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Whether or not one supported Barack Obama’s election to the White House, one must concede that the President’s campaign speeches brilliantly portrayed a new vision for a tired country. Yet Obama did not write them. The man behind the curtain was 28-year-old Jon Favreau. Though not yet a household name, Favreau was the wordsmith behind the 2008 Obama campaign that changed the face of the American political landscape. Favreau’s words presented a simple message — “Yes, we can” — and that message carried Obama to victory. Through his writing, Favreau helped to shape the country’s thoughts and culture. He not only influenced the election, but also inspired people to have hope for a better future.
The man with the mighty pen had humble beginnings. Born in Massachusetts, Favreau began to excel during college, graduating as valedictorian from the College of the Holy Cross. His valedictory address mixed humor and poignancy. Though his tone was lighthearted, Favreau still left his audience with a serious message, writing that, “The employers are our communities, and while each position is already being filled by millions all over the world, there is a desperate need for more help. And here’s some of what we need: soccer coaches…, signature collectors, boo-boo fixers, grocers to the hungry, roofers to the homeless, and believers — especially believers. Will not these tasks constitute bold undertakings? Indeed, I’m sure they will. But I have faith that we will try them, and, God willing, we shall succeed.” Favreau called the students, teachers, and family members at Holy Cross to believe and get involved, even if it was through something as simple as coaching a Pee Wee soccer team. His words, though delivered on a much smaller stage, were reminiscent of the great orator John F. Kennedy’s call to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
While in office, President Kennedy used author Ted Sorensen as his “intellectual blood bank” and main speechwriter. Similarly, Obama found someone who could “read his mind” in Favreau, who was then just a few years out of college and working for John Kerry. While on the campaign trail, Obama realized that there were simply not enough hours in the day to both campaign and write. Though Obama, like Kennedy, was a best-selling author, Obama, like Kennedy, still needed help from a speechwriter. Obama and Favreau immediately clicked, forming a friendship around baseball and politics. But it was Favreau’s ability to channel Obama’s already pristine language into something sublime that made the difference in Obama’s campaign.
The finest example of Favreau’s work was heard not along the campaign trail, but rather at its end: Obama’s victory speech in Chicago was breathtaking. When Obama won the election, much of the country was in a state of euphoria, and Favreau’s task — crafting an oration for both the crowd at Grant Park and the millions of viewers across the world — was daunting. Obama’s victory speech, however, was not the first piece Favreau had ever written with such a celebratory tone: though the two speeches were written at different times for radically different purposes, the thoughts presented in Obama’s speech were largely reminiscent of those contained in Favreau’s own valedictory address. For Obama, Favreau wrote that America should “summon a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.” These ideas of working together as a community and looking after each other echo his May 2003 address. His words about believing, helping, and hoping are essentially the same whether spoken to a few people at the College of the Holy Cross or to the nation at large. Jon Favreau knows how to lead with the power of his pen. Though he was the man behind the curtain for much of the presidential campaign, he helped to change our country’s thinking and shape our culture by giving us what we needed most in a time of great change: hope.
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