President Obama has a new speechwriter: Twitter.
In an unusual move at a campaign rally this weekend, Obama quoted a witty tweet that went viral during the Democratic National Convention. Recalling President Clinton’s detailed, wonky speech about economic policy, Obama said, “Somebody sent out a tweet, ‘He needs to be made Secretary of Explaining Stuff.’ I like that!” Obama later joked, “I have to admit, it didn’t say ‘stuff,’ ” drawing laughter and applause.
The original tweet, by New Yorker editor Ben Greenman, did not say “stuff,” but it was not profane, either:
The item immediately went viral during the speech, ultimately drawing over 8,000 retweets, a remarkably high number that reflects both massive interest in Clinton’s address—25 million TV viewers—and interest in the cheeky proposal from Greenman, who has about 10,000 followers on Twitter.
“Obviously a lot of people were thinking something similar,” said Greenman, when reached by phone after the president quoted him. The tweet was shared by everyone from journalists and politicos to Anita Baker and MC Hammer, he said, because it was a “felicitous turn of phrase that captured the thoughts of thousands of other people.”
Obama may be the first president to quote a tweet in a speech, but he did not personally log on to the network to find the phrase.
He first cited it as something he received by “e-mail” after Clinton’s address, telling a Florida rally, “That was pretty good—I like that—secretary of explaining stuff.” Then, a day later, Obama appended the Twitter shout-out.
“He’s very tech-savvy,” says Greenman, so “someone may have reminded him, let’s respect the etiquette of this medium”—crediting sources. (After Obama first used the line, Foreign Policy editor Blake Hounshell tweaked the president for stealing a “Twitter joke.”)
While Greenman has not heard directly from anyone who works for the Obama campaign, he says the rapid spread of the tweet—from widespread attention on Wednesday night to a presidential citation over the weekend—shows how thoughts can filter up from the social network. He likened the online explosion of the quip to watching “an inconsequential stock market.”
Consequential or not, Greenman is standing by his proposal. He hopes the position will be created so Clinton can be appointed the secretary of explaining things. “I’d like to go to the swearing-in ceremony,” he told The Nation. That’s about as likely, he added, as the Dolphins making it to the Super Bowl this year.