President Barack Obama’s speechwriter offers his take on an extraordinary tenure inside the White House.
There’s an interesting subcategory of memoirs emerging from the Obama years. Unlike the heavy hitters from the Cabinet, we’re hearing from the young professionals who propelled the senator to power and bore witness to his legacy. They also happen to be some of the funniest workplace comedies on the shelves. In a memoir following closely on the heels of former Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco’s book, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? (2017), Litt, one of the youngest speechwriters in the history of the White House, delivers a fast, funny ride through the halls of power. Haunted by the specter of Sarah Palin (“So, how’s that whole hopey, changey thing workin’ out for ya?”), the author offers a stark contrast in leadership between then and now. Working first for senior adviser Valerie Jarrett before becoming senior presidential speechwriter, Litt admits his impressions were colored by The West Wing: “Like every Democrat under the age of thirty-five, I was raised, in part, by Aaron Sorkin.” He reveals what it’s like to write four White House Correspondents’ Association dinner speeches for the president, and he chronicles some strange encounters with the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Weinstein, and the comedy duo Key & Peele. But for every White House men’s room anecdote or gee-whiz moment (“Air Force One is exactly as cool as you would expect”), Litt offers piercing assessments of the nature of our politics. “Gridlock is an accident, an inconvenience,” he writes. “What happened on Capitol Hill was a strategy, and its architect was Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell.” His final thoughts, written as the next administration begins its reign, are telling: “But here, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the single most valuable lesson I learned in public service: There are no grown-ups, at least not in the way I imagined as a kid.”
President Obama’s running question to Litt was, “so, are we funny?” Yes, they are—and insightful, too.