains more contrasts than a zebra.
We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin… [but] our allegiance to an idea…
For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing…
The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people…
The commitments we make to each other…do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.
We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.
That last one, by the way, is a nice syncrisis, a kind of antithesis that piles on the contrasts in multiple clauses.
Two: Go on Lots and Lots of Metaphorical “Journeys”
Obama talks about America’s “never-ending journey” and uses that foot-sore, exhausted metaphor 12 times in his Second Inaugural. The word “journey” comprises 1.2% of the words in his entire speech. Want to be a White House speechwriter? Prepare for boatloads of journeys. Truckloads. Air Force One-loads.
Three: Repeat Words (Preferably “Journey”) Again and Again
Practice the anaphora, the figure that repeats the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or sentences. Go to the transcript of Obama’s speech and search for “our journey is not complete until”. Then search for “we the people.” And “Together.” See a pattern here? Repetition in speechwriting isn’t all about making nice rhythms. It’s about implanting an idea in the audience’s head. Like, we’re in this together. On our never-ending journey.
Now write yourself a speech, then another and another. Practice antithesizing. Then polish your resume. Figaro will watch your progress with interest. For we the people are on this journey together.