Read Bush’s Lips, Then Credit His Young Speech Writer
It is a singular twist to his political life that George Bush, the East Coast aristocrat and Texas oilman whose inner circle teems with older and upper-crust men, found his voice in the words of a working-class daughter, a woman little more than half his age.
When he sought to herald his campaign for the presidency, to break from the shadow of vice presidential anonymity, George Bush turned to Peggy Noonan. When his campaign reeled in New Hampshire, its keel shattered by a dismal showing in Iowa’s caucuses, Bush turned to Noonan. When Democrats were sizing themselves up for White House jobs and he reached the Republican convention a distant second in the presidential preference polls, Bush turned again to Noonan.
And, today, when George Bush utters what is likely to be his most-remembered address, the newly inaugurated President will speak the words of Peggy Noonan, whose speeches have marked Bush’s most eloquent moments in his march to the White House.
Noonan--a former television news writer, later a Reagan Administration speech writer, an upbeat and moving lyricist--was credited during Bush’s campaign with drawing a heartening intensity from the often-awkward Bush, making it sound as though he had dredged from his soul some long-sought truth about himself and voiced it in his own words.
Fifteen months ago in Houston, as Bush announced his presidential campaign in a grand hotel, he spoke through her of his yearning for a better America.
“I want a prosperity that we can rely on; I want a prosperity that stays, that broadens, that deepens and that touches, finally, all Americans--from the hollows of Kentucky to the sunlit streets of Denver, from the suburbs of Chicago to the coldest caverns of New York, from the farms of Iowa to the oil fields of Oklahoma and Texas.”
In the basement of Feaster’s Apartments in Portsmouth, N. H., late one Thursday afternoon four months later, with his spirit wounded by a stunning defeat in Iowa, Bush spoke through her of his yearning to serve.
“Here I stand, warts and all,” he said. “I guess I have a tendency to avoid going on with great, eloquent statements of beliefs. Some are better at that than I am . . . . I don’t always articulate, but I do feel. And I care too much to leave now. Our work isn’t done, and I’m working my heart out here.”
And, in the cavernous Louisiana Superdome last August, his chances for the presidency riding on this one opportunity to define himself for America, he spoke through her of his yearning for the future.
“We’re a nation of community, of thousands and tens of thousands of ethnic, religious, social, business, labor union, neighborhood, regional and other organizations, all of them varied, voluntary and unique . . . a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky . . . .
“I will keep America moving forward, always forward--for a better America, for an endless, enduring dream and a thousand points of light.”
Politician-speech writer teams develop over a span of years--John F. Kennedy and Theodore C. Sorensen, for example--but the 64-year-old Bush and Noonan are relatively new partners.
Noonan, in her late 30s, worked for CBS News for seven years before being lured away in 1984 by the chance to write speeches for Ronald Reagan. By then, she had departed from the philosophy of her Democratic family’s political heroes--Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt--to devote herself to conservative teachings.
Until she left the White House speech-writing office two years later, she wrote many of Reagan’s most stirring speeches, from his 1984 Normandy tribute to “the boys of Pointe du Hoc . . . the heroes who helped end a war” to his emotional 1986 statement on the night the Challenger exploded in the Florida skies.
She has remained an occasional Reagan writer, contributing to his farewell address to the nation, which was broadcast last week.
Aides say that Bush, despite his fondness for Noonan’s speeches, does not shy from editing her. Earlier this week, in fact, Bush spokesman Sheila Tate said that a first draft of the inaugural address had been turned back to Noonan after the President-elect found it too long.
Noonan was closeted with the address, and transition officials refused to forward calls to her. But, in 1985, in an article in the Washington Post, she said with a twist of humor that she began writing when she determined that there was nothing else she could do.
“Writing is easy when it’s inspired by love and real affection,” she added.
Her first speech for Bush was the October, 1987, announcement of his candidacy. Aides describe the relationship between Bush and Noonan as loose and mutually respectful, carried out as much via facsimile machines as in person.
Noonan, who is married to U.S. Chamber of Commerce economist Richard Rahn, works largely out of her home here so that she can be near her toddler son.
During the crisis points of the campaign, however, Noonan joined the traveling Bush entourage, moving with him to New Hampshire after his defeat in Iowa to craft a newly introspective speech and, this summer, shadowing him for days to gauge his thinking on the convention address.
As Bush spoke in July in a drenching rain on a beach in Point Pleasant, N. J., Noonan stood near him, blond hair slightly bedraggled and a smile on her face, taking his measure.
In writing for the Los Angeles Times Opinion Section about that time, Noonan predicted Bush’s victory but spoke bluntly about his failings. “The odd thing about Bush is he’s been famous for 20 years and the American people don’t really know him,” she said in an article that paid tribute to, more than anything, Bush’s wry humanness.
Although her stock in trade is soaring prose, Noonan is not without a harsh rhetorical side: In New Hampshire, she crafted a harsh speech against then-competitor Bob Dole that, along with a massive barrage of advertising, helped to coalesce anti-Dole sentiment in that conservative state.