When United States President-elect Joe Biden takes the stage on 20 January 2021 to usher in the post-Donald Trump era and deliver his inaugural address, a time-honoured tradition of American politics, many of the most important words will come from the mind and keyboard of an Indian-American, whose family maintains its roots in Telangana.
(Image above courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Facebook/The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law)
As the White House speechwriting director, Cholleti Vinay Reddy, the son of Narayan Reddy, a doctor who migrated to the United States in 1970, will play a pivotal role in laying out the agenda of the Joe Biden administration. It was in late December 2020, when the Democratic president-elect announced that Vinay, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, but lives with his family in New York, will serve as his White House speechwriting director.
As the second among three sons of Indian-American immigrants, Vinay has a law degree from Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and a Bachelor’s degree from Miami University. But this is not the first time that Vinay will be working with the Biden camp.
During his second term as vice-president to US President Barack Obama, Vinay served as his chief speechwriter. He also had stints as deputy speechwriter for the Obama-Biden 2012 re-election campaign and as a speechwriter for the US Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. After his stint at the Obama-Biden White House, he worked as Vice-President of Strategic Communications at the National Basketball Association, notes the Biden-Harris Transition website.
Biden announced Vinay Reddy as his Director of Speechwriting.
You may not know Vinay – he’s not on Twitter (smart!) and doesn’t seek the limelight. But he’s had a hand in nearly every major Biden speech, is a brilliant writer, and is incredibly kind and decent. So happy for him
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) December 22, 2020
What is the US President’s inaugural address all about?
The inaugural address is a tradition that dates back to the first US President, George Washington, who spoke on 30 April 1789. With a country just out of the throes of British colonial rule, Washington, who was also a slave owner, made references to the “sacred fire of liberty” and a “new and free government”.
The speech for his second term, however, was the shortest in US history measuring just 135 words. Records suggest that the longest ever inaugural address was made by William Henry Harrison in 1841 measuring 8,455 words and lasting two hours.
In other words, what the inaugural address does is broadly outline the US president’s goals for America. Biden takes over at a time when his country has seen over 400,000 COVID-19 related deaths, a White Supremacist mob insurrection on the US Capital and deep-rooted political division in America. Quite naturally, the theme of Biden’s inauguration is ‘America United’ since unity over division was the core message of his campaign from the start.
In a desire to heal America’s wounds, the White House speechwriting director could take a cue from past inaugural addresses like the one made by Abraham Lincoln in 1861.
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature,” said Lincoln.
What will Vinay Reddy’s role entail?
The Office of Speechwriting is an official presidential department in the White House. They are responsible for writing and researching the President’s speeches.
“The Office of Speechwriting researches, prepares and writes the President’s speeches. Interns in this office will assist with research and have the opportunity to witness the process of presidential speechwriting firsthand,” notes the White House website.
As Vinay takes over the responsibilities of this office, his job will be to translate Biden’s ideas into words and capture his style and voice, keeping in mind a global audience.
There are a couple of things, however, the likes of Vinay, Mike Donilon, who is Biden’s long-time adviser and presidential historian Jon Meachem, will have to keep in mind while drafting today’s speech. Besides reading past presidential inaugurals, an important instruction would be to avoid any partisanship, pessimism or fear-mongering in the speech.
Since Biden has constantly spoken of the requirement to “rebuild the soul of America, to rebuild the backbone of this nation”, this team is unlikely to make that mistake. While Trump showed little interest in taking a historical perspective during his inaugural address four years ago, Biden seems unlikely to make that same mistake.
It’s quite extraordinary to note that the son of a family from Pothireddypeta village of Huzurabad mandal, Karimnagar district in Telangana, will play a key role in articulating what the 46th president of the United States will say to the world.
According to reports in Telangana Today, Vinay’s father, Narayana had migrated to the US in 1970 and settled there. Although Vinay was born and raised in America, the report states that the family continues to maintain its roots in Telangana. Narayana and his wife, Vijaya, reportedly visit the village every six months to meet friends and relatives.
Meanwhile, the family “still owns three acres of land and a house in the village of Pothireddypeta” where Vinay’s grandfather, Thirupathi Reddy, served as a sarpanch for three decades. Meanwhile, Narayan’s brothers continue to reside in Hyderabad. And despite his upbringing in the States, Vinay did have the opportunity to visit his village as a child.
Today, when America and the rest of the world will pay close attention to what Biden says, the people of a nondescript Telangana village will also hearken to the incoming president’s speech. After all, someone with roots there thought of the words coming out of his mouth.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)