Cover image for The speechwriter : a brief education in politics
The speechwriter : a brief education in politics
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2015.


Physical Description:
ix, 204 pages ; 22 cm
The dumps -- The writer -- Language -- My list -- Letters -- The art of saying no -- Talking points -- Press conferences -- Verbiage -- Stimulus -- Tea Party -- Fall -- Impeachment -- Larger notion.
"An intimate and hilarious look inside the spin room of the modern politician: a place where ideals are crushed, English is mangled, people are humiliated, and the opportunity for humor is everywhere,"--Novelist.

From 2007 to 2010 Swaim worked for Mark Sanford, South Carolina's governor, as a communications officer and speechwriter. Everyone knows this kind of politician: a charismatic maverick who goes up against the system and its ways, but thinks he doesn't have to live by the rules. Swaim tells the story of a band of believers who attach themselves to this sort of ambitious narcissist-- and what happens when it all comes crashing down.


Material Type
Shelf Number
Item Notes
Book 975.7044 SWAIM 1 .SOURCE. BT 8-13-15

On Order



An intimate and hilarious look inside the spin room of the modern politician: a place where ideals are crushed, English is mangled, people are humiliated, and the opportunity for humor is everywhere.

Everyone knows this kind of politician: a charismatic maverick who goes up against the system and its ways, but thinks he doesn't have to live by the rules. Through his own experience as the speechwriter for a controversial governor, Barton Swaim tells the story of a band of believers who attach themselves to this sort of ambitious narcissist--and what happens when it all comes crashing down.

The Speechwriter is a funny and candid introduction to the world of politics, where press statements are purposefully nonsensical, grammatical errors are intentional, and better copy means more words. Swaim paints a portrait of a man so principled he'd rather sweat than use state money to pay for air conditioning, so oblivious he'd wear the same stained shirt for two weeks, so egotistical he'd belittle his staffers to make himself feel better, and so self-absorbed he never once apologized to his staff for making his administration the laughing stock of the country. On the surface, this is the story of one politician's rise and fall. But in the end, it's a story about us--the very real people who want to believe in our leaders and must learn to survive with broken hearts.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Swaim recounts numerous anecdotes from a three-year stint as a speech writer for former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Much of the book is an entertaining inside look at state politics and how the wheels of executive office grind. Many of the stories relate the thankless dedication of the staff in contrast with the ego-enlarged antics of politicians. Reader Yen solidly projects with his deep and commanding voice, which maintains the listener's attention. He moves through the narration at a steady pace, only becoming more deliberate when it fits within a given anecdote. Unfortunately, Yen fails to capture the light and humorous tone Swaim takes when relaying the ridiculousness of his work. As a result Yen's attitude in the narration comes across as self-righteous, making Swaim seem just as petty as his boss. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A former speechwriter for an ex-South Carolina governor offers a glimpse into what it really meant to be a "fashioner of words" for a self-obsessed politician who fell from grace. When Swaim went to work as Mark Sanford's speechwriter, he was a nave English doctorate with romantic notions of what his job would entail. He believed that his position would not only provide him with all the "gratification of being a writer," but also give him "political power, or at least a veneer of it." Within just a few weeks, though, the author went from feeling that he was indispensable to realizing that he was working for a hypercontrolling narcissist with a tin ear for language. Swaim transcribed Sanford's often inarticulate letters to learn the governor's syntax and the "ungainly phrases" that characterized it. In between Sanford's half-comic, half-terrifying "bouts of rage," Swaim also learned that in the political world, what mattered more than clarity and grammatical precision was the ability to sound "consequential" to both constituents and the media. The author soon became just another bureaucrat with no special investment in either the success of Sanford's administration or in his political ambitions, which at one point included the presidency. Only when the governor admitted to both an affair with an Argentine woman and to using state funds to visit her did Swaim realize just how much he had invested in his job. With melancholy bitterness, he writes, "everything we'd worked for was discredited." The author briefly and incompletely sketches out the story of the colorful Sanford and his political fall. The narrative is strongest in its quiet reflection of the end of Swaim's political innocence. As he came to realize, democracywith its promise of liberty and justice for allis ultimately based on rhetorical manipulation of the masses. Candid but not especially compelling. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

The subtitle alludes to the author's three years (2007-10) as a speechwriter and communications officer for South Carolina's controversial Governor Mark Sanford. Although Swaim's education was brief, it was memorable, leaving him embittered about Sanford and politicians in general. The governor was popular with voters, having been reelected in a landslide victory, but his staff and most of the state legislators loathed him. Swaim shares stories that will leave readers shaking their heads about Sanford's bullying and arrogance. Some of these tales are funny, but the humor is more gallows than knee-slapping. To his credit, Swaim lauds his former boss for being able to relate to his constituents, and for his principled stand against President Barack Obama's stimulus package. Sanford's second term ended under threats of impeachment for his extramarital affair, which became a national media event and a disgrace for the governor and staffers such as Swaim who believed in him. Currently, Sanford represents South Carolina in the House of Representatives and Swaim is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard. VERDICT The brisk narrative will grip readers who enjoy insider accounts and offers an unvarnished view of pressure-cooker politics. See Horace Busby's The Thirty-First of March and William F. Gavin's Speechwright for fascinating takes on presidential speechwriters.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Speechwriter 1 THE DUMPS About twenty of us sat in the conference room waiting for the boss to walk in. The room was warm and smelled faintly of sweat. A pair of law clerks quietly debated the correct pronunciation of "debacle." At last Paul asked what the meeting was about. "I think," June said, "the governor wants to apologize to the staff." She said it with a wry look, but nobody laughed. Stewart looked up from a magazine. "He already did that," he snapped. "He apologized to his mistress, and to his family--." "In that order," Paul said. Nervous laughter made its way around the room. "I don't think we can handle another apology," Stewart went on, throwing down the magazine. "Because let me tell you, I know what an apology from this governor sounds like, and it ain't really an apology. It's more like--." He paused. Someone said, "More like what?" "I'll just put it this way. His apologies tend to have an unapologetic tone." Another minute passed, and then the governor walked in. All went silent. He sat in the only remaining chair and made jokes with one of the interns. A week before, he had been openly talked about by influential commentators in New York and Washington as a presidential candidate. In national media reports, his name had been routinely used in conjunction with the terms "principled stand," "courageous," "crazy," "unbalanced," and "interesting." The party's biggest donors had begun to call him and to pay him visits. Now he was the punch line to a thousand jokes; letters demanding his resignation appeared in newspapers; the word "impeachment" circulated through the capital like rumors of an assassination plot. "How are y'all?" he said. "Wait--don't answer that." More nervous laughter. "Aahh." That was his preface to saying anything significant. "Aahh. But that's why I called you in here. I just wanted to say the obvious, which is the obvious." Paul gave me a look of incomprehension. "I mean, the obvious--which is that I caused the storm we're now in. And that's made everything a little more difficult for everybody in here, and for that I want to say the obvious, which is that I apologize. But you know"--he rose up in his seat to an upright posture--"you know, I was telling one of the boys"--the governor had four sons--"this morning. We were up early and I was saying, 'Look, the sun came up today.' It's a beautiful thing to see. And it's a beautiful thing regardless of the storms of life. Of which this is one." People shifted in their seats and glanced at each other questioningly. "As it happens," the governor went on, "and before this storm started, I'd been reading Viktor Frankl's book about being in a concentration camp. And it's just incredible to me how you can find beauty, you can find reasons to keep going, in the most appalling circumstances. And I just wanted to say to everybody, keep your head up. Keep pushing forward. And let's not be in the dumps here. The sun came up today. Aahh. We're not in a concentration camp. So let's not stay in the dumps. We can't make much progress on the important things if we're in the dumps. So if you're in the dumps, get out. I mean, of the dumps. Get out of the dumps." Nobody spoke. "Aahh. So, anybody want to say anything? Comments? Pearls of wisdom?" Still no one spoke. "Okay, well--." "Actually I'd like to say something." That was Stella. "Okay." "I just want to say--. Actually maybe I shouldn't." "No, it's okay," the governor smiled, "go ahead." "No, I think I won't." "You sure?" "Mm. Yeah." The governor walked out. Stewart looked around the room and said, "For those of you who are newer to the office, that was the governor's version of a pep talk. Do you feel pepped?" Later that afternoon I asked Stella what she'd been intending to say. She had often told me that she didn't like her job--her husband wanted her to keep it for the income--and had often tried to get herself fired. I thought this might have been one of those times. She narrowed her eyes and pointed at me. "You know what I was about to say? You really want to know? I was going to say, 'You know what, governor--maybe what you say is true. Maybe we should be thankful that we're not in a concentration camp.'" You could hear a slight tremor in her voice. "'And maybe we take the sun rising for granted, and we shouldn't. But you're not really the one who should tell us that right now. And if you do say anything, it should be more like Sorry I flushed all your work down the toilet, people. Sorry I made you all a joke. Sorry about your next job interview, the one where you're going to be brought in as a curiosity and then laughed at.'" "Stella, I wish you had said that." She had tears in her eyes. Excerpted from The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics by Barton Swaim All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.