Survival in government is a challenge to the ingenuity of workers at all levels. Peggy Noonan, a speech writer for President Reagan, says in her What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (1990), that Reagan himself was not such an awesome person, but his wife, Nancy, terrified her. She did her best to hide when the First Lady came through her office area. Timothy Burnham also feels like a small fish swimming in a school of sharks, and he accidentally catches the attention of the President of the United States, who has the reputation of being even more formidable than his hatchet men. And yet this supremely powerful person is so dependent on the little people who write his speeches that he seems almost in a panic when he calls Burnham's office.
American Presidents during this century often give the impression of being peculiarly inarticulate. Franklin Roosevelt never quite believed that Winston Churchill wrote his own speeches. A presidential speech writer, although of minor importance politically, makes it possible for the Chief Executive to seem witty, profound, and sincere when he talks to his people. Burnham is in this position, but he is dismayed when the President takes a personal interest in him.
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