It was Matt Latimer’s childhood dream to be a White House speechwriter. Growing up in Flint, MI, the sole Republican in a Democratic household, he channeled politics from a young age the way some kids play sports or video games, chasing after his Republican heroes for autographs at conventions like they were movie stars. Latimer would eventually get his chance at his dream job, but would walk away after seeing what really went on behind closed White House doors during the death throes of George W. Bush’s presidency. His story is chronicled hilariously and poignantly in his memoir Speech-Less.
Latimer spares no one his incise observations and insider details. On his first boss, Senator Spence Abraham: “….my entire job in the Senate was to abet a series of deliberate frauds. We were reading letters the senator never read, writing responses he apparently didn’t review, and now even signing his name.”
While working for Congressman Nick Smith: “Nick claimed his mother needed an operation. The family had to decide whether to spend money for the operation or use it to pay expenses on the farm and buy land. They voted, and the farm won. Nick shook his head. “It’s not as bad as it sounds,” he said. “She got a vote, too.””
After a run-in with his one-time Republican idol, Kay Bailey Hutchison: “Many people repeated the claim that she once slapped a staffer back in Texas. In Kyl’s office, we hired a former KBH purse boy to work for us…..whenever her name was mentioned, he seemed to shake a little.”
On President Bush: “When Ed Gillespie once asked Bush if he wanted cameras to follow him around to chronicle his last 100 days in office, the president shook his head. With a slight smile on his face, he said, “If I had a camera following me around all day, I’d look like a total a$$hole.”
On Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson: “Secretary Paulson wanted to pay more than the securities were likely worth to put more money into the markets as soon as possible. This was not how the president’s proposal had been advertised to the public or the Congress. The real problem wasn’t that the president didn’t understand what his administration wanted to do. It was that the treasury secretary didn’t seem to know, changed his mind, had misled the president, or some combination of the three.”
On presidential candidate John McCain: “To me, praising McCain was basically slapping Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley in the face. One thing I absolutely refused to do was to type the words “President John McCain” into any speech draft. I could type “president”. I could type “John”. I could type “McCain”. But never would those words appear together.”
Quoting President Bush’s thoughts on Joe Biden: “”If bullshit was currency”, he said, straight faced, “Joe Biden would be a billionaire.””
….and on Sarah Palin: “”What is she, the governor of Guam?”” and “”You know, just wait a few days until the bloom is off that rose,” he said. Then he made a very smart assessment. “This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.””
This book is a can’t-miss, irreverent and thought-provoking insider’s look at Washingtonian life at its best and worst, and an idealist’s collision with the disillusioning realities of politics and his party. I felt that the last portion of the book dragged a bit compared to the rest, but overall enjoyed it, laughing out loud at several parts. Here is a hilarious clip of Latimer on Stephen Colbert’s show The Colbert Report; it’s of course very funny too. Don’t miss the book.