Former Obama speechwriter talks about road from Yale to the White House

Anne Fadiman and David Litt at Branford College on Yale Campus
Yale English professor Anne Fadiman (left)​ with her former student David Litt at Branford College.

David Litt still remembers the words that motivated him to work for former U.S. President Barack Obama: “In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.” Then-presidential candidate Obama spoke those words during his 2008 Iowa Caucus speech.

Four years later, Litt was writing campaign speeches for Obama similar to the one that inspired him. A graduate of Yale College, Litt returned to campus to share White House stories during a Poynter lecture on April 5.

Weeks after graduating in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Litt moved to Ohio to run a field office for the Obama campaign. After the victory, he moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue work as a speechwriter. In 2011, at just 24 years old, Litt secured a position writing for senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, after making it through extensive background checks.

Getting a job proposal from the White House is like getting a marriage proposal from Tom Cruise — there is a lot of paperwork before the deal is sealed,” Litt said.

Litt moved to the role of presidential speech writer during Obama’s second term. He shared stories of his adjustment in working for the top boss in the nation.

I tend to clam up around important people, which can be a problem when you are working with the president of the United States,” Litt said.

In one of their first meetings, the President called Litt the wrong name: “Lips.” Litt, just excited to be personally recognized by the commander-in-chief, didn’t have the courage to correct him.

The president of the United States had referred to me by name! It wasn’t my name, but still,” joked Litt.

Litt shares other funny White House episodes in his New York Times bestselling memoir, “Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years.” One embarrassing incident occurred when Litt’s colleagues opened the door of an Air Force One coat closet to find Litt half-naked, changing from cartoon pajamas into a suit on a trip to Germany. He advised the audience, “Don't take off your pants in the Air Force One coat closet.”

Now 30 years old, Litt is a writer and producer for the comedic website “Funny Or Die.” He said he doesn’t regret leaving politics and is embracing the move from writing other people’s speeches to his own works.

I can write about anything now. That’s great … and terrifying,” he said.

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