There’s an old joke from hell in which a speechwriter arrives to find a room of writers miserably typing on computers while facing a deadline. He begs to go to heaven instead. When he does, the scene is identical. “It’s the same thing,” he remarks. “Not at all”, replies Saint Peter. “Here we use the stuff.”
Jeff Nussbaum, President Biden’s senior speechwriter, surely knows this struggle. His new book, “Undelivered: The Never Heard Speeches That Would Have Rewrite History,” which focuses on the most memorable undelivered speeches in history, is a love letter to all speechwriters and public figures who have toiled over addresses that never saw the light of day – at least, until now. Here are 4 of the most memorable speeches cited in the book:
Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington
Martin Luther King Jr. may be best remembered for movingly declaring “I have a dream” during the March on Washington in 1963. In this iconic speech, he conveyed a message of hope by saying “I have a dream that my four grandchildren will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
But the original tenor of the speech, titled “Normalcy No More,” was very different. In the version that was never used, MLK said:
“I recently read a newspaper editorial that speculated about when the leaders of this civil rights movement would be ‘satisfied’ so that America can get back to normal. . . we don’t want to get back to normal. It’s the normalcy that keeps the filibuster alive – this legislative incinerator in which all smoldering hopes of racial justice have been turned to ashes It’s the normalcy that has been the betrayal of everything we mean when we recite the oath of allegiance… Every inspired genius who has given something to the world; every people who have struck for freedom have rejected the normal and embraced the abnormal.
Eisenhower on D-Day
Eisenhower’s speech to the troops about to embark on the D-Day invasion in 1944 was a reassuring testament to his confidence. In it, he exclaimed, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world march together towards Victory! I have full confidence in your courage, your devotion to duty and your skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
He got it. But this speech belied his worries. Prior to the invasion, he also wrote a speech apologizing for his failure, in which he asserted:
“My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. Troops, air and navy did all bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any rebuke or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.
This speech was the one he luckily got rid of after the victory.
Nixon’s speech on refusing to resign
In 1973, following the Watergate scandal, Nixon chose to resign, largely to avoid an inevitable impeachment. He said that in doing so he hoped “to have accelerated the beginning of this healing process that America so desperately needs.”
But he had another speech ready if he chose not to resign. He said he refused to leave office because “it would leave a permanent crack in our constitutional structure: it would establish the principle that under pressure a president could be removed from office by means other than those provided by the Constitution. By establishing this principle, it would invite such pressure on every future president who might, for whatever reason, fall into a period of unpopularity.
Hillary Clinton victory speech
As the 2016 election approached, polls placed Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning between 70% and 99%. His team was hard at work on a victory speech that would never happen. In the planned speech, she addressed her mother, who was kicked out of her family on a train aged 8 to live with her emotionally abusive grandmother. Clinton said:
“I think of my mother every day. Sometimes I think of her on that train. I wish I could walk down the aisle and find the little wooden seats where she was sitting, clutching her even younger sister, alone, terrified. . . I dream of approaching her, sitting next to her, taking her in my arms and telling her look at me, listen to me. You will survive. You will have a good family of your own and three children. And as difficult as it may seem, your daughter will grow up to be President of the United States.