We asked former Republican speechwriter Barton Swaim and Democratic speechwriter Jeffrey Nussbaum to write a totally pandering bipartisan stump speech for an imaginary presidential candidate — one who espouses only positions that a majority of voters agree with. Here’s the speech they wrote, including notes to explain their phrasing, behind-the-scenes tips on appealing to voters and the data they used to decide which positions to take.
Note to teleprompter operator: Delete reference to turnout if too many empty seats. Use discretion.
Thank you all for being here. Wow, what a turnout. This is just incredibly humbling. Thank you.
But I know why you’re here. You’re not here for a lot of political rhetoric. You didn’t show up to hear a lot of talk about how things could be different and better than what they are.
You’re here because you’re done with politics. You’re here because the promise of American democracy — the promise of opportunity for all — remains unfulfilled for too many.
You’re here because this is the most important election in our lifetime.
So let me start with something Ronald Reagan said in his State of the Union address in 1984.
“Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us … that in our time we did everything that could be done.”
And here are the words of Franklin Roosevelt, speaking at Oglethorpe University in 1932.
“It is common sense,” he said, “to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
Two icons of America’s rival political parties, one sentiment.
But that’s not true.
There’s more that unites us than divides us. And while elections focus on the divide, I want to focus on what we share. Because — yes — there’s sacred ground. But for each of us, I believe, there’s also common ground.
And that’s the ground we need to cultivate.
To fix what’s wrong, we have to be honest with ourselves — people are hurting out there. Jobs are tough to come by in some places, and incomes aren’t keeping pace with inflation. Paychecks aren’t rising, utility and tuition bills are strangling us, and a hundred dollars just doesn’t go very far at the grocery store anymore.
We’re not going to settle for this. Ours is the greatest economy in the world, and there’s a reason that people around the globe want to come here to achieve success and prosperity. But we have a lot more work to do.
Right now, at this crucial moment in American history, we have a chance to achieve unprecedented gains in economic growth.
Not by giving more power to the politicians.
Not by giving more breaks to multinational corporations.
But by unleashing the ingenuity and innovative spirit of ordinary Americans.
We’re not going to get our economy on track by punishing some to pay for everybody else, or by telling hardworking taxpayers that the American dream is no longer within reach.
That would be a lie. It’s very much within reach. All we need to do is make sure the rules apply to everyone and get the government out of the way.
On terrorism, we have to be willing to call Islamic terrorism what it is — just as we have to acknowledge that calling things by their real names doesn’t solve the problem by itself.
Our problem isn’t language. Our problem is strategy.
It’s neither wise strategy nor humane practice to single out the adherents of one religion simply because we can name them. We have to do more than get tough for the sake of being tough.
We need to be tough, yes, and we need to be aggressive. But above all we need to be shrewd.
Shrewdness means finding ways to hurt the terrorists without putting our men and women in uniform at more risk than we have to. It means ripping up terrorist networks without committing the U.S. military to long and unnecessary wars.
We need to start thinking seriously about taking out the Islamic State’s leaders and infrastructure with air strikes.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t begin a major overhaul of the federal government’s visa waiver program.
And yes, we have to stop people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from getting a gun. If there are problems with innocent people finding themselves on the watch list for no good reason, we can address that issue on its own — but surely we don’t have to let terrorists arm themselves in our own homeland.
On the international stage, the United States must take the lead in a world of competing powers. And while we must respect the framework of multilateral institutions, the U.S. must always take the moral initiative.
We cannot wait for a permission slip to do the right thing.
The world is a nasty place in many ways, and rogue dictators the world over will try to subvert and undermine multilateral institutions and agreements at every turn. But that is precisely why the United States must never turn its back on the United Nations or waver on our obligations to NATO. If we do that, other powers will quickly move into the vacuum and we will face global instability as a consequence.
We should welcome dialogue with Russia’s leaders. But Russia will not — I repeat, will not — dictate the terms.
We should engage with China, in concert with the international community. Clearly, the dispute over sovereignty in the South China Sea will need to be resolved by the next administration. But China should understand: The U.S. will not ignore raw aggression in international territory.
To meet our obligations around the world, to continue exercising leadership in defense of democratic values, the U.S. military must continue to be the greatest in the world. We cannot ask our men and women in uniform to defend freedom around the globe without giving them the tools to do the job.
So while the Defense Department must justify every line item of taxpayer money, we have to realize that a safe and stable world doesn’t come cheap.
As we express, defend and advance our values abroad, we also need to live them at home.
And that means making sure that we all have access to affordable health care.
It makes no sense that over the past few years, your deductible has risen seven times faster than your pay. Your premium has risen three times faster. And now we’re seeing premiums go up while the number of plans you can choose from goes down. That’s not how this is supposed to work.
It makes no sense that prescriptions routinely cost two or three times more in the U.S. than they do in the U.K. or other countries.
And it’s unconscionable that drug companies jack up prices just because they can. If a kid dies from a bee sting because her parents couldn’t afford an EpiPen, something has gone wrong in this country.
Something has gone wrong. And together we can set it right.
It’s no secret that health care is one of the most politically polarizing issues today.
But it’s also no secret that this is an issue that has touched every single one of our lives.
For better or worse, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Does it have real problems? Absolutely. But it has also given half of uninsured Americans a plan. Scrap it, and 20 million Americans lose their health insurance tomorrow. Scrap it, and those premiums, which are going up too fast already, will go up by another third, or even half. So let’s build on the law we have.
So let’s keep what works: the ban on discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions; the increased access to preventative and maternity care; the ability for young people to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26.
Let’s fix what’s broken.
Let’s tell the drug companies that they have an obligation to more than just their stock price, that they have an obligation to us.
Let’s get serious about prevention and attention to chronic diseases.
And let’s make sure that working Americans can actually access and afford the health care they deserve.
We agonize over health because we cherish life.
And that means we need to do more to protect our communities from gun violence.
Omar Mateen was investigated for terrorist ties. Nobody stopped him from getting multiple guns and killing 49 people in Orlando. Christopher Harper-Mercer never should have gotten his hands on 14 guns, but 9 people died at a community college in Oregon because he did. Aaron Alexis was treated twice for psychiatric issues and had a history of “misbehavior” in the Navy, but he was able to buy a shotgun and kill 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard. I could go on. And on. And on.
Now don’t misunderstand me. The government has no right to take anyone’s lawfully purchased guns away. Americans’ Second Amendment rights are sacred, and law-abiding citizens must not be hindered from protecting themselves with firearms.
But Omar Mateen and these others are nothing less than terrorists — and terrorists must be stopped from arming themselves.
One hundred thirty thousand people are shot in this country every year. Forty-eight children every day. Think about that: The equivalent of two classrooms full of children shot in this country, shot. Every day.
And this isn’t just our inner cities. Go to the Gun Violence Archive and take a look at their map. It’s small towns, shopping centers, office parks. White people and people of color.
And this costs all of us. Taxpayers pay over $200 billion every year because of gun-related crimes, deaths and injuries. That’s more than $600 per citizen. You are paying a gun tax because of our gun laws.
Let’s be clear — America is a gun-owning country and always has been. My dad taught me to hunt with a shotgun. Americans have a right to protect themselves, especially in dangerous places where, sadly, law enforcement isn’t succeeding in protecting them.
But we simply cannot sit by and allow dangerous criminals to arm themselves. We have to use common sense.
And another place where we need a heaping dose of common sense is immigration.
Look, we’ve been arguing in this country about our immigration system for decades, to the point that I’m beginning to think that people would rather argue about it than fix it. So let’s fix it. And let’s start with what we know — the vast, vast majority of immigrants to our country are honest, hardworking, and here for the same reason that our parents and grandparents came here — they want to build a better life for themselves and their families. They make our country stronger.
Now, there are some who say we should deport anyone who’s not here legally.
Fair point, sure. But how are you going to deport 11 million people? That would be like rounding up the populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia and shipping them all off. What are you going to do with the children of people who have come here illegally if the children aren’t citizens themselves? Would you remove them from the only country they’ve ever known? It’s inhuman and unworkable. So let’s bring them into the fold. And here’s how we do it: People who pass a criminal background check, pay back taxes and a fine, and commit to learning English should be given a way to become citizens. If they play by the rules, they can pay and stay and earn their citizenship.
There are some who say we should build a wall. But anyone who knows the border will tell you that’s not how you strengthen border security.
We can fix our immigration system and remain a strong, secure nation in the process.
The Kitchen Sink
Look, those are just a few of the places where we know we can make progress.
If you feel the same way on these issues, and I know the vast majority of Americans do, I need you to get out there and do your part. I need you to stay engaged.
We know we can make progress. But for us to do something, I need you to do something.
I need you to vote. I need you to get your friends and neighbors to vote.
I ask you to stand with me. Join me. And together we’ll build the country we know we can be.
Because remember: This election isn’t about Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or anyone else. It’s about where we’re headed as a nation, and I believe we’re headed toward economic freedom, self-governance, strength abroad and prosperity at home. Thank you, and may God bless America.