The State of the Union Address: A Speechwriter's Nightmare

Former presidential speechwriters say they dreaded writing the annual address to the nation.
3:00 | 01/24/14

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Transcript for The State of the Union Address: A Speechwriter's Nightmare
Hello and welcome to politics confidential I'm Jonathan Karl with the State of the Union Address coming up I sat down. With four presidential speechwriters who worked for four different presidents to get a behind the scenes look. At the speech that they most dreaded riding. Yeah. Okay. This is. For the most hyped most watched arguably most important speeches -- president gives. But it's a parent right isn't and at least -- Surprise nobody -- red paint and speeches and exercise in ego management as much as some exercise and writing your policy. Theory you know suddenly speechwriters recovered populist. -- -- cabinets that are producers -- would literally would have people call. -- saying put this in speech. Don't remember anyone calling me personally -- worked as part of the team -- Mike Gerson he's going. But I think Mike would get those calls -- was the chief speechwriter. That is the most hectic time in the White House for speechwriter that you -- An -- and -- there's. 3 -- for an it's leading right up into the speech no matter how fired and Nancy try to plan and you're always changing speeds up to us. I remember actually speed in the family theater over -- -- stated views about 2448. Hours ago. And while the president is standing -- his podium or person I was called to the back of the and we theater where there was a telephone. And one of the cabinet sectors was on the phone asking as the president is reversing. To get a policies -- state -- did it work it did not work. What President Clinton I mean effort sort of making changes on the way to the capital. Well that -- overstated we that is not overstated you know agencies -- in the limo on the road in the capital and a but their problem. -- which is a problem for the teleprompter you know more than that -- -- else because you make those last minute changes if you don't get those -- in the teleprompter. And -- out of properly without tight photos exactly exactly. I'm not at all sure. What speech is in the teleprompter tonight. But I hope we can talk about the state of the union often it's something completely apart from the speech -- them. It was that hug. What -- Tom Daschle was actually -- -- joint session there was you line. -- yelled out the reforms I'm proposing would not applied of those were eerily. -- and had -- all the water. Yeah for a Republican response the choice isn't just between big government or big business -- for instance you. You wrote the speech that's Justice Alito ended up saying you know panic in his hands right. Last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law. That I believe will open the floodgates. For special interest. In that example and we did not think when we were working on that section. But Citizens United. That it was going to be some of the that all the justices were there like there was no plan. What's happened say this and then we know they're gonna go to the justices in -- some of them you know it's an important decision came down maybe one of the most important support -- -- -- make. It relates to the presidency relates to politics and he should come up in -- I think one of the things -- to look out for a speechwriter where the lines that wind up taking over the speech that become much bigger than they were ever intended to be I think this was true. For President Clinton with a year ago -- over the 1960s. The era of big government is over. States like these. And their terrorist allies. Constitute an axis of evil. Arming to threaten the peace of the world. Axis of evil was never. Didn't tended to be the -- that everyone remembered and repeated and associated with that speech a decade later we wasn't did you know residential it and know. No I really didn't and I remember there was a headlines along afterwards. Something along the lines of axis powers denounce bush for something. And that's when it occurred to me when don't really count on out there. This ruling is one of the biggest audience is that -- president -- over the course of the entire presidency this is a chance to kind of -- the nation's attention. And you want. Well I think I like I'm always curious if he -- the guests are going to be in the gallery. Has been getting my style speech writing -- I think great stories make great speeches. And and it started in 82 -- in any statements that came dove into the icy waters and saves you from air Florida crash in Washington. Finally -- governor who just happen to be at the scene leaps into the water. And with the help of others manages to cool Kelly -- to safety. We saw again the spirit of American heroism at its finest when he saw a woman lose your grip on the helicopter line. Dived into the water. And dragged her to say. That's a way to make what could be otherwise -- kind of -- -- into something more human real. We realize that the time when. President Reagan did that this -- be something would happen every state of the union says -- all the -- got. A bit. Not -- great tradition. Thank you very much -- -- and that's it for politics confidential for ABC news -- Yahoo! News on Jonathan Karl you can follow me all week long on Twitter at John Carl. Or on FaceBook. Thanks for watching.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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