BOSTON – In a windowless room beneath the podium, a team of speechwriters is imposing John Kerry’s will on the words of the other speakers at the Democratic National Convention. Their orders: Go easy on the Bush bashing.
Each speech is read and re-read, edited and rehearsed as part of a tightly controlled process designed to impress independent voters who are tired of negative politics. Mindful of polls showing voters say they need more information about Kerry, the team also is ensuring that speeches are laced with the candidate’s biography and policies.
Campaign spokeswoman Debra DeShong said speakers are getting direction from the Kerry team “because we do have a very clear message that John Kerry and John Edwards will make us stronger at home and respected in the world. Our speech process is helping people get comfortable with that message.”
For most speakers, the process began when they received a memo titled “Procedures for Convention Speakers” from Jack Corrigan, Kerry’s convention point man. It offered the services of speechwriters and coaches, as well as personal assistants to help speakers navigate security, deadlines and other minutia.
First drafts were due a week before the convention, Corrigan wrote, warning that “suggestions” might be made “to help highlight the campaign’s themes for the convention. Please understand that this system is not intended to ‘take control’ of your speech; rather, it helps ensure that each speaker makes the best possible speech and avoids embarrassing repetitions.”
In case they didn’t get the message, the speechwriting team offered this guidance:
Keep it short. Speakers assumed they had more than the typical three minutes to deliver their remarks. Several egos were bruised.
Stick to the message. Each night of the convention has a theme, such as plans for America’s future today.
Keep it positive. Criticism of Bush is allowed, but only as a subtle or indirect dig.
Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe checks the podium at Boston’s Fleet Center on Sunday. The Kerry campaign is carefully overseeing the remarks speakers will make from the podium.