Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is Sam Coates David Cameron’s Jon Favreau?

........................Jon Favreau.................................................Sam Coates........................

When Barack Obama stepped up to the podium to deliver his inaugural address, there was one man who knew the speech better than the President: one man who had honed every word, rehearsed every inflection, composed a symphony of assonance with scrupulous attention to every consonant and vowel, every jot and tittle. He was unassuming and quite anonymous. But he was the author of one of the most important speeches in modern political history.

It was not quite the Sermon on the Mount, but it was fit for a latter-day messiah; suited to the time, perfect for the occasion, imparting at every turn the essence of the undeniably-gifted orator Barack Obama.

Jon Favreau is just 27 years old – one of the youngest chief speechwriters in the history of the White House. But his skills as a wordsmith belie his age. He has the advantage that his employer is blessed with the enviable gift of making the most prosaic political matter at least sound interesting. President Obama posseses such a voice of baritone melodies that one can easily be lost in the musical mists and distracted from the critical content. He is a truly postmodern political incarnation: it is not what he says which is important – for he says very little at all – but the sounds he makes have the capacity to hypnotise one into an ineffable ecstasy, point one to a noetic mystery, transcend the reality and lure one into a timeless passivity.

It is not that President Obama is a religious experience, but his chief speech-writer has to exist on that plane if the President is to persuade his people that he lives with bread like them, feels want, tastes grief, needs friend. For only an empathetic, caring, feeling, hurting politician can reach the parts that other politicians cannot reach.

Oratorical skill has always been an imperative in politics. Just as Socrates has outlasted a multitude of contemporaries whose names are long forgotten, so the Obamas, Clintons, Thatchers and Blairs will always eclipse the Bushes and Browns. The former make moments memorable; the latter make the memorable eminently forgettable.

But there is no point in being able to soar lyrically above the dirge of the masses if there is no inspirational rhetoric set down. Speech-writing is an art: it requires study, discipline and risk. It is a patient process of inculturation: understanding the narrative, indwelling the context and inhabiting the thoughts and feelings of the master. A speech-writer has to be a mind reader. He has not only to understand each occasion, political event, or seismic catastrophe; he has to grasp the intellectual length, breadth and depth of the political implications while simultaneously communicating every nuance of the necessary emotional and spiritual response.

David Cameron will inherit a godforsaken slough of despond, as people feel they are sinking without hope into an economic and social morass of unemployment, inflation, house repossession, wars and rumours of wars.

He needs to inspire trust, loyalty, unity, fortitude and patience. He needs to mentally motivate and emotionally move. He can talk forever of ‘responsibility’ or ‘accountability’, but the more technical his politics, the less he shall inspire. He needs to articulate themes which flick emotions, and keep them running like a leitmotif so that he becomes the incarnation of his word.

Like Jon Favreau, Sam Coates is young to be a speech-writer. But he is a man who pursues the heart of God and who is eminently capable of composing the high notes that rise up to the divine whilst never forgetting the dirge beneath. His apprenticeship was with ConservativeHome. Tim Montgomerie probably had no idea of what he had discovered.

It is now for Sam Coates to study David Cameron’s speech patterns and to exploit his innate musicality. He must become David Cameron’s emotional expert and spiritual stalker, for the Conservative leader has soul. And in this postmodern era of illogic and unreason, the sensing of a political soul is the cadence of electoral victory.

But it is not just the music which must captivate: Sam Coates must become David Cameron’s political spy: a strategist of diplomacy and a savant of cunning. It is one thing to study his master’s past; but he must be attuned to the present and prophetic of the future. He can read old speeches and pore over autobiographies, but he needs to feel and reflect on what makes his master tick; what is the heart of the man. For there is nothing more offensively obvious or frustratingly fraudulent than a political speech which has no ring of authenticity. When Gordon Brown talks of feeling our pain, although he very well might, there are few who believe it. When Barack Obama talks of such things, his words are a warm and compassionate embrace; he cries your tears and feels your fears. Of course, he may very well not, but that is of no consequence. The speech-writer’s task is done.

Speech-writing is collaborative, but if David Cameron is to move beyond the parochial, it will not be sufficient to shuttle his draft speeches between numerous policy experts, political advisors or wordsmiths. He must inject vision, for without it the people will perish. Sam Coates must forget the laptop and the Blackberry: all he needs is a pad and pencil in his pocket by day and on his bedside table by night, upon which he can note every sound of nature or light of insight which may become a crucial component of a speech.

Nothing can be more damaging to national unity as disunity within government. If the Conservative Party is to persuade the people that it is a credible government-in-waiting, there can be no discord within its plurality or distraction from the Conservative bond of unity.

Sam Coates’ task is to create the canvass for David Cameron’s themes. But he must be sensitive to the fact that people are impatient of broad brush strokes and generalisations. During the pain of this recession, there must be a focus on society and community, with acknowledgement of the commonalty of our pleasures and pains. People will feel understood by David Cameron in proportion to the extent to which Sam Coates can persuade people that he is made glad by their joys and grieves with their sorrows. The task is formidable.

But while the orator is awaiting the words, the author is waiting on God.

Therein lies the key to the next Conservative victory.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't doubt that David Cameron is a jolly nice chap but the idea that he and the rest of the Tory front bench can haul this country out of the abyss into which it is now sliding is risible. Industry is imploding, things are going to get very bad indeed. In the early '80s we knew what the problems were and what had to be done - the thinking that Thatcherism represented had a long prior gestation during the 1970s, voters in '79 knew what they were buying into and that there was no choice. Where we are now is grim and I don't see any sign that the Tories have any better ideas than Brown. Get an allotment is my advice.

25 February 2009 at 09:08  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

Words will come for David on a new wind crossing the sands of veiled landscapes. These are the words he should pay mind to. Mr Coates may have pressed the Tory buttons, but I have heard nothing sally forth which convinces me he is emotionally connected with the masses.

25 February 2009 at 09:37  
Blogger The Heresiarch said...

Churchill never needed a speechwriter, did he?

25 February 2009 at 10:27  
Blogger GM said...

A fascinating consideration of the power of words and thus the significant role of the speech writers. You are absolutely right that the great leaders mark themselves in the historical memory by their ability to articulate a vision or a sentiment that transcends the mere necessities of the present. Look at Peggy Noonan's impact on Reagan, or consider JFK's continuing historical reputation, resting surely more on the soaring nature of his words than the relatively ordinary - cuba aside - nature of his governance.

And, of course, we know our own place in the divine plan through the Word, and are rescued by the Word - not for nothing is God the Father and God the Son known simply as the Word in John's sublime introduction to his gospel.

The power of language is capable of much abuse, but oh so capable of genuine uplift and inspiration too. thanks for this excellent, thought-provoking post.

25 February 2009 at 11:00  
Anonymous Gnostic said...

He doesn't need any fancy speech writer to couch vague promises in flowery words. All I need to hear from him is four words. Yes, just four.


25 February 2009 at 12:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If your Grace wishes to listen to the Sirens I suggest he have himself bound to his pulpit. For myself I have plugged my ears with wax and have proceeded to row harder.

25 February 2009 at 16:55  
Anonymous Spike said...

Agree with most of the comments here your grace. Just one thing to add, get Obama away from the podium and prepared notes and he's much less impressive. Even lacking in sincerity.

Poor poor America.

25 February 2009 at 17:20  
Anonymous len said...

All the worlds a stage!

25 February 2009 at 18:42  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

Trouble is Len, I have spent my whole life sweeping it!

25 February 2009 at 19:19  
Blogger ZZMike said...

At the risk of being flippant, should we not have elected Mr Favreau and Mr Cameron (respectively)?

25 February 2009 at 20:26  
Anonymous Adrian P said...

If people would only vote for me, I will offer hope, and change and a new direction too.
Once in power I'd be just like all the rest, I mean I hadn't actually said anything specific had I, so It would be business as usuall.

PS Cameron is Pro EU.

26 February 2009 at 18:31  
Anonymous Mr Angry said...

Well unless Sam Coates starts to put some actually genuinely conservative words into Cameron's mouth then there will be nothing but disunity within the Conservative party and within any future Conservative government.

27 February 2009 at 01:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps, but I've heard he;s the only conservative in that office

27 February 2009 at 09:40  
Blogger jaybs said...

Just give Sam a fair chance, Jon Favreau is a very talented young guy I have known and since 2003, his work with John Kerry was a firm footing before joining President Obama and four years.

Both Jon and Sam are genuine young guys and have real talent in there field, I can assure you!

18 March 2009 at 08:12  

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