The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics
by Barton Swaim
Simon and Schuster, 2015. 204 pgs. Nonfiction
Barton Swaim worked for nearly four years as a speechwriter for former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (best-known for his disappearance several years ago when he claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail alone but was really in Argentina with his mistress). Swaim, with a doctorate in English, couldn't get a better job than sticking call numbers on the backs of books at the library (not that there's anything wrong with that), and was thrilled to get a slightly better paying job with the governor. He learned early on that it was not his responsibility to produce well-written talks, but to figure out what the governor wanted to say, as the governor would say it. Swaim got yelled at a lot for sometimes failing to do that, even though the governor could not articulate exactly how he wanted things written either. Governor Sanford was not a restful man to work with, but, refreshingly, Swaim's memoir is neither vindictive nor vengeful. He and his coworkers in the Communications Department of the statehouse do their level best to support their boss, but it is how they support each other that makes The Speechwriter such a funny, perceptive, and knowledgeable read about politics, in a season when politics weight heavily upon us.