When Barton Swaim read a column by his state’s governor, he promptly sat down and wrote him, “I know how to write, and you need a writer.” He got the job, but his writing skills went to waste as the governor insisted on a “voice” that bore only a slight resemblance to proper English.
Fortunately, Swaim puts those skills to good use in The Speechwriter, a highly readable account of his three years in the governor’s employ. Part All the King’s Men and part Horrible Bosses, it’s fascinating and almost impossible to put down.
For reasons of his own, Swaim does not name the man behind the curtain. He’s “the governor,” or “the boss.” But as sure as Myrtle Beach has miniature golf courses, it’s Mark Sanford, the maverick governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011 who made “hiking the Appalachian Trail” a euphemism for pursuing an extramarital affair in Argentina.
Swaim’s lofty approach to the job is undercut early on, when he is told “Welcome to hell” by a co-worker. Not surprisingly, the governor is a difficult man to work for, and readers who have had to answer to unreasonable, demanding and slightly unhinged bosses can relate. It’s hard to defend such a man, and Swaim wisely doesn’t try.
Things come to a head with a crisis over the governor’s refusal to accept the federal stimulus package, followed by the Appalachian Trail fiasco. By the end, Swaim has had enough—but fortunately, he ends with a rumination on politics: “Why do we trust men who have sought and attained high office by innumerable acts of vanity and self-will?”
That’s a good question, and perhaps one to ask “the governor” (now a U.S. congressman) at his next news conference.