A speech writer's take on important speeches, and the craft of writing for an audience.
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.
A veteran writer, researcher and lecturer, with more than 25 years experience in politics, political communications, and public relations. I’ve studied speech writing at NYU, and authored a number of published articles on the practice of lobbying as well as topics in American history.
My lecture on the War of 1812: 1812 – Uncle Sam’s First War, is now a lecture in the New York Speakers in the Humanities bicentennial commemoration series.