The magazine for Western Washington University
Stories

White House Wordsmith

Six years ago, Jesse Moore recruited students to Western – now he helps write speeches for the White House

Story by Lisa Grace Lednicer

Print this story
Julie Woodford

Think that a job as a White House speechwriter is glamorous?

Jesse Moore (’05, Political Science) will tell you it’s also a lot of long days, late nights and endless text revisions – sometimes just to get a single word or phrase exactly right for an audience far outside Washington, D.C. Sometimes he’s so tired at the end of the day, he falls asleep with his suit and shoes still on. But he wouldn’t trade his life for anyone else’s.

“It’s amazing work,” says Moore, who grew up in Lynnwood. “We are really touching a lot of lives with what we’re doing here. I really believe in the president, and the work we are trying to accomplish, wholeheartedly.”

Six years ago, Moore, now 32, used up some vacation time from his job in Western’s Office of Admissions to work for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign for president. Moore went door-to-door in Las Vegas, urging residents to volunteer and attend the Democratic primary caucuses. He then moved on to Seattle, where he organized voter protection attorneys and assisted prominent politicians. He worked as a regional field director and political officer in several states. After Obama won, Moore accepted a political appointment as a media spokesman and strategist at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Today, Moore works in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, where he works closely with Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s senior adviser. He writes everything from op-eds and blogs, to informal remarks or commencement addresses for senior White House officials. He also contributes to talking points or remarks for the president when he is set to address groups of key leaders or stakeholders.

Jason Green, who gave Moore his start by inviting him to volunteer with the Obama campaign, says Moore has “a very sophisticated contextual understanding of the moment.

Jesse’s able to see that it’s a speech from the White House to the people, and that’s often the only contact that an individual’s going to have with the White House.” Green also lauds Moore for his leadership skills and willingness to look out for the junior members of the campaign staff.

Those leadership skills were honed at Western, Moore says. As a recruiter for the Office of Admissions, he thought a lot about his audience of incoming students and tailored his presentations to enhance their understanding of what college is about, and what it takes to succeed. He learned to write

speeches by giving them at dozens of admissions and Ethnic Student Center events on campus and around the northwest.

His experience at Western gave him a “uniquely personal” perspective on leadership, Moore says. “People coming out of Western don’t always feel compelled to jump out front, or grab a mic to announce that we are ready to lead,” he says. “We’re people who step into a room or a workplace, who figure out what’s missing, and who can fill that void.”

As a student at Western, Moore led an effort to fully endow five student scholarships and was heavily involved in the Black Student Union.

“He was an ideal student, showing tremendous motivation and a willingness to learn, and tremendous growth as an individual,” says Michael Vendiola (’94, American Cultural Studies; ’97, M.Ed., Adult Education), former coordinator of the Western’s Ethnic Student Center. “His ability to negotiate major issues is just outstanding.”

That negotiating ability serves Moore well in D.C., where, as he puts it, people manage their political capital very closely.

To a greater degree than many places, success is dependent upon how well-executed your work is, and mentors can’t afford the career hit that occurs when they guide people who don’t end up performing well.

“There’s this basic level of anxiety all the time,” Moore says. But despite the high-stakes nature of politics in D.C., Moore’s reputation is such that he has acquired mentors along the way and was recommended for the speechwriting job.

Some speechwriters are history buffs; they’re experts at

finding obscure historical references and love the research end of the job. Others are wordsmiths – people who understand the poetry of language and how to make a sentence flow in a way that will make the listener tune in and truly feel the significance of the message.

Moore says he is especially passionate about language, and the melody of the spoken word. He’s also a good mimic. He was the class clown in elementary school and has the eerie ability to imitate the cadence of a person’s speech, a critical tool for any speechwriter.

“My mom told me it’s a classic strategy to make people feel comfortable,” Moore says. “I want people to feel relaxed.”

Despite his love of politics, though, Moore says he’s unlikely to run for public office because he prefers solitude. It’s where he draws his energy. He does hope to work with youth again one day, focusing on efforts to end cycles of poverty.

Asked what he’ll do after the Obama administration packs up and goes home in three years, he says: “I would not mind it involving a beach. At least for a little while.”

It would be a nice place to take off his shoes.

Lisa Grace Lednicer is an editor and writer based in Washington, D.C. A former political reporter in Oregon, she was once approached by a prominent lobbyist to run for Congress. She is still trying to figure out whether he was kidding.