David Kusnet

David Kusnet was President Bill Clinton's chief speechwriter from 1992 through 1994 and was a speechwriter for Democratic presidential nominees Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. He is the senior writer at the Podesta Group, a government-relations and public-relations firm.

Recent Articles

Be Like Bill

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa) President Bill Clinton and Bob Dole prepare for opening remarks at their first presidential debate in Hartford, Connecticut on October 6, 1996. W hen President Obama and Mitt Romney stride onto the stage at the University of Denver tonight, there will be a dramatic contrast between the former law school professor and the former private-equity executive. Whichever candidate is best prepared to play the hero in this drama will win tonight and, most likely, on Election Night. Whoever merely memorizes zingers or crams for a quiz show may as well start drafting a concession speech. Debate-prep is stagecraft. Bill Clinton understood this, and as a campaign speechwriter, I saw him perform masterfully. Of the other two nominees I worked for, Michael Dukakis prepared for policy seminars—not debates—with predictable results, while Walter Mondale rehearsed, stealthily but skillfully, for the one memorable moment when he upstaged the Gipper. While devouring the briefing...

Talking American

Now that Democrats desperately want a presidential candidate who speaks passionately, speaks to the point, and speaks like a normal person and not a politician, one contender answers their prayers. Too bad his target is his own party. Former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.) begins his speeches by asking, "What I want to know is why the Democratic leadership supported the president's unilateral attack on Iraq?" Continuing his "What I want to know" litany, Dean demands, "Why are the Democratic leaders supporting tax cuts?" and why are congressional Democrats "voting with the president 85 percent of the time"? Now, if only Dean -- or one of the eight other contenders -- had a speech that makes the case against George W. Bush as effectively as he bashes his fellow Democrats. Dean's emergence from Democratic dark horse to top-tier presidential contender shows the importance of a good stump speech -- the basic remarks where candidates explain who they are, what they believe and what they would do...

Family Style

In his new book, In Praise of Nepotism , Adam Bellow, an executive editor at Doubleday and the son of novelist Saul Bellow, argues that there's good reason to hire the sons and daughters of distinguished people: They know the family business, they have a legacy to live up to and the ease of their ascent should encourage "a certain humility." He might have added that their family heirlooms can include certain sentences. Consider the ubiquitous William Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and son of the neoconservatives' founding father, Irving Kristol. In an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post , Kristol attacks presidential hopeful Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) for delivering a speech criticizing President Bush for, among other things, withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Kyoto Protocol, failing to ask allies to assist with postwar peacekeeping in Iraq and making a misleading State of the Union claim about Iraqi uranium purchases. Seizing on Gephardt...

Seriously Now

Howard Dean has been well-served by the rusty ritual of presidential contenders pausing from their campaign travels to go home and formally declare their candidacies. Subtly but effectively, in yesterday's "announcement speech," Dean recast his candidacy from a protest campaign targeting his fellow Democrats at least as much as President Bush to a populist movement "to take our country back." For Dean, it's his third political incarnation. During 10 years as governor of Vermont, Dean was seen as a centrist, frequently balancing the budget at the expense of social services. When Washington-based Democrats mostly declined to debate military action against Iraq, Dean emerged as the first vehemently anti-war contender. Buoyed and, perhaps, bemused by the response he received from Democrats eager to hear someone bashing Bush, Dean presented himself as the outspoken outsider on other issues as well, claiming to be the only Democratic candidate principled and practical enough to oppose Bush'...

First Blood

When the Democratic presidential contenders face off in their first nationally televised debate Saturday night in South Carolina, look for the peace primary to end and the populist primary to begin. The peace primary's winner was Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). A decorated Vietnam veteran, he enjoys instant credibility on national security and has the potential to counterpunch any Republican foolish enough to question his patriotism. The runner-up in the run-up to the real race for the nomination was former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), whose opposition to the war clinched his claim to be the Democrats' truth teller and crowd pleaser. Starting Saturday, the multimillionaire-by-marriage Kerry and the stockbroker's son Dean will be joined on center stage by candidates such as Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), as they compete to see who can talk more credibly about jobs, paychecks, pensions and health care. Gephardt and Edwards -- as well as marginal contenders Rep...

Pages