Terry Eastland reviews Barton Swaim's The Speechwriter for the Wall Street Journal:
Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, was once known for his stalwart opposition to the 2009 federal stimulus package—a position that made him, for a time, a rising star in the Republican Party and, some said, a potential presidential candidate. He is now known for having dashed such high hopes with a bizarre episode of marital infidelity. Barton Swaim had a front-row seat at Mr. Sanford’s rise and fall, serving in his employ for most of the governor’s second term, from 2007 to 2010. “The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics” is a wry and eloquent memoir of those years, offering an inside look at the life of a political wordsmith and, along the way, a portrait of a politician who was his own worst enemy.
Mr. Swaim ended up as a speechwriter by default. Having earned a doctorate in English from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, he returned home to South Carolina but found nothing better than a job in a library where his chief duty “was to attach call number stickers to the spines of books.” He started contributing to the (London) Times Literary Supplement and other outlets but knew that he couldn’t support his growing family as a freelancer. He wondered whether he might trade on his “moderate success” as a writer and get a full-time job “where you turn out copy for somebody else.”
One morning Mr. Swaim saw a newspaper op-ed on the state budget that the governor had written. He began reading the piece but stopped after two ugly sentences, resolving to send the governor his résumé and a cover letter. He recalls writing: “I don’t know that much about state politics, but I know how to write, and you need a writer.” He got the job.
His first speech—to a state military brigade—wowed Mr. Sanford, who told him that it was “fantastic.” Feeling a “surge of self-satisfaction,” Mr. Swaim imagined a future in which he was writing for the president of the United States and was “revered for my skills as a fashioner of words.” But his next assignment, an op-ed on the recently concluded legislative session, brought him down to earth.
Whole thing here.