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Obama speechwriter departing White House

September 30, 2011|By Peter Nicholas | Washington Bureau
  • Adam Frankel, a speechwriter for President Obama, stands near his office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.
Adam Frankel, a speechwriter for President Obama, stands near his office… (Jonathan Ernst / For the…)

One of the young wordsmiths behind President Obama’s oratory is leaving the administration, a crack in a close-knit speechwriting team that helped propel Obama to the White House and has played a major role in shaping his words ever since.

Adam Frankel is leaving to become executive director of Digital Promise, a new nonprofit group that will explore ways technology can be used to strengthen education.

“I worked with the president on a lot of his education speeches,’’ Frankel said in an interview Friday. “So I was thinking about what I want to do and I realized that I wanted to see if I could have some kind of impact in education.’’

Frankel, 30, was part of the original core of campaign wunderkinds led by Jon Favreau and Ben Rhodes who toiled on speeches as Obama slogged his way past Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries. Today is his last day.

At the White House, Frankel’s forte was speeches that involved issues of morality and history.  When Obama would be called on to give a eulogy, the assignment often fell to Frankel.

He penned a memorable speech Obama delivered in West Virginia last year, marking the deaths of 29 coal miners killed in an explosion.

“Most days they would emerge from the dark mine, squinting at the light,’’ Obama said. “Most days, they would emerge, sweaty, dirty, dusted with coal. Most days, they would come home. Most days, but not that day."

Down the road, Frankel said, he wants to write a book about his family. His grandparents on one side were Holocaust survivors, while his grandfather on the other side fought in World War II.

Obama rose to national prominence because of a speech at the Democratic convention in 2004. He rescued his presidential bid with a speech on race relations in 2008.

And he has repeatedly sought to gain traction for his agenda with high-stakes speeches throughout his term. So speechwriters have a special status in the White House.  Frankel  had a fair amount of face time with Obama, working over speech drafts on Air Force One and in the Oval Office, making final edits.

“His edits are very precise,’’ Frankel said. “He has respect for the writing process, and so his edits are very helpful. If he sees a problem with something, he’ll tell you exactly what needs to be done to fix it rather than just say, ‘There’s something wrong with this.’ ’’

In their conversations, Obama would call him “Frankel,’’ not “Adam.’’ 

No matter.

“He can call me whatever he wants,’’ Frankel said.

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