Speech-Less : Tales of a White House Survivor

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 9/22/2009
  • Publisher: Crown

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From a top speechwriter to President George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, this may be the most deliciously candid memoir ever written about official Washington-a laugh-out-loud cri de coeur that shows what can happen to idealism in a town driven by self-interest. Despite being raised by reliably liberal parents, Matt Latimer is, from an early age, lured by the upbeat themes of the Reagan Revolution and, in the tradition of Mary Tyler Moore, sets off from the Midwest for the big city, determined to "make it after all." In Matt's glory-filled daydreams, he will champion smaller government and greater self-sufficiency, lower taxes and stronger defense-and, by the force of his youthful passion, eradicate do-nothing boondoggleism and lead America to new heights of greatness. But first he has to find a job. Like an inside-the-Beltway Dante, Matt chronicles his descent into Washington, D.C., hell, as he snares a series of increasingly lofty-but unsatisfying-jobs with powerful figures on Capitol Hill. One boss can't remember basic facts. Another appears to hide from his own staff, barricading himself in his office. When Fate offers Matt a job as chief speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Matt finds he actually admires the man (causing his liberal friends to shake their heads in dismay), his youthful passion is renewed. But Rummy soon becomes a piņata for the press, and the Department of Defense is revealed as alarmingly dysfunctional. Eventually, Matt lands at the White House, his heart aflutter with the hope that, here at last, he can fulfill his dream of penning words that will become part of history-and maybe pick up some cool souvenirs. But reality intrudes once again. More likeThe Office than The West Wing, the nation's most storied office building is a place where the staffers who run the country are in way over their heads, and almost everything the public has been told about the major players-Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Rove-is wrong. Both a rare behind-the-scenes account that boldly names the fools and scoundrels, and a poignant lament for the principled conservatism that disappeared during the Bush presidency, Speech-Less will forever change the public's view of our nation's capital and the people who joust daily for its power.

Author Biography

MATT LATIMER was one of President Bush's top speechwriters from March 2007 to October 2008. He was also chief speechwriter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for three years.



I guess there's a point in most children's lives when they believe that their hometown is the worst place in the world. Well, those kids can choke on it, because I actually did come from the worst city in America--a fact certified by one of the largest publications in the nation. When I was growing up, Money magazine ranked the major cities in the United States from the perspective of which was the best place to live. My hometown of Flint, Michigan, ranked at the absolute bottom. I must admit, even I was surprised by that. Second to worst, maybe. But the worst of the worst? Wow. The townspeople of Flint made a big show of burning the magazine in effigy, but no one could credibly argue our case.
Flint became internationally famous in the documentary Roger and Me, directed by that self-appointed spokesman for working-class outrage and future millionaire Michael Moore. The film chronicled Flint's economic decline after the one company that had been keeping it alive, General Motors, packed up most of their automobiles and sputtered out of town. It wasn't the smoothest departure the world had ever seen. Basically, the company broke up with Flint by e-mail and then changed its phone number.
I was born in the heart of the city to two liberal teachers. My dad, Maurice, was born while the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, and he was the first boy in his family to go to college. He had thick jet-black hair and looked vaguely like Ricky Ricardo. My mom, Larcia, was the second of ten children and didn't have a single enemy in the world. During my childhood, Mom had round glasses and a brown beehive hairdo that she painstakingly wrapped up every evening with tissue paper. Sometimes I'd wake her at night when I had a scary dream. She'd shoot up in bed with white cream on her face and her hair wrapped like a mummy. (I think that's where my troubles began.)
My parents lived in Flint several years before I was born. When I was about one, they adopted a baby girl. My sister, Jennifer, was born on an Indian reservation in Canada. One of the first things I did when I was young was kick her in the eye. Otherwise, we were very close.
We grew up in a neighborhood filled with people of many different income levels and races. There were abandoned homes a few doors down and vacant lots where you could always find trouble. Everyone in our neighborhood knew where the drug houses were. There were at least two within a block of our home. It wasn't uncommon to hear police sirens at all hours of the night. Once on my way home I was stopped by the Flint police. They put me in the backseat of the squad car and started demanding proof that I lived in the neighborhood. I was young, white, with a nice car. I think they suspected I was on a drug buy.
We had a beautiful brick Tudor-style house with five bedrooms. If it had been built in any other city, it would have been worth more than a million dollars. In Flint, it was worth about $50,000. But whatever Flint's problems, my parents were stick-it-out types. Even if our house had exploded, Mom and Dad would have sat in the rubble and camped out with tents.
My parents often invited random people to come to stay, sometimes for months or years at a time. When my sister and I were very young, Mom and Dad brought foster children into our home. For most of my childhood, young men would move into our house as our temporary brothers. Most of them had been abandoned or abused by their biological parents and, understandably, had severe emotional problems. One guy who shared my bedroom used to hide under a blanket while wearing my sister's bathing suit. Another guy took apart our electronic equipment--cameras, remote controls, VCRs--to see if he could repair them. He couldn't. One day I was sitting with him at the breakfast table when our cat, Mindy, walked by. His eyes darkened, then he pointed at her. "You will pay for your actions," he vo

Excerpted from Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor by Matthew Latimer
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