Spring 2023 Parikh Family Fellow
John P. McConnell served more than ten years on the White House staff, in two administrations. As a senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, he was part of the three-person team responsible for all of the 43rd President’s major addresses, including the speech to the Joint Session of Congress after September 11, 2001, and five State of the Union Messages.
John served through the entire Bush-Cheney administration, holding the unique position of both Deputy Assistant to the President and Assistant to the Vice President. In his career he has also worked as a speechwriter for Vice President Dan Quayle and 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole. He was a resident fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics in the John F. Kennedy School of Government and has taught speechwriting at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
A resident of Washington, D.C., John grew up in Bayfield, Wisconsin and is a graduate of Carleton College and Yale Law School. He is a trustee of Wayland Academy and chairs the selection committee for the annual Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency.
Study Group: Speechwriting for a Politician
Through “Speechwriting for a Politician,” students got an inside look at political speechwriting. They read and watched some of the classics, and learned from unsuccessful speeches. The sessions were organized according to speeches of different kinds (stump, convention, victory/concession, commencement, etc.). Through in-class exercises and discussions, we covered topics such as: the nuts-and-bolts of speechwriting; what works and why; common mistakes and how to avoid them; the importance of knowing your audience; the power of the sound bite; and how to be persuasive in tough circumstances.
Not everyone can become a great speechwriter, but this study group showed students that speechwriting is a tool that can be sharpened by watching, listening, reading, doing, and caring.
Spring 2023 Semester Recap
John McConnell said this about his experience at USC’s Center for the Political Future: “Serving as a Fellow at the Center for the Political Future gave me the chance to share with USC students the lessons I’ve learned in politics and how I learned them. There was always so much to look forward to at CPF – the Pizza & Politics gatherings, guest speakers, get-togethers with co-Fellows, and the weekly study group. The best part of my semester on campus was the students: their enthusiasm, engagement, and enjoyment of the study group made the fellowship one of the great experiences of my career.”
USC students in John’s study group shared this about their experience:
“My favorite part was learning from John McConnell, whose decades of doing this presented him with many challenges and events he had to learn to rise to (with obviously little notice) in the constant, 24 hour news cycle. It was great to hear his experiences from that period and how it molded him as a professional, speechwriter, and person.”
“My favorite part was John’s unique insight into the political world, as he worked for a variety of politicians. He showed us that speechwriting is more than words on a page, but a craft that requires an in-depth understanding of the political climate, intended audience, and desired outcome. I appreciated his amazing stories and the respect he showed to politicians on both sides of the aisle.”
“It was great learning from John’s wealth of experience, hearing from his past experiences, and getting a glimpse into his career at the White House. His case studies, videos, and examples all helped to shed light on his own speechwriting process and gave us a taste of what the speechwriting process ought to look like.”
“I gained appreciation for political speeches and how communication in politics helps craft messages and creates (or destroys) moments and candidates. John’s interesting stories about the Bush administration and being with fellow students who were as passionate about politics and speechwriting as I was helped make the experience worthwhile.”
“It was incredibly inspiring to hear about speechwriting and learn about the experiences that go into creating effective political speeches. My favorite part was the discussions we had and the connections we were able to foster with John and fellow students.”
“As John told us stories of working in the White House very closely to President George W. Bush, I found myself sitting at the edge of my chair, captivated by him and his passion. As John showed us some of his favorite speeches, I found myself absorbed in the visible excitement the speakers showed for the vision they had for this country. My passion for American politics visibly grew. This was truly one of the highlights of my semester and I am so thankful for John and this opportunity.”
“John’s expertise and guidance as a seasoned speechwriter and communications professional were invaluable in helping me develop my own voice and style. I learned how to identify and target specific audiences in order to effectively communicate a message. I also learned about the power of storytelling and how it can be used to create emotional connections with listeners.”
John shared his thoughts on the importance of politics, his first political experience, and his advice for having respectful political discourse in his “Quick Takes: Q&A with CPF Fellow John McConnell” video.