The White House Sets the Table For Gritty State Of The Union Speech

President Obama works on his State of the Union speech with Cody Keenan, Director of Speechwriting, in the residence of the White House on Jan. 18.
Pete Souza/White House photo

Working at the White House isn’t always formal. Sometimes even flannel is in fashion, as this weekend when official photographer Pete Souza released a photo of a casually dressed President Obama, working on his State of the Union speech with speechwriter Cody Keenan.

By Monday, a New York Times profile of Keenan emerged, revealing that Obama’s nickname for the grizzled speechwriter is “Hemingway.”

President Obama even commented for the profile, remarking that he relied on Keenan “not just to share my vision, but to help tell America’s story.”

“He’s a brilliant writer. He’s relentless. His girlfriend and I are glad he finally got rid of the Hemingway beard,” he said.

Obama’s “Hemingway,” it was revealed, burned the midnight oil with Obama’s foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes, drinking single-malt Scotch while working on a draft of the president’s speech.

“Mr. Obama’s remarks are certain to address the struggles of ordinary Americans in some of the gritty, Everyman prose that has become Mr. Keenan’s trademark,” the Times Michael Schmidt asserts.

That’s in tune with Obama’s latest buzzword as he travels the country, celebrating what he calls a renewed economy across America.

In Detroit earlier this month, Obama pointed to the “grit and determination and hard work and sacrifice” of the American people.

“Think about Detroit. Think about the auto industry. Think about the Midwest. Think about Michigan. Think about America,” he said at an auto assembly plant, during a speech likely drafted by Keenan, who was also praised by his speechwriting predecessor.

“You would think in a past life, Cody was the head of the United Auto Workers and grew up in Detroit and worked in a factory,” Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau said in the Times article.

Most of First Lady Michelle Obama’s guests for the State of the Union are ordinary Americans who have written letters to the president to take about their struggles.

The First Lady reminded them that Obama was thinking about their stories, as he prepared his State of the Union address.

“Their grit and dedication represent what’s best about this country, and while we have made so much progress, we have so much left to do to make sure all Americans have the opportunities they deserve to get ahead,” she said in a statement on Monday. “That’s what my husband will be talking about tomorrow.”