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Obama's Chief Speechwriter, 27, Works on Inaugural Address While Making His Own Transition
For Election Day, Favreau wrote two speeches -- one in case of a win and another for a loss. After Obama learned that he had won Pennsylvania and essentially secured the presidency, he called Favreau to make final word edits on the victory address. "Okay, this all sounds good," Favreau said when Obama finished making his changes. "And hopefully we never have to think about that other one again."
All told, Favreau spent more than 18 months on almost constant deadline, staying up until 5 a.m. during the financial crisis to craft speeches for the next day and waking up at 8 a.m. to obsess over the daily tracking polls, which he started calling "daily crack."
When the pressure wore on Favreau, he unwound like a 27-year-old, sending prank e-mails to friends at the Obama offices or playing the video game Rock Band in the Lincoln Park group house he shared with six campaign staffers. He visited Axelrod's office and sought advice. He called his best friend, Josh Porter, when he felt ready to break down.
"A few times he called at midnight, sounding just done," Porter said. "He would be like, 'I don't know if I can do this anymore. I'm in over my head. I'm starting to freak out.' "
But there were also moments of euphoria, when Favreau would catch himself choking up while riding in the motorcade or rehearsing with Obama backstage. Before he entered Grant Park on election night, to stand in the VIP section with his parents and younger brother to hear Obama speak, Favreau sent a quick e-mail to Porter at 9:07 p.m. The subject line read: "Dude."
"We won," Favreau wrote. "Oh my God."
Two weeks after the election, Favreau accepted a new job that essentially came with a new life. He moved back to Washington, hired a real estate agent, bought his first apartment and ordered furniture from Pottery Barn that sits unopened in nine boxes lined against his wall. He will need to buy more jackets and ties to replace his preferred outfit of jeans and a sweater. Friends joke that Favreau suddenly turned 40 this year -- but he still shows flashes of 27.
At a party at his parents' house over Thanksgiving vacation, he danced and posed awkwardly next to a cardboard cutout of Clinton. A buddy uploaded photos onto Facebook, reporters discovered them, and suddenly experts were debating Favreau's maturity on television. Favreau called Clinton and Obama to apologize. They told him not to worry, but he still does.
How is this supposed to work, anyway? Do Favreau and the rest of Obama's young staffers transform to meet the formalities of the White House, or does the White House change to accommodate them? For almost two years during the campaign, Favreau and his speechwriting staff came to work in jeans and communicated via instant messaging. When they needed to write, they crammed together into a closet-size room, feet on the table, downing energy drinks and ordering takeout late into the night.
"We were always informal -- that's Favs's style," said Rhodes, one of the speechwriters. "I don't think he ever scheduled a meeting where we all sat down at a table and said, 'Here's what we have to do this week.' And if he had, we probably would have laughed at him."
But now Favreau and the other senior speechwriters are preparing to move into separate offices and expand their staff. Favreau expects to hire four or five more writers -- including a few who focus on foreign policy -- and he's unsure how to manage them. "My biggest strength isn't the organization thing," he said. A few of the other speechwriters have volunteered to help train and direct new hires.
Obama's speeches are likely to evolve, too. Some will focus more on policy, Favreau said, and a few dozen bureaucrats will want to parse each word. Andrei Cherny, a former White House speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, called Favreau after the election to congratulate him and then warned that, in the White House, "the scrutiny and the power is unlike anyplace else."
"We know that we're going to have to approach the White House our way and have some fun with it," Favreau said, "because that kind of attitude is what made us successful."
No matter how it goes, Favreau believes this will be his last job in politics -- "anything else would be so anticlimactic," he said. Someday, he wants to write in his own voice, for himself.
"Maybe I'll write a screenplay, or maybe a fiction book based loosely on what all of this was like," Favreau said. "You had a bunch of kids working on this campaign together, and it was such a mix of the serious and momentous and just the silly ways that we are. For people in my generation, it was an unbelievable way to grow up."