Speechwriter Jon Lovett spoke about his jobs with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, as well as his new NBC sitcom “1600 Penn,” at Cabot Auditorium last night as part two of the Tufts Lecturtainment Weekend. Part one featured YouTube comedian Bo Burnham in Cohen Auditorium on Saturday night.
In the discussion, Lovett shared his advice for students to succeed in politics: “Be brazen, be confident and be aware that you suck.”
Although he said the three characteristics are difficult to balance, he noted that young adults must stay humble in their first jobs to move up the political ladder.
“You do not know you are terrible, or you would fix it,” Lovett said. “But it is important to know what you do not know.”
A speechwriter for Obama from 2009 to 2011, Lovett said his first job in politics did not originate from a campaign connection. Rather, as a volunteer for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, Lovett said he asked to write a statement for the candidate. The piece he wrote resulted in an internship offer.
“For all the ways in which connections work, if you do something well, people notice,” Lovett said. “You will be amazed at how many people do not take their first job seriously.”
After a year as a stand-up comedian in New York City, Lovett ventured to Washington, D.C., where he became a speechwriter for Clinton in her Senate office. As Clinton entered the presidential election in 2008, Lovett said he was determined to write for her campaign.
First, he said he drove to the election office and asked for a badge to enter. Then, he said he asked for a computer and a space to work. Eventually, Lovett said he requested money for his work and an office so he was not writing speeches in the hallway-thus he became a speechwriter for a presidential candidate.
While he said he enjoyed working for Clinton’s presidential campaign, Lovett noted that the campaign was composed of employees who looked out for themselves rather than their policy. He said this mindset led to organizational and monetary problems for Clinton in the 2008 primaries.
“Everyone froze because the leaders on top were just not equipped to do the job,” Lovett said. “They just were not leaders.”
Soon thereafter, Lovett said he had to shift allegiances as Obama assumed the presidency in 2009. To select the final White House speechwriter for Obama, there was an anonymous contest in which people submitted speeches on the same topic without including a name or resume, which Lovett said he appreciated as he had spent the previous year writing about Obama’s faults.
“If I knew I would have the same job no matter who won the election, I would have been a lot less passionate,” he said.
While he was not originally a supporter of Obama, Lovett said it did not take long to appreciate the president’s fortitude and integrity towards his work in the White House.
“What you see really is what you get; he is a really even-keeled guy,” Lovett said. “It is reassuring to see that he is the same behind doors as he is on camera.”
After he spoke, Lovett took questions from many members of the audience. While some asked for more detail about working in the White House, several asked about the 2012 presidential election and why he switched career paths.
“As quick as I decided to do comedy, I decided to go to politics,” Lovett said. “If my heart was really in it, I would have tried harder.”
Lovett is currently finishing production for season one of “1600 Penn,” an NBC sitcom he co-created about a president’s misfit son.