The Fabulous Bennet Boys: A Story About Their Equally Talented Father When He Was a Political Speechwriter

Senator Michael Bennet said yesterday he is running for President, causing his brother, James Bennet, editor of the New York Times editorial page, to say that he would recuse himself from any involvement in opinion coverage of the 2020 presidential election,

Michael and James are the sons of the late Douglas Bennet, known mostly for running NPR and then Wesleyan College. Earlier, in 1967 and 1968, Doug had been the chief speechwriter for Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, where we crossed paths.

In January 1968 I had taken a break from journalism to start a Congressional Fellowship in the Senate office of Vice President Humphrey. At that point in 1968 everyone assumed President Lyndon Johnson would run for re-election and Humphrey again would be his running mate. That changed in March 1968 when Johnson decided not to run for re-election and Humphrey became the Democratic nominee for president.

My boss was Norman Sherman, the Vice President’s press secretary, and my first job in January and February was to send telegrams to organizations that had invited the Vice President to speak but he was saying no. Writing those telegrams quickly got old and I thought it’d be educational to write a speech for the Vice President. I went to Doug and asked him if I could try writing a Humphrey speech, and he said sure, the Vice President is speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce next month, go ahead and write one for him.

I worked on the speech for maybe 10 days. My first job in journalism had been writing the UPI broadcast wire so I thought I knew something about how to write words that would be spoken. I gave Doug a speech draft—he glanced over it and said something about it reading well.

It came time for the Vice President to give the speech and early that day the text of Humphrey’s speech was released to the media. I eagerly picked up the advance text and discovered that Doug hadn’t used a single phrase I had written.

Disappointed, I went to the Chamber of Commerce dinner. Humphrey gave a good speech but he winged it, as he liked to do, and didn’t use a single phrase Doug had written.

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