Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ending My Campaign

Speech By: David Paterson, Governor of New York
Title: Ending My Campaign
Date: February 26, 2010
Location: Governor’s Office, New York, NY
Occasion: Withdrawal from Campaign
Video Posted: YouTube - Azi Paybarah’s channel

There is a temptation to draw parallels between this speech, and President Lyndon Johnson’s March 1968 speech, in which he announced he would not run for re-election. But Johnson’s announcement was a surprise. This was not.

Forced by events to make an announcement everyone in the political world knew was coming, the Governor tried to put the best face possible on what he had to say.

In a previous post, we observed that a consideration the Governor brings to speech making is that he is legally blind. In an age when many politicians wouldn’t give their mailing address without a teleprompter, Governor Paterson pretty much memorizes what he has to say.

Added to the discomfort of being forced to end an election campaign that began only a week earlier, the difficulty of relying on memory was obvious here. For example, he used the speech as a form of valedictory address, claiming credit for accomplishments he felt deserving.

At one point, he said this: “I have lowered the playing field for minority and women owned businesses.” I suspect he actually meant “leveled the playing field.” Lowering the playing field wouldn’t do much to help people who needed it.

Later he says, “It hasn’t been the latest distraction, it has been an accumulation of obstacles that have obfuscated me from bringing my message to the public.” I think he meant to say “have obstructed me.” To obfuscate means to “confuse, bewilder or stupefy,” and I don’t believe he meant to say that was done to him.

We all have moments in our daily conversations where we search our memories for the right word and come up with something close, but not quite right. I suspect that happened here. It’s an example of why a carefully written speech is so helpful to a public speaker.

Few off-the-cuff speakers are as good as they like to think they are.

Then he announces what everyone already knew: “I am ending my campaign for Governor of the state of New York.

I have one final observation to make - not as a speech writer, but as someone who has served as a news source for many publications for more than three decades. In the story that precipitated this speech, the New York Times reports: “The woman’s lawyer asked that she not be identified by name because she feared retaliation,” that means she was a confidential source. Yet, in the same story they report the name of the Governor’s aide she lived with for four years. Do they honestly think people can’t figure out who she is? The very next day, every other newspaper in New York had printed that woman’s name. It’s a cardinal sin of journalism for a newspaper to burn a confidential source. According to the Times' own report, they did that here.

Length (words): 811

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Monday, February 22, 2010


Title: Born To Be A Player
Speech By: Herb Brooks
Date: February 22, 1980
Location: Lake Placid
Occasion: 1980 Olympics
Thirty years ago today, the greatest hockey game in Olympic history, possibly ever, was played. It wasn’t even for the gold medal.

It may be difficult to imagine today, but in 1980, the Cold War between the United States and the then-Soviet Union was at a slow simmer. In the days before the Olympics allowed professionals to participate, the Soviet team was composed of “soldiers” on leave from the Army. These “amateurs” had won the last four Olympic Gold medals. They were considered the best hockey team on earth.

The U.S. team was composed of college hockey players and recent graduates who had started training together six months earlier.

Just 13 days earlier, the two teams had played an exhibition in Madison Square Garden, with the Soviets winning easily 10 to 3. Most observers agreed, the game wasn’t nearly as close as the lopsided score indicated.

The return match-up, less than two weeks later and four hours north of Manhattan, looked like a foregone conclusion. Coach Herb Brooks walked into his team’s locker room before the game determined to see a different conclusion.

Unlike the legend surrounding the Gettysburg address, this speech really was written on an envelope, as documented in the Washington Post the next day.

Brooks read a few key phrases that had been hastily scrawled on that envelope. “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here at this moment. You were meant to be here at this game. Let’s have the poise and possession of the puck.”

In the last few seconds of the game, when it became obvious the American team’s 4 - 3 lead would stand, sports announcer Al Michaels excitedly asked into a microphone that would not respond with an answer - “Do you believe in Miracles?” The name stuck.

Many people forget the U.S. team still had to play another game to earn the Gold medal, against Finland, two days later.

After two periods, the U.S. trailed the Finns, two goals to one. During that final intermission, Brooks strode into locker room five and pointedly addressed his team:
If you lose this game, you’ll carry it to your grave.

They went out for their final 20 minutes of Olympic hockey and scored three goals. They surrendered none.

Standing alone on the medal stand, team Captain Mike Eruzione urged his team-mates to join him. As they surrounded him on that crowded platform, the Star-Spangled banner played, and the Stars and Stripes soared high.

How do you analyze two speeches like this? Quite simply.
Four to three.
And, four to two.

Video Posted: YouTube (Hollywood version)

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Friday, February 19, 2010

Unwelcome Discredit - the Aftermath

My previous post, Unwelcome Discredit, examined the speech of Senator Hiram Monserrate, during the debate and vote over the resolution expelling him from the New York State Senate.

Immediately following the expulsion, Governor David Paterson called a special election for March 16th, to fill the vacant seat. Two days later Monserrate filed in federal court for an injunction to halt the special election, and asking that his expulsion be voided on Constitutional grounds.

Today, that injunction was denied. According to the opinion issued by District Court Judge William Pauley, “The question of who should represent the 13th Senatorial District is one for the voters, not this court.

I like Liz Benjamin's less lawyerly, but no less accurate, synopsis of the Judge's opinion. “In short, Pauley to Monserrate: You want to keep your seat? Run for it.

The bottom line is - Monserrate was legally expelled.

However, nothing prohibits ex-Senator Monserrate from running in the special election to fill the seat he won little over a year ago. The interesting question is - how does the Senate react if he runs in the special election and wins?

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Unwelcome Discredit

Speech By: Sen. Hiram Monserrate
Title: Unwelcome Discredit
Date: February 9, 2010
Location: Senate Chamber - New York State Capitol
Occasion: Debate on Senate Resolution condemning the conduct and calling for the expulsion of Senator Hiram Monserrate
In December 2008, shortly after his election to the post, Senator-elect Hiram Monserrate was involved in a domestic incident with girlfriend Karla Giraldo, which resulted in her treatment at a hospital for a severe cut to the face which required numerous sutures to repair.

Charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor, Monserrate chose a non-jury trial. He was subsequently convicted by the judge of a single misdemeanor count - assault in the third degree, by recklessly causing injury to Karla Giraldo by forcibly dragging her by her arm. Although a criminal conviction, a misdemeanor does not result in an officeholder automatically being removed, as in the case of a felony.

In the wake of the conviction, a special Senate committee was constituted to review the matter. Their final report recommended the Senate take one of two actions against their colleague - expulsion, or censure, with the removal of privileges.

Only the expulsion resolution was considered, and it was adopted by a vote of 53 - 8. He became the first New York legislator to be expelled by his colleagues since 1861. Before casting his vote against his own expulsion, Senator Monserrate spoke.

As reported by the Daily News’ Liz Benjamin, the speech lasted almost 16 minutes, which is extraordinarily long for a Chamber whose rules generally allow members only two minutes to explain their vote.

Video Posted: YouTube
Text Posted: Scribd (Free Membership required)
It may be nothing Senator Monserrate said last night would have changed many votes. However, I should note that a few Senators I spoke with before the vote, were aware an expulsion of this type deprives the people of that district of their chosen representative. It wasn’t a comfortable position for them, and a speech at the right time, and in the right place, might have lessened the penalty. This speech certainly wasn’t it.

There are two approaches that might work in a situation like this - to say “you have no right to deprive the people of my district of their chosen representative, since the law doesn’t explicitly call for it, and still call yourselves a democratic institution;” or “yes, I’ve made mistakes, we all do, but this penalty is not appropriate for what happened in this case.”

During his speech, he tries both approaches, and that is a mistake. It could be one or the other, but to mix the two puts the arguments at cross purposes.

In fact, that is a major problem with the speech - it has no single focus of argument. It rambles back and forth between being defiant, accusatory, apologetic, and to some degree, insulting.

I thought the first five paragraphs were effective in making a “depriving the people” case, but then he goes off track and begins attacking the very people who are voting on his future. This stuck out: “Is it any wonder we have earned the label of “Dysfunctional” that has bestowed upon us?

Attacking the institution itself is not a wise idea, especially when the people you are speaking to are acting to protect the integrity of that institution. It’s especially unwise when in the very first paragraph you admit to having engaged in “Behavior that is unbecoming of a state Senator.” Later on, he also admits to having “brought unwelcome discredit to this chamber.

If there was ever a challenge for the members of the Senate to prove they could function when it came to making a tough decision, that was it. And they proved themselves. But not until after his  speech made it a bit easier for them.

This speech might have been of some benefit if he had given it to the special Senate committee. Some of the points he raises are indeed valid. But, as he points out in his speech, the committee never heard “from the only two people involved in the incident of Dec. 18, 2008.” What he forgot to mention is that he was invited to appear before them and refused the chance.

One thing that makes any speech better is giving it in the right place and time.

Length (words): 1144

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Speeches

Title: Win One For the Gipper
Speech By: Knute Rockne, Notre Dame Coach
Date: November 10, 1928
Location: Yankee Stadium
Occasion: Notre Dame vs. Army
Video Posted: YouTube (Hollywood version)
In recognition of this weekend’s final game of the professional football season, we turn our attention to football speeches.

Football lends itself to inspiring speeches. A well-timed, well-delivered speech by the coach, either before the coin-toss, or at halftime, can deliver the emotional jolt that benefits a football team in a way that would not work for a more dispassionate sport like baseball, with its far longer season.

Of the Top Ten Sports speeches named by Real Clear Sports last Summer, fully half were football related. The highest ranked among those was Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne’s “Win One For The Gipper” speech at the Notre Dame vs. Army game of 1928.

Army was a mighty team that season, coming in undefeated for the showdown at Yankee stadium, before 90,000 spectators. Notre Dame, fighting injuries to key players, had already lost twice. Searching for a way to inspire his seemingly overmatched team, Rockne gave the most famous pep talk in football history.

Invoking the memory of Notre Dame’s most famous player, George Gipp, who had died eight years earlier, of a streptococcus throat infection contracted on the field, Rockne tried to inspire his players. A scoreless tie at half time, Rockne’s speech propelled Notre Dame on to a surprise 12 - 6 victory.

A long and classic series, it was another Rockne team’s contest against Army four years earlier, that gave rise to a sports writer’s famous appellation. As Grantland Rice so famously penned it: “Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again.
In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.”

The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame rode on to an undefeated season, victory in the Rose Bowl, and the national championship.

Left halfback Jim Crowley went on to a coaching career, becoming head coach at Fordham University. There, he put together a dominating offensive line whose players were nicknamed the “Seven Blocks of Granite.”

One of those granite lineman was an undersized guard who also did some coaching after college. The trophy that will be awarded to the winning team on Sunday is named in his honor. The Lombardi trophy.

Rockne, who had been at Gipp´s bedside the night before his death, repeated the young athlete´s last wish to the team.

I've got to go, Rock. It's all right. I'm not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Rock. But I'll know about it, and I'll be happy.

Then he continued:

The day before he died George Gipp asked me to wait until the situation seemed hopeless - then ask a Notre Dame team to go out and beat Army for him. This is the day, and you are the team.

It was, and they were.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Enchanting the Soul

Columnist Mark Bowden, writing recently on the power of oratory, said: “The real work of rhetoric is to explain and persuade.” All right, that’s hard to argue with, but it describes many uses of words. It describes, for instance, a dry, passionless legal brief.  It even encompasses the police officer’s citation which may have necessitated that legal brief.

Words which merely “explain and persuade” do not necessarily constitute rhetoric. For our purposes, the definition of  rhetoric must meet a higher standard.

If, as Plato described it, rhetoric is the “art of enchanting the soul,” how does that enchantment take place? What is the source of the magic that casts such a spell on a listener? What happy constellation of words constitutes rhetoric?

Rhetoric, at its best, involves the ability to create striking mental images using words.

People no longer crowd close into a stone paved Agora, as in Plato’s day, straining to get within earshot of a speaker. Today, sound systems guarantee everyone can hear what is said.  Still, the power to enchant a listener’s soul is not subordinate to the advances of technology. It is, as it ever was, a force lodged in the writer and speaker.

Even in a world where speeches can be accompanied by power point presentations, or photos projected on a screen to provide illustration, rhetoric - that happy combination of words - still offers the highest power to create and sustain the enchantment which can possess our souls.

Take the image projected in President Kennedy’s inaugural address: “The torch has been passed, to a new generation ... ” It evokes an image of one of Plato’s contemporaries, an ancient Greek runner - Phedipiddes perhaps - arm outstretched, handing off a torch on its journey to the Olympic games.

That the passing of the Olympic torch is a modern invention, first used to open the 1936 Berlin Olympics, matters not. In fact, it demonstrates the power of Kennedy’s rhetoric, to create a mental image of a scene that never existed.

Or, take the way Lincoln chose to begin the Gettysburg address: “Four score and seven years ago, ...” Any number of reviewers have observed that using the number “eighty seven” would have been a far clearer way to communicate the time span of which he was speaking. But Lincoln’s intent was to create a Biblical image for his audience, to remind them their nation was engaged in a noble, even holy, crusade.

There is no precise formula to define what constitutes rhetoric and what does not. Nor is there one which describes how to create it or how not to. In that sense, it is much like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography - “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it,” (Jacobellis v. Ohio - 1964).

But, just because we can’t define it, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek it. After all, the Grail for which we, as speech writers and listeners alike, must quest, is nothing short of an enchanted soul.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom