In light of the upcoming 2016 presidential election, The Phillipian conducted an interview with Daniel B. Schwerin ’00, Director of Speechwriting for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Schwerin shared a wide variety of anecdotes, ranging from his experience as Editor in Chief of The Phillipian, to his involvement and perspective surrounding the Clinton campaign.
What is it like to work in politics now, and how do you tie that back to your time at Andover?
I’ll tell you that one of my first experience in politics was [when] I was class of 2000, and we covered George W Bush’s run for president because he was an alum. Every week, we had a regular feature ‘Bush Watch.’ On the night of New Hampshire primary, so probably February of 2000, the two news editors and I borrowed a faculty advisor’s car and drove to Manchester and covered the primary night. We managed to get to see Bush, Gore, and Bradley.
I didn’t expect to go on to politics, [and I hadn’t] really thought of being a journalist or a lawyer, but I graduated from college during the 2004 presidential election, and I took a year off… I got an internship on the hill with Hillary Clinton, who was my home senator, because I lived in upstate New York.
I went to Virginia and worked for a little-known governor named Tim Kaine… Then Hillary’s office told me “You were a good intern. We have an opening for Junior staffer would you like to come interview for it?” So I did, and they hired me. And that was late 2005, and I have never left, so I’ve been there for over ten years, which is very unusual in politics because most people move around a lot. But she kept giving me new opportunities, so it stayed interesting.
How does the media influence the way you write speeches for Secretary Clinton?
Twitter has really changed [speechwriting]. Now people are live-tweeting your speech [so] you have to both think about what’s a memorable line that is going to get tweeted. People have really developed a sense of knowing what sounds political, and they don’t like it. You have to write something that’s snappy and memorable enough to get tweeted and passed around, and posted on Facebook, but something that just doesn’t sound like politicians.
It’s tricky, and I think every speechwriter whose working now is watching Twitter as the speech is delivered, how people are receiving it in real time. Not that long ago, you wrote a speech and you’d tune in that night on the news or read in the next day in the paper — what did people think of it? But now I know, as it’s being delivered, which lines are working and which ones aren’t. And if I’ve gotten something right or I’ve gotten something wrong, I can tell right away.
Can you explain the process of speech writing? Do you write your speeches alone, and then show them to Secretary Clinton or is it more collaborative from the beginning?
It’s a great [and] very collaborative team. The candidate has been doing this for a long time and usually has a very clear sense of what she wants to say about something. We will go back and forth on drafts and she’ll send me back to the drawing board. She’ll say “I want more of this and less of that.” Occasionally, [Clinton’s] husband will call me up in the middle of the night… One of the things that I learned at The Phillipian [was] to be the kind of writer where you don’t feel too much pride of authorship. You’re always going to be edited.
One of the nice things about having been with the same person for more than a decade is that we know each other really well. I’ve gotten to know not just her voice, which I think is sort of an overrated concept in speech writing, but worldview is important — how your boss thinks about a problem, what’s going to interest her, what’s going to make her laugh, what’s going to make her angry or inspired, and how would she go about solving a problem. If you can figure those things out, then the words will come.
The first bit of writing of mine that Hillary ever read, and liked, was a write-up of the office softball game in the Senate. And it was like, after work, we’d play. And I wasn’t very good at softball, but I’d write up a funny report from the game, and we’d circulate it among the staff. And then she got her hands on it, and she was like, ‘Who wrote this? This is good!’ and I was just an assistant in the office. And no one ever asked me to do that. I just did it. And that’s the thing — you have to find every opportunity to just write and keep doing it.
Do you have any advice for any students hoping to go into a similar profession?
I would say that there’s no substitute for just getting involved. You can volunteer on a local campaign — they tend to be great. You can get a lot of responsibility fast. You can do internships, when you’re in college, with a congressman or a senator or a local representative. Smaller is sometimes better because you’re going to get to know the candidate or the elected official more directly and maybe have more responsibility, but bigger is good, too.