Matt Latimer, Struck 'Speech-Less' By The D.C. Noise Matt Latimer, speechwriter to President George W. Bush during his last months in office, says his old boss didn't always stick to the script. His new tell-all memoir recounts more than one startling comment that Latimer says his boss made behind closed doors.
NPR logo

Matt Latimer, Struck 'Speech-Less' By The D.C. Noise

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Matt Latimer, Struck 'Speech-Less' By The D.C. Noise

Matt Latimer, Struck 'Speech-Less' By The D.C. Noise

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When the economy was on the verge of collapse in 2008, my guest, Matt Latimer, was one of the president's speechwriters, assigned to write a speech for Bush announcing his plan to deal with the crisis. It was, as you can imagine, one of Latimer's toughest assignments.

Matt Latimer dreamed of writing speeches for an American president, but when he got that chance with President Bush, it left him cynical and disillusioned. Latimer has written a memoir called "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor."

It tells a story of how the son of two liberal schoolteachers became a conservative, worked on Capitol Hill, served three years as the chief speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and went on to become the deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush. Several quotes from the book have already made news.

Matt Latimer, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, the press has picked up on several quotes from your book. I'm just going to run through them quickly. President Bush said: This is a dangerous world, and this cat - meaning Obama - isn't remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue. You think I wasn't qualified? I was qualified.

About Sarah Palin: I'm trying to remember if I've met her before. What is she, the governor of Guam? This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for. She hasn't spent one day at the national level.

And about Hillary Clinton, President Bush said: Wait 'til her fat bottom is sitting at this desk - and he didn't use the word bottom.

Okay, so those were the news take-aways from the book so far. Is that what you expected would be the take-away moments from your book?

Mr. MATT LATIMER (Author, "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor"): Well, I'm not sure what I expected to come from the book, from those excerpts. So they're just excerpts from one chapter of the book. And those quotes from the president have had a variety of reactions. Some people have actually said that the president looks smarter and more funny than they expected him to come across, and more insightful.

I mean, what he said about Sarah Palin, for example, I think proves true, and it doesn't mean that he liked her or didn't like her, but what he was saying was I'm not sure she's prepared for what the McCain campaign has done with her, which was to thrust her in the national spotlight, and her family, with very little preparation, so it appeared.

GROSS: Some people who were in the Bush administration are attacking the book. Ed Gillespie, for instance, who was a counselor to the president, told Politico: A lot of people just didn't know who Matt Latimer is. A lot of us are going: Who is this guy again? Who is this writing a book? It's not within most people's view of how you serve the public or be an honorable person, but that's his call.

And about quoting President Bush as saying, about Sarah Palin: Who is she, the governor of Guam? You say in the book, with a twinkle in his eye, who is she, the governor of Guam? But Ed Gillespie takes that kind of literally and says: Bush knew exactly who Palin is and that she was the governor of Alaska.

And he goes on to say: A lot of this just doesn't ring true with me. It doesn't strike me as an accurate portrayal. So are you prepared for the kind of negative response that people from the Bush administration who have written books that say some negative things about it have gotten?

Mr. LATIMER: I was prepared for it, yes, but my book isn't all about President Bush. And if they had bothered to actually read the book before reacting and plotting strategy against it, they would see, you know, that it's actually my memoir; my story about a kid from Michigan who had two liberal parents in a union family, came out to Washington trying to advance and realize the cause of what I thought was a Reagan revolution, and came to Washington and saw some funny things, some strange things, some interesting things, but it wasn't at all what I really expected. And maybe that was just naïve on my part.

You know, Ed and all the others - they say, you know, I was a nobody, I was a no-name, or I was just the quiet guy in the room, but sometimes the quiet guy is listening and paying attention and taking notes and may have something to say. And I wasn't trying to push myself to become the most important person in the room. I wasn't worried about my assignment on the motorcades. I just wanted to tell people what I saw.

GROSS: You know, there was a time, as you point out in your book, where speechwriters used to be invisible, and there was a code that basically said they wouldn't take credit for their work because it was - people wanted to think that the president actually wrote what he said, thought what he said.

Now, speechwriters are taking more credit, and they're also leaving and writing memoirs, like you did, in which the people they served and the people they served with don't always come off looking good. Has the speechwriting code changed?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, you know, I don't know if I necessarily want to take credit for some of the speeches I wrote in the Bush administration. I actually - one of the things I was disappointed about was the quality and the level of speeches, because what we've done with presidencies, is we've turned them into sort of infomercials where presidents go out and constantly talk all the time, I mean, every day, to try to get on the news and respond to cable news and talk radio, and it's actually, I think, diminished the presidential voice.

But you know, there's a long, wonderful tradition - not only of speechwriters but other presidential aides - who have written about their times in the White House, going back to Peggy Noonan and Bill Sapphire and other aides like George Stephanopoulos. And many people in the Bush administration have done books like that, as well. And I think they've added a little bit to a mosaic of who a president is. It's a piece of a larger pie.

I'm not trying to say I'm writing the definitive book on anyone, but I think my observation, my vantage point, was helpful to add to a fuller description of the president. And I think it's valuable to do that.

GROSS: Your book starts with the economy crashing and you being told to write a speech for president explaining what was going on. What a strange position to be in, because what was going on was such a mystery, and putting together - you know, explaining the problem and explaining the response is a Herculean task. What did you have to do before sitting down and writing this speech?

Mr. LATIMER: It really was a very frightening moment because I was one of a handful of people in the entire United States that had this information about what was happening to our country.

GROSS: What was the information that you had that nobody yet had?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, what happened was, I was - we were in the speechwriting office, and we were told that the economy was on the verge of a complete collapse; that banks would be able to stop lending money, that people wouldn't get car loans, that companies may not be able to do business because they don't have commercial paper. The entire economy of the United States could come to a complete halt, and a long, deep recession was, at best, what we could hope for in the near future.

And we were asked to get in touch with Treasury officials and other economic advisors to find out what was happening, and it was a terrifying situation.

I mean, I thought, immediately about, as other writers did, you know, about our own bank accounts, and are they still protected by the government? Because it sounded like this was it. This was, like, you know, America was done. I mean, that was how frightening it was.

So we had to get briefed by Treasury officials, get briefed by other economic advisors and craft something that the president could say. He was going to make an announcement about what his plan was. He had already been formulating some sort of plan, and we knew nothing about any of it. It was very complicated, and there were a lot of complicated terms thrown around: mortgage-backed securities and commercial paper and a lot of things that were hard for us, the speechwriters, to understand; and I'm sure equally hard for Americans to understand. These were things that I knew nothing about.

GROSS: So what was your strategy in the speech. What did you write?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, we did many, many speeches in that period. The biggest one, of course, was the address to the nation. And the strategy was to, in a way, reassure people that we had a plan. Everybody liked to use the word bold. The president had a bold plan. They liked to say that he was bold, and we wanted to reassure people.

We also wanted to, at the same time, alarm people in a way, to sort of let them know how serious this problem was an how important it was for Congress to act immediately. And it was sort of a delicate thing to do, to offer reassurance, the country's resilient, but at the same time, we have a terrible, terrible situation here that we have to act imminently to do something about or we're all going to basically be doomed.

GROSS: At the last minute, the McCain campaign called Josh Bolten and said that McCain was going to phone the president and urge him to call off the address and instead hold an emergency economic summit in Washington. So how did the White House decide what to do, take McCain's suggestion or give the speech?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, what they ended up doing, and I wasn't on the phone call, but from my vantage point, what they ended up doing was sort of doing a little bit of both. You couldn't really cancel the speech because it had already been announced, and so the president basically gave a speech that was a little bit more generic in terms of here's what I want to do.

We didn't specifically outline a particular plan in as much detail as the president would have liked, and then we also held the summit, and so we sort of did a little bit of both.

GROSS: Did you get the idea that the president really comprehended what was going on financially in our country during the meltdown and that he comprehended what the proposed solutions were?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, it was very hard for anyone to comprehend, is my belief. I don't know what his own - how much he knew about those things at all or not, but I do know that what he thought we were going to do as a solution, and what he kept telling us we were going to do, was in fact not what we were doing.

GROSS: Example?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, he thought we were going to do was - the government was going to buy up all these toxic assets, these bad basically mortgage-backed securities and all these things that are basically based on bad home mortgages, buy them up at a low price because they were basically worthless - and then sell them high, for a profit, for the American taxpayer.

He kept saying buy low, sell high; buy low, sell high. That's his strategy. And it sounded logical to me, and the president kept saying that. I believe he said that to people outside the administration.

It turned out that that's not at all what we were going to do. Secretary Paulson basically wanted to do just the opposite, in fact, at the time, which was to buy these assets at a high price and take a loss so that we could keep banks and other mortgage institutions going, from what I could tell, but that plan kept changing.

So I don't know what was actually in anybody's mind at the time, but what the president told us we were going to do, it turned out we weren't doing. And the president was annoyed when he learned that, because he said, well, why am I supporting a plan that I don't even understand.

GROSS: And the response he got was what?

Mr. LATIMER: Silence. And then eventually, somebody said well, it's all being worked out. And of course, when we were rehearsing the speech, the economic speech, the treasury secretary was not there, and I don't recall if any treasury officials were there. So they were sort of off negotiating and talking to Congress and operating, and meanwhile, we were working on a speech to the nation, and they weren't there while he was asking these questions.

GROSS: That actually sounds very frightening.

Mr. LATIMER: It was frightening, and unfortunately, you know, the people who always get the brunt of the criticism and the blame for a speech are the speechwriters. And so the president sort of looked at us, and we were sitting in the family theater, and we're doing what we were told to do, and he said - he took a sip of water, and he said, you know, I've got to tell you something.

He said something to the effect of, you know, I'm pretty disappointed in this speech. I've got to be honest with you. And he sort of looked at us, and we didn't want to throw anybody under the bus, but what are we going to say? We just sort of nodded, but there was an uncomfortable silence, and then finally, Ed Gillespie or somebody spoke up and said, well, you know, we're going to work on this, and we'll get in touch with the Treasury and find out what's going on.

GROSS: And did you find out?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, what we ended up doing was writing a speech that was sort of worded in such a careful, complicated way that I don't think people well understood what we were doing. But we did eventually craft a speech with the input from Treasury that everybody was satisfied with.

GROSS: What I hear you saying is since you didn't understand, you had to use fudge words so no one else would understand, either, but it wouldn't be wrong on the other hand.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LATIMER: Well, I don't think we communicated that issue very well to people, because it was a very difficult issue to communicate. And what I always asked myself was, how did we ever get into this situation in the first place.

GROSS: Well, sure. You said that you kept being told, you know, write speeches about how the economy is resilient, and American prosperity is great; and meanwhile, people, friends of yours in the Office of Management and Budget were saying things really aren't that good.

Mr. LATIMER: Right. There were mid-level people who were warning the economy wasn't as great. Like, I had friends in OMB who said, you know, sell your stocks. Don't, you know - be careful, the economy's really - this is all built on some bubble, but nobody is listening. And the president seemed, himself, to know that the economy was not as wonderful as he was being told to say, constantly, in speeches, and he seemed to be a little more alert to the problems. And eventually, we had all these wonderful statistics we kept citing, including the stratospheric heights of the Dow, to show how wonderful the economy was doing. Then, of course, one by one, each of the wonderful statistics we kept citing in all the speeches kept having to be taken out of the speech because they weren't true anymore.

GROSS: So if Bush wanted more details, who was making the decision about what details were going to be in and what weren't? Obviously, it wasn't he president who had the final say there. Who did?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, from my vantage point, Ed Gillespie, who was the president's counselor and oversaw the message and communication strategy, was telling us what would go in the speech, not - and I don't know if he consulted the treasury secretary or not, but that's the person who told us what to put in and what not to put in.

GROSS: And he could overrule the president?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, it wasn't overruling the president as much as it was persuading the president that this was what we had to do because, well, first of all, what he thought we were doing wasn't actually what we were doing, and second of all, we wanted to help the McCain campaign as best we could by giving him this opportunity to come down and make a show of, at least, of being involved in this.

GROSS: The economic summit…

Mr. LATIMER: The economic summit, exactly.

GROSS: My guest is Matt Latimer, and he was a speechwriter for President Bush and chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld. He's written a new memoir called "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk more about your experiences. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matt Latimer. He's the former deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush. He was also the chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld, when Rumsfeld was secretary of defense.

One of the things that you say in your book that's been picked up in other articles is you were writing a speech for the president to give to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee, and you mentioned something about the conservative movement, to which Bush said: What is this movement you keep talking about in the speech? Let me tell you something. I whipped Gary Bauer's ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement. Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say, but I redefined the Republican Party.

Can you talk a little bit about what that exchange was like, and what you meant when you wrote something in your speech, and what you think he interpreted that to mean?

Mr. LATIMER: Yes, that was a very important moment for me to sort of get a sense of President Bush, and I don't mean it in a negative or a positive way. Just he was a different president than I thought he was in terms of his ideology, and I was sort of surprised by that.

I had come, as I said, from Michigan. I was a child of the Reagan years, and I liked Ronald Reagan. I came out here, and the conservative movement to me was, you know, William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and other people, and they believed in, you know, smaller government, lower taxes, strong defense.

So I put a reference to the conservative movement and its origins, or at least it's latest - you know, in the 20th-century origins of the Goldwater-Buckley vein into this speech, and the president said to me, as you've quoted, what's all this movement stuff you're talking about? I mean, why's that all in here?

I said, well, you know, Mr. President, the conservative movement. I'm just sort of crediting all of that, Buckley and Reagan and Thatcher and people like that. And he said, you know, take all that stuff out. Then, as you said, you know, I redefined the Republican Party, and I remember thinking to myself - I didn't say this, of course. I just nodded, of course, yes, Mr. President. I remember thinking: Redefined it into what? And it wasn't really being redefined into something that I was comfortable with.

GROSS: Your dream was to write for the president, and you got to write for President Bush. What was President Bush's style of editing the speeches that you wrote?

Mr. LATIMER: The president had taken a class at Yale about how to write a speech, and I forgot who the professor was, but there was a very strict way that we were supposed to do all the speeches - and I was told this a number of times when I came to the White House. And the Yale school of speechwriting was: you give an introduction, Point A, Point B, Point C, a prayeration(ph), and a conclusion.

GROSS: A prayeration is what? What's a prayeration?

Mr. LATIMER: I was just going to say I'm from Michigan, so you know, I never heard the word prayeration before. I didn't know. I think it's a summary of what the points were or something. But in any event, it was a very strict logic. At one point, we even had to underline topic sentences of each paragraph so the president could follow it. And when I was told this, I said to myself: You know, that's not really a recipe for an eloquent speech. It's just sort of a flat speech, if you're just following this rigid logic, and I was told by the speechwriter: Oh, that's okay. The president doesn't care if the speech is flat, as long as it follows this logic.

And that just seemed to me an odd way to try to communicate with the American people, and it surely wasn't following the tradition of Kennedy and Reagan. I would imagine you'd never have seen John F. Kennedy say: Why don't you underline this topic sentence?

In fact, the speeches got so bad at some point, that we were basically just giving the president information to satisfy him. You know, we would write basic things about his audience into the speech so that he knew why he was there.

So at one point we were saying, you know, something to the effect of, when he visited a base in Alaska, which is near a pipeline: You are near a pipeline. Oil comes from pipelines. Oil comes from the ground. And it because so basic and insulting to people that it really did not, I don't think, do anyone a good service.

GROSS: Bush is an oil man. I mean, surely you didn't need to inform him about that.

Mr. LATIMER: That's right. There was another line in another speech the president read, and this is referring to the pope, and somebody had written: The pope believes in a higher power. And the president laughed and said well, I certainly hope so.

GROSS: Are you trying to demonstrate here the level to which you had to explain things, that you were explaining things that didn't even need to be explained?

Mr. LATIMER: What I'm trying to explain is the strategy of writing speeches was to make it as simple, easy for logic to follow as possible, and it became a situation where we just were trying to make the president from getting mad or upset. If the president was uncomfortable with the speech, you didn't want to hear from him. So we would write it in a very basic way, and the introductions of the speeches became written in a way that sort of basically were meant more to inform the president about why we were giving the speech than actually talking to the audience. And the most important thing of a speech is to remember your audience, and our audience became the president. It didn't become the country.

GROSS: Matt Latimer will be back in the second half of the show. His new memoir is called "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Matt Latimer, author of the new memoir "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor." He was deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush and before that spent three years as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's chief speechwriter. When we left off, we were talking about the structure and style of writing President Bush wanted in his speeches.

Now, you write that Karl Rove did a lot of editing and vetting of speeches. What was his process?

Mr. LATIMER: I don't think anybody was more interested - this is a compliment and also a concern. There was sometimes, there was nobody more interested in the president's speeches than Karl Rove and I worked with him in the White House, you know, for six or seven months, but during that time he commented on everything, and it was very rare to have a moment when he wouldn't have extensive comments on a speech or at least some comment. And I had said in my mind early on that I was going to do everything I could to write a speech that Karl Rove had no comment on other than I really liked it.

GROSS: You say Rove was something less than a fanatic for the truth when editing speeches. What do you mean by that?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, there is one instance where I had written a speech and it was something that Karen Hughes and I think Condi Rice perhaps had suggested. It was for announcing the appointment of an Islamic envoy to the Middle East and the president would've be the first president to do that, as I understand it. And Rove kept - didn't like the speech, didn't want to do it, from what I was told. And I also knew that he tended to have a rivalry with Karen Hughes and Dan Bartlett and other longtime Bush aids. And what I was told by the chief speechwriter at the time was, you know, Rove will hate this speech because it's Karen's idea.

So he kept trying to change the - a placement of one paragraph in the speech, and the way he wanted to replace this paragraph made the speech I think not -sort of wrecked speech, made it not interesting and sort of buried the news of the announcement that these people had wanted the president to make, and the president had wanted to make. And so we didn't move the paragraph that he wanted us to move. But he went around everywhere through the White House to insist that that paragraph be moved.

He called our 24-year-old head fact checker who had never heard from Karl Rove and directly told him to move this paragraph. He went to Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor. He went to Raul Yanes, the Staff Secretary. He went to a lot of the speechwriters demanding that this paragraph be moved, and it was really just a paragraph. It really didn't really matter where it was. But I think where he wanted to moved it sort of buried its importance. So eventually he claimed the president wanted to have the speech moved, the paragraph moved, and we actually did a little investigating of this and it turned out - he claimed that both the president and Steve Hadley, the national security advisor, wanted the paragraph moved.

So we did a little investigating of this and Steve Hadley reported back that, you know, he couldn't care one way or the other where the paragraph went, and he had a lot of other things to do. He was actually, you know, trying to help protect the country. And the president was asked about this and the president said I have no idea what you're talking about. I never talked to Rove about this - this is at least what was reported back to me - and I'm fine with the speech the way that it is. So I was somewhat startled by the fact that Karl Rove apparently had misrepresented this whole issue with this paragraph of this speech not once but twice at least to my knowledge.

So the next day we all prepared to go to the president to talk about this speech and Rove was determined to come. He asked what time the meeting was because he was going to fight again. And somehow, and I speculate this, somehow the meeting was changed at the last minute and I speculated that it was the president and Dan Bartlett who changed it on purpose because they knew Karl was going to come in and be all upset in an over-caffeinated moment and push for moving this paragraph, and they just didn't want to deal with it.

And so we went to this meeting in the Oval Office with the president and Dan Bartlett and we didn't even talk about the speech. He just said something like, well, I guess I'm going to talk to the Muslims today and laughed and then talked about football and then we were out of there.

GROSS: My guest is Matt Latimer and he was deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush and he was Donald Rumsfeld chief speechwriter. He's written a memoir called "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor."

I'd like to talk with you a little bit about writing for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. You were with him when the Abu Ghraib story broke. What were you asked to do in terms of writing about Abu Ghraib and defending Donald Rumsfeld?

Mr. LATIMER: Yeah. It shows you my sort of luck because I came into this job with the chief speechwriter for the secretary, I came into the Pentagon and almost immediately this big huge scandal breaks that there were many people who thought I'd be out of a job within a few weeks, and the secretary as well. And I was asked to write his address to Congress, his testimony to Congress, which was going to be national news, international news.

You know, soap operas were interrupted so they could show it live. And Rumsfeld used to call it my baptism by fire, and I got know him really well really quickly, and I had to get talking points from everybody and different ideas and the White House had ideas for how to write this speech and Rumsfeld had many, many ideas for it, and I had to sit down and put together a speech that in a lot of ways, you know, determined whether Secretary Rumsfeld would stay at the Pentagon or not.

GROSS: What did you come up with that you're most proud of for that speech?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, you know, we were asked by the White House to do a Richard Clarke moment. And Richard Clarke, your listeners will probably remember, is -was the anti-terrorism expert in the early years of the Bush administration who after 9/11 - testified in the 9/11 Commission saying, you know, we failed you, and he took responsibility. And people loved that because how rare in Washington is it for anyone to ever take responsibility for anything? So they wanted Rumsfeld to take responsibility and do a Richard Clarke moment. And they assumed that if he did the same thing Richard Clarke did, he would be admired by people and the media would praise him for doing this.

And I wrote something that Rumsfeld edited and worked on and it was basically him saying that, you know, these things happened on my watch and as secretary of defense I'm accountable for them. He took responsibility for what had happened. The thing that was interesting as I talk about in my book is, you know, many people asked why Secretary Rumsfeld just didn't resign. I mean why put the president through this ordeal? Why just not, just leave? I don't know. If you're taking responsibility, a person who's the head of a department and says he's responsible, steps down.

And I was in one of the meetings when we were working on this testimony and the president called Rumsfeld, and the secretary asked me and others to leave the room for a moment, but as we were leaving, some of us overheard him say to the president, you know, I just don't want to be a rock in your knapsack. And what he was saying was, I don't want to be a burden to you. And in fact what had happened was, we found out later, he had just offered to resign and he offered to resign twice to the president during the Abu Ghraib crisis, scandal, and he never really said that at the time.

I mean reporters asked him, members of Congress asked him, why don't you just resign? Why don't you leave? Why don't you help the president? And he never said, and he could have said, you know, I did, I tried to leave but the president wanted me to stay. He never did that, and whether that was wise or not wise, I was always struck by that. And he knew in doing so that he was going to be a lightening rod for the administration. But then again, a president can use a lightening rod. A lightening rod has its usefulness, and I think Rumsfeld knew that he was going to do that.

GROSS: So you left the White House before the Bush administration was completely over. When did you actually leave?

Mr. LATIMER: I left just before the November election in 2008.

GROSS: Why did you choose that as the time to leave?

Mr. LATIMER: Well, I had been wanting to leave for a couple of months and that was a great disappointment to me because, as I say, ever since I came to Washington and went to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, my dream was to be a presidential speechwriter, and I never - and I was so honored to have the chance to do that. But I never in a million years thought I'd ever want to leave early, and I did, and it's because a lot of reasons. I didn't like the way speeches were being done. I didn't think I was contributing anything to the president, to the country. I was feeling burned out. We were doing a, you know, hundreds of speeches all the time and they weren't effective.

I would watch people erasing speeches that I had written from their mind as the president was delivering it. I also didn't sort of like the drift of the administration. I didn't really enjoy, I didn't think we were advancing ideals. I was disappointed in the 2008 campaign and in the candidate we had chosen to lead the party, and I wanted to do something else.

GROSS: So you left the White House right before Election Day and you reveal in your book that on Election Day, it was the first time you weren't really sure would you vote Republican or Democrat, and you ended up voting - I'll let you say - how?

Mr. LATIMER: I ended up, well, I actually leave the answer unclear at the very end of the book…

GROSS: Not to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I thought it was clear. Maybe I'm crazy.

Mr. LATIMER: But I actually...

GROSS: I think you clearly say you voted for Obama.

Mr. LATIMER: Actually, I didn't vote for Obama.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. LATIMER: No. I, but I was, I came close to doing that and I never thought I would. I mean all these people, you know, in the Bush administration said, you know, who are you, you're a nobody or whatever. I paid my dues with the Republican Party from, you know, good times and bad and I found myself in a position where I didn't know how I was going to vote.

I couldn't find myself voting for John McCain and the Republican Party because I don't think, I didn't think at the time they were representing what I believed in anymore. And I thought about voting for Barack Obama very seriously because he was offering something different. I mean he offered, he promised to be a fresh voice that was not Washington, and that was, I think, the secret of his appeal in the primaries.

He was not - while he was a senator he was still himself. And I talk about my nephew Michael, who was a mixed race child being raised by white grandparents and he's growing up in an environment, near an inner city, Flint, Michigan, which is troubled, and he was inspired by Obama and that touched me. So I was very, very - had a very difficult dilemma deciding who to vote for and I went up and down the voter dials. I actually even looked at Ralph Nader for a moment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LATIMER: I just thought, hey, why don't I - I could vote for any single person on this ballot because I didn't really believe in anybody in politics anymore, and it was a sad moment for me. So ultimately I made a decision that I was happy with and I sort of like a Sopranos-style ending where you don't really know what that answer was.

GROSS: So you're not telling?

Mr. LATIMER: I'm not telling yet.

GROSS: Oh, you're going to tell somebody else?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: All right. Have it your way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I'm thinking maybe you waited online for an hour and decided not to vote.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LATIMER: No, I voted.

GROSS: Okay. All right. Call me. No. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thanks so much for talking with us. Thank you very much.

Mr. LATIMER: Thank you, Terry. I really appreciated it.

GROSS: Matt Latimer is the author of the new memoir "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor."

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.